It appears that Sony is making a move to seriously expand its footprint, venturing into the uniquely 21st-century phenomenon that is hailing taxis and personal drivers through smart devices. According to Nikkei, the electronics and entertainment giant is working on banding together five taxi operators in creating a web of vehicles through which it can deploy its AI-based algorithm in Japan.
Checker Cab, Daiwa Motor Transportation, Green Cab, Hinomaru Kotsu and Kokusai Motorcars are apparently all on board with Sony’s plans to predict demand through its algorithms in order to be in the right places at the right times. By monitoring critical factors such as traffic, weather, and events such as concerts or athletic competitions, the service would be able to take full advantage of high demand, which would benefit both the company’s revenues and riders anxious to catch a ride.
The service is going to be first tested in Japan, but the date of rollout remains unclear. Because Japan has banned private ride-hailing services such as Uber, the conglomerate of taxi services is an obvious alternative. Sony’s intent is to bring modern algorithms to notoriously old-school taxi services so that they will be brought up to speed while Sony establishes its own footprint in the ride-hailing industry. It’s unclear whether Sony’s plans include expanding to other countries where private vehicles are legally permitted as ride-hailing transport, or whether such an expansion would be worth the competitive headaches.
Japan has cited safety concerns in only permitting ‘professional’ taxi drivers to operate in the taxi-hailing sphere. This decision has caused frustration among companies such as Uber, which have long grappled with decisions as to how to conduct business in Japan in a way that fits regulations.
It is clear to me that we need to come in with partnership in mind and in particular partnership with the taxi industry, said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
That could mean that Sony will not be alone in mining Japan’s many taxi-riders as a customer base. If Uber or another company with well-established software systems decides to move aggressively to corner the market, Sony’s plans could be doomed before they get off the ground. With their plans now public, they would be wise to move quickly.