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Will a zippy new drone keep Sony afloat?

Sony unveils its new drone just weeks after reporting a massively profitable first quarter – after posting losses for six of the past seven years.

Sony unveiled on Monday an impressive new industrial drone that some critics are saying could finally help the company pull off the turnaround it’s been waiting for.

Critics heaped praise on the company, commenting in particular on its smooth vertical takeoff ability. The prototype “takes off like a Harrier jump jet,” remarked The Huffington Post. 

But Sony’s street cred wasn’t the only thing about to rise. The company’s unveiling also comes weeks after it reported a tripling of profits in the first quarter after slugging through losses for six of the past seven years, according to Bloomberg.

President Kazuo Hirai credited the success to Sony’s expansion into other sectors, including sensor chips and video games – and away from phones and other consumer electronics.

Hiroki Totoki, head of Sony’s mobile business, reiterated the reasoning for a new shift to Bloomberg on Monday.

“It’s difficult to expect growth in the smartphone business with smartphones alone, which is why we are looking at new opportunities such as this,” he said. 

“Investors seemed to share that optimism today as Sony’s stock rallied early — rising over 6 percent — the biggest intraday movement since February, though it traded lower in the day as a wide range of Asian tech stocks fell,” VentureBeat reported. “The initial surge seemed to indicate that investors were finding reason to be optimistic about Sony’s future again.”

Behind this fresh ray of hope is a unit named Aerosense, The Christian Science Monitor reported in July. Sony had paired with ZMP Inc., a robotics firm specializing in autopilot technology, to offer commercial clients a method of aerial surveillance, using drones to inspect “aging infrastructure and survey land that is difficult to access.” Potential clients included farms and oil and gas companies.

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Research firms say the drone industry is expected to climb to $8.4 billion by 2019 – and by 2025, nearly 10 times that amount.

And though the legality of privacy and security concerns remain contested, experts say the money will largely come from big players in the commercial drone service business.

“Application services, data services, licensing and legal services – once you start adding all of this into the mix, the size of the marketplace starts growing very, very quickly," Dan Kara, an ABI Research analyst, told CNBC.

As Amazon prepares to start its drone delivery services next year, Sony will also begin catering to the commercial sector, Aerosense chief technology officer Kotaro Sabe told Bloomberg, specifically targeting the construction, logistics, and agriculture industries. 

The company expects sales to total about 10 billion yen ($83.4 million) by 2020, said Mr. Sabe.

 
 
 

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