“Rookie” Sony challenges DJI, new players in the drone industry

After seeing Sony’s Vision-S electric car at CES in early 2020, I will no longer be surprised when Sony builds an airplane, a submarine, or even a space shuttle.

▲ Sony Vision-S. Picture from: Sony official website

Unsurprisingly, Sony really intends to make airplanes recently, launching the Airpeak project and entering the drone market with a high profile.

If Vision-S is still in the concept stage for the time being, then the products of the Airpeak project are closer to "mass production", and the new products are expected to be launched in the spring of 2021.

Airpeak’s new spring products may not only be one or several drone products, but closer to a complete service plan based on drones. It is reported that Sony is looking for professional partners for this project, and it is expected to be announced together in spring 2021. .

Since 2015

Sony has actually been planning to enter the "drone" industry for a long time.

As early as 2015, Sony formed a joint venture with ZMP to establish the AeroSense autonomous drone company. In the same year, two drone prototype designs were launched, AS-VT01 and AS-MC01.

▲ AeroSense's two main drones are mostly used in agriculture, surveying, and transportation. Image from: AeroSense official website

ZMP is a Japanese robotics company that mainly develops and produces automatic guided vehicles, such as unmanned forklifts, logistics robots, and automatic mobile technology.

AS-MC01 is similar to our common civilian-grade products. The quad-rotor has a traditional structure and can be mounted with a Sony QX30 imaging system to transmit data wirelessly. The AS-VT01 is a fixed-wing UAV with a top speed of 169km, 2 hours of endurance, and a load capacity of 20kg.

AeroSense’s products are basically a combination of Sony’s imaging system, sensors, network technology and ZMP’s automatic movement technology. That is to say, AeroSense’s two products are originally designed for commercial use, and drones are based on autonomous flight without the need Professional pilots sell complete solutions by selling services, not for the civilian market.

▲ The drone with GCZ03 gimbal supports 30x optical zoom. Picture from: AeroSense official website

Within a few years, Sony has developed the UMC-R10C mount camera for AeroSense drones, APS-C format, E mount, 20 million pixels, somewhat similar to the A6x00 series. It’s just that AeroSense seems to be unable to develop a gimbal system for the R10C, so it seems that the R10C can only be mounted on a drone at a fixed angle to collect images.

The high probability is because the APS-C size sensor is too large, and it is difficult to reduce the size of the three-axis gimbal to be suitable for drone mounting. Therefore, an AS-GCZ03 gimbal was redesigned on the AS-MC03-W2 camera.

Even for the commercial market, AeroSense's drone performance is a bit general in horizontal comparison (compared to DJI). The imaging, image transmission and other technologies provided by Sony do not seem to be amazing.

Perhaps the performance of AeroSense's drones is sufficient to meet the needs of the commercial market, or that Sony is retaining strength for its Airpeak project.

Airpeak: Both civil and business hands

Sony announced few details of the Airpeak project. The information on the official website is more of the project’s vision:

  • Airpeak will strive to promote innovation through the application of imaging/sensing technology and 3R technology (Reality, Real-time and Remote) in the field of drones.
  • Airpeak will maximize the creativity of video creators and promote the further development of the entertainment industry.

The official description of the Airpeak project is more general and more strategic, but when it comes to the product, it is still relatively general and vague.

▲ Sony's patented foldable drone can support up to eight axis folding.

For the entertainment industry and video creators, it can be seen that Sony's ambitions are still great, and it is ready for both civilian and commercial purposes.

Commercially, AeroSense has been used as a template to enter agriculture, surveying, and Sony’s endorsement in the film and television industry. It is not difficult to enter the film and television industry.

Last year, Sony applied for a drone patent, describing a foldable drone with a detachable touch screen on the top, and the drone’s camera part is equipped with Alpha micro single sensor focusing technology , And supports gesture control. Regardless of form or function, the drone in this patent is more inclined to face individuals.

▲ The patent shows that the Sony drone supports gesture control.

From the patent point of view, although Sony's drones will be equipped with micro-single technology, it needs excellent flight control, stable image transmission and stable flight performance in order to be market competitive. These are temporarily unknown. If only the products on the official AeroSense website are used as a reference, there is still a big gap between Sony and DJI.

A smooth drone market

UAVs are mainly divided into aircraft and camera systems. The aircraft includes flight control, image transmission remote control, power performance, autonomous obstacle avoidance, etc., and the camera system is a gimbal and camera.

The history of the drone industry is not long, and DJI has become the leader in this industry for more than ten years. DJI almost monopolizes the current consumer drone market, occupying nearly 80% of the market share.

