The Sony drone rumors have been growing for a couple of years now, but it was still surprising when an official drone project – called Sony Airpeak – was announced in November 2020.
With competitors like DJI and Skydio flying way ahead of their competitors, any new competitor seemingly has a lot of ground to make up. Then again, this is Sony we’re talking about, and there are many reasons why this could be a great time for it to enter the drone game.
It’s not yet clear what kind of drone Sony has been working on. But by analyzing the Airpeak announcement, along with some patents Sony has registered, we can get a good feel for how it’s shaping up.
For a start, Sony has stated that its drone project will be in the field of “AI robotics” and will be for both “video creators” and “various industries”. This means Sony Airpeak could be broader than just a single product, which sounds like a pretty big commitment to aerial videography and photography.
So what do we know about Sony Airpeak so far? Here are all the official announcements plus our thoughts on what it could be, based on Sony’s hints and patents.
Sony Airpeak drone release date and price
In its only official announcement so far, Sony said that the Airpeak project will launch “in the spring of 2021”. For worldwide readers, that means we should get more information in March or April 2021.
Interestingly, Sony refers to Airpeak as a “project” rather than a product, so it’s not certain that we’ll get a fully-realized Sony drone in that announcement.
Instead, it seems more likely that we’ll get something similar to Sony’s Project Morpheus announcement in 2014, which was the early prototype system for what ultimately became PlayStation VR two years later.
Project Morpheus allowed developers to familiarize themselves with the tech before it was made into a consumer product. Given that Sony has again referred to Airpeak a “project”, it seems possible that Sony’s drone (or drone platform) could follow a similar process.
The fact that Sony Airpeak is currently so nebulous means it’s impossible to speculate about pricing right now – and there haven’t been any leaks either.
Still, today’s camera-equipped consumer drones have settled around three broad price points: entry-level (around $120/£120/AU$250), mid-range (in the $450/£420/ AU$750 ballpark) and high-end consumer drones like the DJI Mavic 2 Pro (which launched at $1,599/£1,349/$2,499).
If the Sony Airpeak project does produce a consumer drone, it’ll be interesting to see which of these it slots into. Given the kind of AI tech mentioned in Sony’s announcement and patents, it seems likely that it’d fit into one of the latter two types – but right now this is all just speculation.
Sony Airpeak drone rumors, leaks and features
So far, Sony has kept an impressively tight grip on rumors surrounding its Airpeak project. There have been no leaks or sightings so far. But some hints in Sony’s official announcement, plus its recent patents, mean we can make some informed guesses about what it might announce in March or April 2021.
The most concrete information we have so far is from the official Airpeak page and Sony’s press release. On November 9 2020, Sony said that it had “launched a new project for drones in the field of AI robotics” and that Airpeak would “support the creativity of video creators to the fullest extent possible, aiming to contribute to the further development of the entertainment industry, as well as to improved efficiency and savings in various industries”.
All pretty vague, but the important point is that Sony Airpeak will likely have a strong consumer focus. Sony is already major shareholder in AeroSense, which is an enterprise drone company that specializes in surveying, mapping and capturing live events. This means Airpeak will likely be, as Sony hinted in its official announcement, more of a consumer drone play.
This is further backed up by the description on Airpeak’s site above, which promises that it will “open the skies into an infinite creative playground” and “lift you to never-reached creative experience”. Marketing waffle, for sure, but also promising for those who are keen for Airpeak to challenge the likes of DJI and Skydio in the aerial videography space.
Sony’s video teaser for Airpeak (below) doesn’t give too much away either, other than hinting that new hardware will definitely a part of its ‘project’.
The teaser shows a spinning rotor (the part that spins a drone’s propellors to help lift it off the ground). This is attached to an arm that appears to have a carbon fiber pattern towards the edge of the shot.
Another hint that the Airpeak project should produce new drone hardware is at the foot of the Airpeak page, where Sony says that it’s looking for professional drone fliers to collaborate (or more likely, beta test) its drone project.
