As a result, a number of startups – for example Prophesee, Synsense and Insightness – have looked at event-driven image sensors. Indeed, Sony has reportedly acquired a majority stake in Insightness AG (Sony acquires Swiss vision sensor firm).
While Sony's approach does not exclude the use of more specialized image sensors packaged with an AI processor, it has to be recognized that such sensors will be expensive. In contrast, Sony has packaged a conventional high-volume CMOS image sensor together with a logic chip containing an image processor, DSP for machine learning and embedded memory and this has the advantage of lower cost.
The one disadvantage that Sony's proposed business model has is that there is little to tie the customer to Sony, or prevent them from migrating to third parties that might be able to exploit the same hardware. Sony will need to build up an appropriately-shaped ecosystem to support is software subscription aspirations. It may be that ultimately the smartphone vendors or service operators will expect to own this business. But at the very least Sony's first mover advantage will give reason for those primary customers to stick with Sony rather than defect to a lower-cost sensor maker.
Mobile phone service operators have always understood the commercial advantage of turning hardware provision into a long-running service subscription. It is to be expected as system-on-chips evolve into fully characterised hardware-software platforms more and more hardware vendors will be thinking about how they can make similar moves to those now being planned by Sony.
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