Sony’s Take on the Crowded Self-Driving Game Is Turning Cars Into Mini-Hospitals

Sony is betting on healthcare to get an edge in the self-driving game. Abigail Low/Unsplash

According to one tech analyst’s estimate, by the time real self-driving arrives, an average car will be equipped with 10 cameras to replace human eyes on the road. If that’s true, at least one of those cameras will serve as a personal doctor to monitor whether you are well during the ride.

At least, that’s the vision of Sony, one of the many traditional tech companies competing for a piece of the crowded self-driving space.

In a new patent application this month, Sony proposed the idea of a device that can detect the medical conditions of a passenger in a driverless car.

Here’s how it works. The Sony device is set up to receive sensor data from one or multiple sensing devices close to the passenger, such as a cellphone, a smartwatch or a fitness tracker. The device will “diagnose” by analyzing the sensor data against the person’s heath parameters and generate an alert if it finds something out of the ordinary.

If the passenger is under a medical emergency, the device will communicate the alert with doctors and hospitals nearby, find the most suitable facility, calculate the arrival time of the passenger and coordinate a treatment.

This new technology, enabled by Sony’s sharp image sensors, is part of the company’s new strategy to find an edge in the self-driving game.

Sony first expressed its interest in self-driving back in 2015, when it bought a small stake in a Japanese robot carmaker. Sony’s head of image sensor business, Shigeo Ohba, announced, at the time, a goal of taking the top position in image sensors for cars by mid-2020s.

However, despite owning about 40 percent of the global market for CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) sensors used in smartphones, tablets and digital cameras, per The Financial Times, Sony was a bit late to the game, as its main competitors in the image sensor business, Aptina and OminiVision, had already dominated over half of the market for in-car CMOS sensors.

Healthcare, in comparison, is a relatively untapped branch of self-driving.

According a recent study by private market research firm CB Insights, healthcare is among the 33 industries that self-driving will disrupt the most. Because a large network of connected driverless cars will theoretically eliminate accidental collisions, CB Insights estimates that the healthcare industry as a whole could lose $500 billion in revenue every year.

But a new opportunity is providing healthcare service on the go.

“Autonomous fleets could also function as diagnostic checkup sites, turning autonomous cars into a site for passengers to receive simple healthcare services, like checking their blood pressure or heart rate,” CB Insights predicted in a research note.

In that regard, Sony’s health detector will be a first step in this transition.

Sony’s Take on the Crowded Self-Driving Game Is Turning Cars Into Mini-Hospitals