Jul 11, 2023 - Technology

Sony and Honda's "Afeela" car showcases automotive's high-tech future

Inside the Sony/Honda "Afeela" prototype car.

Inside the Sony-Honda "Afeela" prototype car. Photo: Kate Murphy/Axios

A new prototype car from Sony and Honda under the brand name "Afeela" might be the best example of what people mean when they say cars are becoming "computers on wheels."

  • Yes, it's a handsome electric car — but more crucially, it's an enticing new platform for Sony's tech and entertainment products, including AI, augmented reality and virtual reality.

Why it matters: As cars get closer to driving themselves, the software-defined passenger experience will differentiate brands from one another.

Driving the news: Axios got an inside look at the Afeela prototype on a visit to the San Diego headquarters of tech giant Qualcomm, whose semiconductors and chipsets power the car's software experience.

  • The Sony-Honda joint venture behind the Afeela brand, called Sony Honda Mobility, plans to start taking orders in 2025, with U.S. deliveries set to begin in 2026.

The intrigue: Inside, the user experience is tailored to individual passengers, while outside, Afeela's "media bar" allows the vehicle to interact with people.

  • The features of the Afeela prototype, while still under development and subject to change, represent broader industrywide trends.

The touchscreen dashboard entertainment system extends the full width of the car, serving up full-screen movies, music, navigation and PlayStation 5 remote play with a controller (for passengers, or when parked).

  • The car could come with a gaming console (no remote connection needed), while passengers in the front and back seats could watch movies on their own or synchronized.

Facial recognition unlocks the car and opens the door.

  • The car automatically adjusts the seat, steering wheel, sound system, and dashboard lights and themes based on previously selected settings for each driver.
  • For example, selecting a Spider-Man theme will change the colors of the lights and images on the interior dashboard, and even play a theme song when accelerating.
  • Speakers in the seat, headrest, doors and dashboard offer an immersive 360-degree audio experience that you can literally feel. The music pumps through the seat and the movie's sound effects surround you as Spidey swings through city buildings on the car's dashboard screen.

Exterior screens on the front grille can display the theme, the weather, the charging status or even the score of a football game.

  • In the demo, rain droplets and weather icons popped up on the screen between the headlights to show that it was 72 degrees and raining in Las Vegas.
  • The numbers on a scoreboard flipped when a team kicked a field goal during a live game.
  • Fortnite characters or Spider-Man can drop in between the taillights and wave.

Afeela cars will also have automated driving features.

  • The prototype has 45 cameras and sensors, including lidar, radar and ultrasonic, to enable hands-free driving on the freeway in certain conditions.

What they're saying: "We have to change mobility technology," Sony Honda Mobility president Izumi Kawanishi told Axios.

  • The automotive industry has been a very traditional business, but as it looks to the future, it is "growing up" by embracing IT products and software, Kawanishi said.
  • "The technology is there," said Nakul Duggal, Qualcomm senior vice president and general manager of automotive and cloud computing. "The question is, can you implement the technology in an elegant way where the consumer habit is going to change."
  • "As so many disruptions hit automotive, the companies that will think out of the box are actually going to come from outside the automotive industry," Duggal predicted.

💭 Kate's thought bubble: With automated driving features and a curated entertainment experience, the Afeela car is not just about getting from point A to point B. It's about enjoying the ride.

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