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Sony Vision-S electric car stunned at CES, now in testing on public roads

Nobody saw this slippery EV coming, let alone the Vision-S connected car platform underneath, but people loved it and now it's out in the wild.

Sony -- yes, Sony -- made a car.

Sony
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Sony took CES completely by surprise in January when it debuted a fully baked concept car. Built to showcase and test Vision-S, Sony's new connected car platform, the electric car is a prototype and isn't necessarily supposed to indicate that Sony plans to sell its own cars, at least not anytime soon, but that's not stopping Sony from testing the thing in public in Austria.

The car was built by Sony's AI and robotics team, the same crew that makes the company's cute robotic dog Aibo. The concept doesn't even have a name yet (its code name was Safety Cocoon), although the Japanese company says it has been fully road-tested. According to Sony, this is to ensure the vehicle and its platform Vision-S will comply with applicable safety regulations.

Sony is working with Magna-Steyr -- a company known for doing extensive development and production work for other automotive manufacturers -- to ensure that it's ready to hit the road in Europe. Sony published a video of the car, back in Graz, Austria, after CES, being driven by a human, so it's unclear if the further testing Sony is undergoing is to validate the autonomous car technology that was publicized in Vegas.

Vision-S, which was described briefly on stage during the press conference in Las Vegas, takes advantage of Sony's expertise in sensors, imaging and entertainment to be used in the next generation of electric vehicles. Sony already supplies these technologies to Japanese automakers but wants to make its individual products into systems that can be supplied as an all-in-one solution.

No word yet on what powers the Vision-S, or if it shares a chassis or anything else with other vehicles. Currently, the prototype features 33 sensors placed around the car, which can detect people and other vehicles both inside and outside the car to provide driving support. It also incorporates Sony's 360 Reality Audio to provide an immersive audio experience, with speakers built into each of the car's seats. A panoramic screen faces the front seat to display a diverse array of content accessed through an intuitive user interface.

At this point, given the public's reaction at CES and Sony's continued efforts to publicize the car, we're beginning to question whether the company will continue to treat the car only as a development tool. It's an awfully polished-looking mule, if that's the case, and we wouldn't be shocked if Sony decided to get into the car business after all.

CNET's David Katzmaier contributed to this report.

Originally published Jan. 6.

Update, Feb. 25: Adds video of the car being tested in Austria with Magna-Steyr.