\Sony has launched a new crowdfunding platform designed to find and finance projects developed by Sony employees. The platform, called First Flight, is part of an effort by the Japanese company to promote new business ideas as it tries to drive itself back to profitability. In addition to crowdfunding new projects, First Flight will also let backers directly buy and pre-order new devices developed by Sony workers.
First Flight currently offers pre-orders for two Sony-affiliated projects — the MESH Smart DIY kit, and the FES e-ink watch. A third, a sleek all-in-one remote called the HUIS Remote Controller, is already 20 percent of the way to its 5 million yen (about $40,820) crowdfunding goal. Each project has a Kickstarter-esque introductory page with videos, pictures, and product information, in addition to an "episodes" tab that functions like a blog, allowing backers to keep tabs on the status of the projects. For now at least, the platform is only available to Japanese customers. Of the devices on offer, it's the gorgeous FES watch that's the most appealing, but for now it — and all of the products on the site — are only available to Japanese consumers. They'll be able to pre-order the watch for 29,700 yen (about $242), with shipping due in October.
We first saw the FES watch last November. The stylish e-ink device appeared to be the design of new Japanese startup Fashion Entertainments, but it was revealed soon afterwards that the new company was a subsidiary of Sony itself. Under CEO Kaz Hirai, Sony has increasingly given its employees more freedom to innovate on new products and devices as the company's mobile and TV divisions suffer heavy financial losses. It's tempting to ask why Sony as a vast conglomerate can't simply fund exciting new projects itself, but First Flight is at least an attempt by the Japanese firm to focus on the kind of innovative design that originally made it great.