Many companies, especially tech ones, have research and development divisions and groups, but almost all of those happen behind close doors. Sony, surprisingly, is taking a daring, and perhaps risky, contrary approach, at least for some of its technologies. With its new Future Lab Program, it is opening the doors wide to its technological R&D, inviting users to be part at least of the conceptual and prototyping stages. It is the beginning of a new culture that will kick off when Sony unveils "N", the first Future Lab project, at SxSW next week.
It is somewhat surprising, though perhaps pleasantly, to see Sony adopting a new mentality and direction for its products. In mobile, for example, the manufacturer is singing a new tune, redefining Xperia to focus heavily on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Although it hasn't adopted such a unified goal for other products, it is, instead, adopting a new way of thinking up and designing those products.
The Future Lab Program feels almost like it was born out of the First Flight platform the company launched last July. While that was essentially a sort of crowdfunding program meant for Sony employees, the basic motive is the same, utilizing the wisdom of crowd to fine tune a product. In Future Lab's case, however, the "crowd" will actually be the public, the potential users and buyers of Sony's products, and they will get involve very early into the process. Sony describes this as an open creative environment where users will be see concept prototypes and chime in on the design process. And they won't even have to pledge money to do that. Or at least Sony isn't saying so.
Sony's new found love for single letters creeps into Future Lab, where each project will be represented by a single letter of the alphabet. Considering Z and X are most likely to be skipped since they are already used for existing products, Sony is left with roughly 24 to choose from. Or 23 rather, because they've already started with one, "N". The reason why was chosen will be probably be clearer once Sony unveils the concept next week. For now, all it's letting on is that "N" will be about audio and the idea of a hands-free device that lets users listen to sound or music without having to put in earphones or anything similar.
It will be interesting to hear, no pun intended, Sony's idea on how to make something like this possible. Bone conduction technology comes to mind, though that still requires placing transmitters close to, but not over or in, the ears. Presuming Sony already does have an idea of how to accomplish this. We'll know next week when SxSW starts.