The benefits of doing this include “opportunities to collaborate with products under development”, which suggests that Airpeak could produce more than one aerial photography tool.
Sony Airpeak drone: why now?
Why might Sony be developing a new drone in 2021, when the likes of DJI have dominated the consumer space since the DJI Mavic Pro arrived in 2016? As Sony says in its Airpeak press release, it already has most of the components in place with its “imaging and sensing technology”.
Many drones like the DJI Mavic Air 2 already use Sony sensors like the IMX586, while the company’s IMX556 DepthSense sensor uses ‘Time of Flight’ (ToF) tech that, according to Sony, “endows drones, autonomous vacuum cleaners, robots, personal assistants, and many more with human-like intelligence”.
Another possible reason why Sony has waited until now to combine AI robotics with drones could be the recent announcement of its first image sensors with built-in AI.
Rather than having to send images or video to the cloud for analysis, the IMX500 and IMX501 can perform tricks the real-time tracking of objects while recording video, all on the chip itself. Helpfully, they can also capture regular 12MP photos and 4K/60p video.
Right now, these sensors are mainly aimed at retailers and industry, who can use them for security and automation. But considering Sony has announced that Airpeak will be in the field of “AI robotics”, it doesn’t seem a huge stretch to speculate that this tech (or a version of it) could be at the heart of its new drone platform.
Today’s drones like the DJI Mavic Air 2 and Skydio 2 already have advanced features like automated flying modes and subject tracking. But the combination of Sony’s latest A.I sensors and other tech like DepthSense could well give Airpeak some next-gen powers that we haven’t yet seen on consumer drones.
Sony Airsense drone: design
Those are the kinds of features we might see from Airsense, but what might a Sony drone look like?
Given that Sony has so far only given us a glimpse of a rotor, this is a bit harder to predict. But some patents at least give us an idea of the concepts it’s been considering.
Of course, patents don’t necessarily give us any concrete clues to a final design – in fact, they’re often purposely vague in order to protect a product’s ultimate form. But they could potentially point towards the overall concept, even if the specifics turn out to be different.
The first patent for a Sony drone was picked up by Sony Alpha Rumors back in 2018. This showed a folding design where the rotors all fold into a square holder, which is fronted by a touchscreen controller. The idea being that you can detach the touchscreen holder in order to fly the drone.
This concept was further developed in another patent in October 2019 which hinted at other features like gesture control – for example, one page contains an idea labelled “stretch out palm under flying device”.
Interestingly, much of these patents refer to a device that has more in common with entry-level drones like the AirSelfie 2, which arrived back at CES 2018, rather than the more advanced drone hinted at by the mountainous images shown on Sony’s Airpeak page.
This means it’s hard to say exactly what kind of drone (or drones) the Airpeak project might ultimately produce. But one thing is clear from both the patents and official Airpeak announcement – Sony’s idea of a drone is a user-friendly flying camera that does a lot of the heavy lifting, in both flying and image-taking terms, for you.
Sony Airpeak drone: what can we expect?
It’s still early days for Sony Airpeak, but one thing’s for sure – if you’re a fan of aerial photography or videography, it could be one of the most exciting things to be announced in 2021.
We’d loved to have seen Sony enter the drone space a few years ago to provide some much-needed competition to DJI. On the other hand, the stars do seem to be aligning for Sony’s drone-friendly tech – it has new AI-powered image sensors, 3D mapping with the likes of DepthSense, and the best subject-tracking autofocus in the camera game.
Thanks to its co-development of AeroSense, Sony also has some experience on the hardware side too, albeit in the industrial space. The fact that DJI could well be sidetracked in 2021 by supply chain issues related to its US ban could also be a welcome bonus.
Of course, questions do still remain about exactly what kind of drone Sony is planning and how quickly it might arrive, given it’s still only been given ‘project’ status. But we’re excited to see if Airpeak can develop into a DJI-rivaling drone brand and will update this page with more official information as soon as it arrived and automatically lands on our palm.