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You’re probably thinking, “Wait, I thought you only crowdfunded when you couldn’t afford to fund the project…”

Sony's crowdfunded lock is designed to attach easily on any standard lock.
Sony’s crowdfunded lock is designed to attach easily on any standard lock.

Yeah, we thought so too. But Sony has surprised us by launching its second crowdfunding campaign on Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake earlier this week. This time, Sony launched a campaign for a smart lock that allows you to open doors using a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection. The aluminum device, called Qrio, can even share temporary “locks” with family, friends, or a handyman; it fits on top of your current lock—no complication installation to worry about—and its batteries are promised to last 1000 days, making it among the simplest home solutions we’ve seen in awhile.

The campaign was posted by a venture called Qrio Co., Ltd, which is a joint venture between Sony and the World Innovation Lab (and, coincidentally, the name of a robot that Sony developed a few years ago). Sony hasn’t commented about the device as yet, but it has already sailed through 779% of its funding goal with 64 days remaining, as of today. According to the perks, the device costs about $130 before tax, and should be shipped in May 2015.

In late November 2014, Sony made a similar attempt to distance themselves from the product while testing the market for the FES e-paper watch they created. The watch wasn’t smart in any ways like countless others on crowdfunding websites; it merely had a piece of e-paper and 24 different watch faces that the user could choose from. Similarly, this watch was debuted from another non-Sony company called Fashion Entertainments. “We hid Sony’s name because we wanted to test the real value of the product, whether there will be demand for our concept,” an individual involved in the project said. The watch raised nearly 14 million yen from almost 700 supporters through the campaign on Makuake.

feswatch
The last time Sony crowdfunded a product in Japan, it was a “smart” watch made with e-paper. Though it had no true smart functions, it featured a brilliantly minimalistic design and exceeded its funding goal in a mere 60 days.

Sony has been repeatedly testing products that don’t fit seamlessly under the Sony banner using the Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake, likely to limit financial risk and get immediate feedback from customers. The Japanese company traditionally has a conservative launch approach, so it’s nice to see them shaking things up rather than just bandwagoning onto every other tech company’s ideas, especially in their financial disparity. Word on the street is that this innovative approach falls under the initiative of Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai, who has been encouraging new strategies and attempting to foster an entrepreneurial spirit to reverse Sony’s recent financial difficulties.

But on a larger scale, we’re fascinated by how Sony is using crowdfunding in general. This is the first time we’ve seen of a large corporation using crowdfunding, and we’re not sure how we feel about it. While it’s an extremely clever way to test the market and understand the consumers’ needs, we’ve always thought of crowdfunding as a playground for creativity and feedback for entrepreneurs. Personally, I contribute to ideas that I find merit in, ideas that I want to see succeed; it’s about the creator’s passion and my enthusiasm towards their idea. I love being able to pitch in to the broke filmmaker who’s had a dream to create this special film for years, or a student like Angelia Trinidad who’s sharing an impactful solution. So I found it weird that a multi-billion dollar corporation could be behind a campaign I’m supporting, especially considering they need the money much less than the other causes on the portal. On the other hand, crowdfunding is serving Sony the same purpose as it’s serving countless other crowdfunders around the world: market testing and pre orders of a product, so I’m torn.

It’s definitely some food for thought. What do you think of Sony’s strategy?

by Rafah Ali

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