Sony takes flight with drone joint venture

As part of its push into new businesses, Sony's mobile division teams up with robotics company ZMP to form a new company that will offer drone-based services to business customers.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Aerosense will use drones -- like this prototype -- to capture images and data for business cutomers. Sony/ZMP

Sony is ready to take off with a new drone company that will offer services to business customers.

Sony's mobile-devices division, Sony Mobile, plans to launch a drone company called Aerosense with Japan-based robotics company ZMP, the companies announced Wednesday. Aerosense will use drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to capture images and data for services that help customers in the areas of observing, inspecting, measuring and surveying.

Aerosense will sell services using drones but not the drones themselves, a Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. Neither Sony nor ZMP responded to a request for comment.

Aerosense aims to start rolling out its services in 2016. Companies in industries ranging from telecommunications to land surveying could be potential customers.

Sony isn't the only company getting into the drone business -- both Amazon and Google are researching the use of drones for package delivery. Several other companies already offer drone-based services to businesses, including Airware and Skycatch. However, this joint venture reflects the seismic shift Sony is making as it tries to keep its footing in a rapidly changing tech landscape.

Earlier this year, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai said the company will focus its efforts on four areas: the PlayStation gaming division, Sony Pictures, Sony Music and its devices business, which includes sensors and other components. Hirai said with this strategy Sony could, by March 2018, generate an operating profit of 500 billion yen (about $4.2 billion). Sony's operating profit in the fiscal year ended March 2015 hit 68.5 billion yen. Mobile devices, meanwhile, have become a pain point and a source of losses for Sony. Samsung, Apple and China-based handset makers are dominating the mobile space, and Sony has fallen far behind.

In its announcement Wednesday, Sony said its mobile division is in a state of flux. Sony Mobile, the company said, will now focus on "new business creation initiatives, with a particular focus on the Internet of Things sector," the concept of using sensors and other technologies to hook just about anything -- from refrigerators to wearables -- into the Internet. Sony said the drone deal, which will leverage its camera, sensor and telecommunications tech, is part of this push.

Still, the risks may be high. Neither Sony Mobile nor ZMP have experience in the drones business. Indeed, ZMP, which makes robotics technology, including driverless-, said its efforts so far "have been limited to the ground." This is the first time ZMP will take flight.