In terms of the core performance of drones, DJI started with gimbal, aerial camera and image transmission technology, and took the lead in the popularization of civilian multi-rotor drones, and defeated the American giants 3D Robotics and GoPro through product strength and marketing strategies. , And ultimately monopolize the global drone market.

The dominant one is the main theme of today's drone market. Sony's entry into the drone market clearly cannot be a "killer feature" with its imaging system alone.

If you are not sure, why do you want to plunge into the drone market?

One is optimistic about the future scale of the drone market. According to the drone market report released by the German drone research company Drone Industry Insights, the global drone market in 2019 was US$19 billion and is expected to reach US$42.8 billion by 2025.

Especially in the warehousing and transportation industries that are deeply affected by the new crown epidemic, the demand for drones is increasing. In the next few years, drones will achieve greater growth in these areas.

Second, due to the policies of Japan and some countries and regions, it is a bigger opportunity for Sony.

In 2019, the Nikkei News reported that in order to prevent the leakage of confidential information, the Japan Coast Guard plans to add an additional budget for replacing Chinese-made drones from 2020, following in the footsteps of the "big brother" the United States and stopping the purchase and use of Chinese drone Man-machine.

"The drunken man's intention is not to drink." Japan's purpose of doing this is more to protect the development of its own drone companies. Japan's drone market is also expanding, especially for agricultural drones.

According to Impress's forecast, the Japanese drone market will reach 371.1 billion yen by 2024, which is about 7 times that of 2017, of which the drone equipment market will reach 73 billion yen (about 3.5 times that of 2017). The service market reached 253 billion yen (approximately 16 times in 2017), and the peripheral service market reached 45.1 billion yen (approximately 3.3 times in 2017).

In other words, the Sony Airpeak drone project can fill the gap in the Japanese domestic market even if it cannot successfully open the international market, and boldly say that it can even be exported to the United States. Why not?

"Rookie" Sony's Challenge

The positive external policies and the market have only opened a door. Whether it can stand or not depends on Sony itself.

The previous article stated more than once that the biggest advantage of Sony at this stage is the imaging system. Backed by Sony Semiconductor, the sensor does not have to worry about its hard power. On the drones launched by AeroSense, Sony has specifically launched the R10C camera and the GCZ03 gimbal camera. The former has an APS-C frame and supports lens replacement, and the latter has a 30x optical zoom.

▲ The maze-like menu of Sony Alpha 7 Mark III. Picture from: The Verge

However, at the software level, Sony is not considered a powerful company, such as Sony Alpha's camera products, and there are many complaints about its software system, such as complicated and unreasonable menu design, poor human-computer interaction, and inaccurate translation. .

For drones, especially for civilian use, the software experience has a greater weight. After all, the control of drones and the adjustment of shooting parameters can only rely on the software level. If the software design is not humane enough, it will be extremely important. Dispel the passion for creation.

Others such as flight control, flight performance, image transmission, etc., Sony has no reference products. If we just make a "entertainment" comparison, we can focus on the latest industry-grade drone product AS-MC03-T from AeroSense invested by Sony, and choose DJI's Mavic 2 as a reference object.

The two UAVs are not the same in use, size, and weight, so there is no comparison for wind resistance, endurance, and load capacity. Let’s take a look at their image transmission and flight performance, based on the data published on the official website. Mavic 2’s image transmission adopts OcuSync 2.0 and can support up to 10km 1080p (FCC standard). If SRCC is adopted, the farthest image transmission distance is It is 6km. The AeroSense MC03-T is 500m, which is 5km in the extended state. The fastest flight speed is Mavic's 72km/h compared to AeroSense's 54km/h.

Compared with DJI's current civilian-grade drones (Young people want to speak martial arts, professional-level Jingwei is not comparable) , It can be seen that the weakness of AeroSense's industry drone platform is image transmission and flight performance, which is consistent with previous guesses.

Regardless of the product level, the "entertainment industry" that the Sony Airpeak project will target is Sony's three pillar industries. The Airpeak project has a natural momentum to promote the film and television industry.

▲ The VTOL commercial prototype launched by Sony and AeroSense in 2015.

From a forward and backward perspective, Sony has paved the way for the Airpeak project. At the product level, it has cooperated with ZMP to launch the AeroSense automatic drone company. There will also be sufficient resources to support the film and television industry. At the same time, due to some policy reasons, drones There will also be large gaps in the market, which are all opportunities.

After Sony announced the Airpeak project, many friends had high hopes, saying "I hope Sony's participation can force the best DJI." But for me, Sony, which is still a "drone rookie", is not so important whether it can become a giant. I just hope that its drone can become a new choice when we buy drones.

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