Sony is in a very weird place right now. Not only is their gaming division the most profitable department internally, they’re having a difficult time transitioning into new media and new devices. As a company with huge legacy status, trying to be more nimble and agile seems to be difficult for them. But, they are clearly trying, and their new project to crowd fund interest in devices that consumers want to own is a sign of things to come. Called First Flight, the program is a Kickstarter-like avenue for Sony’s employees to show consumers their ideas about new and interesting products, and Sony allows the public to back certain projects that they want to see come to life.
You might recall recently that Sony did a very ballsy thing – they allowed Shenmue III’s Kickstarter campaign to begin with the game’s appearance on their stage during their E3 2015 event recently. Following the game’s reveal and the Kickstarter launch, Shemnue III was funded in 24 hours and Sony stepped in later to reveal their plans to aid the game’s creator, Yu Suzuki, and the developers. Ys Net, to build and ship Shenmue III for the PC and Playstation 4. Sony’s Adam Boyes said that the Kickstarter collaboration was to help see Shenmue III see the light of day, but I think secretly it was a test for the Japanese-based company to how consumers react to things that they want to crowdfund.
Available only to Japanese customers, First Flight currently has three projects on display that are open to crowd funding. The MESH is a NFC-capable doo-hickey that allows you to use it all around your house for various purposes, including home security, locating your cat, and controlling various home automation technologies. The green button can be purposes as a multi-use Sonic Screwdriver to open things locked by other MESHes. The orange MESH is a programmable LED light than can display the colours red, blue, yellow, white and pink.
The blue MESH incorporates NFC with a gyrometer to detect movement. The grey MESH, finally, is a programmable mini-server that can run other MESH devices or home automation tech like programmable curtains, or disabling the locks on your door at home when you need to get in. Available in prototype form, a set of MESH devices will fetch you ¥5980 Yen, or approximately R594.
The second campaign, which is a pre-order, is Sony’s ultra-modern FES watch, an e-Ink watch that acts almost like a Pebble device – you can switch to different watch faces and write designs on the fly and it promises weeks of battery life compared to some modern smart watches which only last two to three days. The FES is pretty unique because it uses a new electronic paper design that Sony patented themselves.
Aside from being incredibly flexible and somewhat durable, Sony’s watch design is almost entirely battery and e-Ink display – the logic board is fairly simiple and the methods to program the paper are easy to learn. In this demonstration video, a Sony engineer is shown stapling and sewing a piece of string through an e-Ink display that has also been cut with scissors and run through a paper puncher. The FES is available on First Flight as a pre-order for ¥29,700, which works out to R2950 including shipping in Japan, due for a launch in October 2015.
Finally, the more impressive option on the menu is to assist in crowdfunding Sony’s first universal remote. Its called the HUIS (no, it wasn’t designed by an Afrikaner), and its a NFC, infrared, and Bluetooth-capable e-Ink remote with a touch screen interface. It changes the interface depending on the device you’re controlling and also has a customisable UI that can be tweaked to your liking. With a grand total project price of ¥5,000,000 (five million Yen), the project is already 63% funded, with ¥3,180,000 being put forward by backers who will also receive the first shipments of the remote when it launches, which is expected to be somewhere around December 2015. The remote itself is expected to cost ¥23,000, or R2300.
Created by Yagi Takanori, the HUIS aims to be the only remote you’ll ever need, and the project’s ultimate goal is to not only launch the remote into consumers’ hands, but to also begin the creation of a set interface which all remotes and appliances can be set to, allowing others to create their own universal remotes and allowing for manufacturers to tweak their devices to be able to interface with the HUIS. Takanori envisions that there will also be a website setup with a repository of device faces for products that the remote can work with, but has no user interface for yet. Sony is one of the big guns getting into the home automation market, so having something like this makes sense in the future.
Okay, fine. You watched the video. It switched off the lights. Fine, whatever.