Sony Corp. built a dominant position in image sensors by helping people take high-quality photos with smartphones. Now, the company is focusing on sensors that take photos at least 10 times faster than the human eye can see.

The company is working with Nissan Motor Co. and a Tokyo University professor on affordable technology that can process 1,000 images a second. That would be fast enough to open up completely new applications for the chips, which today are used primarily to take pictures with mobile phones and cameras. The high-speed sensors could help driverless cars avoid road hazards or allow industrial robots to speed up manufacturing.

The effort is part of President Kazuo Hirai's push to make Sony a more important components supplier in addition to the higher-profile businesses of making consumer electronics, video games and movies. The company is quadrupling spending on semiconductors this year to ¥290 billion ($2.4 billion) to meet demand for the sensors from customers including Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.