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Sony builds AI into a camera sensor – here’s why it’s a huge deal

Sony has announced the world’s first image sensors with on-board AI processing, promising to smarten up cameras for a wide range of products.

The imaging giant has announced a pair of 12.3-megapixel sensors (called IMX500 and IMX501) that integrate chips to handle tasks like image recognition, without having to send data to the cloud.

Having the Intelligent Vision Sensor within the device not only reduces the latency involved with sending data to and from the cloud, but also keeps the data on the device itself, meaning enhanced privacy. Sony also points out its new sensors will lower the power consumption, which should translate into longer-lasting battery life for devices rocking the new tech.

Sony says the sensor “captures the meaning of the information of the light in front of it,” performing image analysis and outputting it all within the chip. In the example used in an explainer video, Sony shows the sensor identifying a basketball and a guitar, for instance.

The focus will be on a wide range of IoT devices, rather than just dedicated cameras and phones. Sony is pitching this at businesses to begin with. For example, stores will be able to use the sensors to determine who is shopping for what.

Related: Best camera 2020

This part of the presentation diminishes the earlier spiel regarding privacy as it shows the sensor picking up a person’s gender, estimated age and the product they’re holding. However, the sensor could, in the current parlance, also be useful for spotting who is and isn’t wearing a mask or observing social distancing rules.

A picture of a chip placed above a ruler on a white bacckground

The company also says smart speakers could benefit as they’re able to recognise which member of the family is making the request.

Sony’s new sensors could also be installed in vehicles, to ensure drivers are sat in the optimum position, or falling asleep at the wheel. None of this functionality would require data to be sent to the cloud, so the lack of latency could prove lifesaving in some instances.

Sony says sensors will be in products by the end of the year, but we’ll see more manufacturers adopt them in 2021.

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