At Europe's Biggest Tech Show, Sony Thinks Small
These crowdfunded products may show where Sony is headed.
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At IFA 2015 in Berlin, Sony is all about going back to basics, re-embracing the categories that made it an electronics powerhouse in the first place. There are new headphones, new stereo systems, and new PlayStation tech in abundance.
But in a tiny corner of the Sony booth, there’s also something that looks to the future. The company’s First Flight crowdfunding platform, a seed acceleration lab designed to fast-track promising entrepreneurial ideas from its employees, is showcasing five unique devices at the show. Each offers a hint of where Sony could go in the years to come.
A bit like IFTTT in the flesh, the MESH Project pairs a control app with tiny hardware “tags” with different functions. The best part is, you don’t have to know how to code to make it all work. The app lets you just drag and drop to match the tags with their desired functions.
Want to make your kid’s favorite stuffed animal talk when you play with it? How about automatically turning your closet light on when you open the door? Or toggling your Philips Hue light bulbs by flipping over a DIY switch? Yep, you can do all of that and more.
There are currently four tags—a button, an LED, an accelerometer, and a GPIO (general purpose input/output) tag—and the team hopes to add more in the future. More advanced programmers can use the GPIO tag to make MESH tags interact with third-party sensors, actuators, and other circuits.
If you or someone you love is into tinkering, this is a DIYer’s delight.
Here’s a smartwatch without a single app—one that focuses almost solely on the one thing most smartwatches lack: style. The FES Watch was created by a Sony sub-brand called Fashion Entertainments, which has been experimenting with E Ink as a material for creating high-tech clothing and accessories.
The watch face and band are both made out of E Ink, and can display 24 different pre-loaded designs. Users can pick the design they want by either manually selecting it or gesturing with their wrist. The look is decidedly minimalist, but quite attractive—like the Swatch aesthetic taken to its logical extreme.
Sony covertly launched the watch through a Japanese crowdfunding campaign in late 2014, where it raised 2.8 million yen against a 2 million yen goal. It's gone on sale in Japan, but the initial run has already sold out.
Qrio Smart Lock
Described as the “world’s smallest” smart lock, Qrio lets you unlock your doors with your smartphone. Of course, there are plenty of smart locks already on the market, so what sets the Qrio apart?
According to Sony, it’s the no-tools installation process—Qrio simply snaps on over your existing lock, no screwdriver required. Whether that’s enough to give it an edge over the competition is anyone’s guess, but the project raised some 25.5 million yen against a 1.5 million yen goal. Clearly, someone is interested.
The Qrio Smart Lock is currently selling on Amazon.co.jp for around $165, but there are no plans at the moment to bring it to the U.S.
Unlike the FES Watch, the wena wrist is a legitimate smartwatch. Well, okay… not exactly.
Where most smartwatches put all the high-tech goodies in the watch housing, the wena wrist puts its sensors and electronics in the band. The watch itself is a more traditional design—and a pretty stylish one, to boot (it was designed in collaboration with Citizen). The band comes equipped with colored LEDs, vibration, NFC, fitness tracking sensors, and fairly impressive water resistance.
If you’re the kind of person who finds the idea of a “smartwatch” like the Withings Activité more attractive than the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Gear S2, this thing might be up your alley. Assuming it meets its 10 million yen funding goal, the wena wrist will hit the market in two varieties: one with a standard watch face and a Chronograph edition with separate dials for hours, minutes, and seconds.
HUIS Remote Controller
As we welcome more and more electronics into our lives, remote controls inevitably pile up. Universal remotes are the most obvious answer, but most are made overly complex in an effort to cater to every possible device. There must be a better solution, right?
Six young engineers from Sony thought so. They created the HUIS (Home User InterfaceS) remote control, which uses infrared, Bluetooth, and a programmable E Ink screen to control virtually everything in your home. Everything on the screen is customizable, from the buttons and their functions to their size and location.
Pre-set control schemes are available for various TVs, air conditioners, lighting, disc players, set-top boxes, audio systems, and projectors. The development team has even promised a website where users can share their custom layouts to control individual devices.
HUIS was funded through First Flight to the tune of 24.4 million yen, nearly quintupling the goal of 5 million yen. Like all of the other products from First Flight, it’s only available in Japan for the time being.