Qualcomm is one of the more exciting companies to research and write about in the tech space as it is driving so much innovation in the smartphone, IoT and automotive space. The company isn’t new to the automotive space as it has been supplying it for over twenty years. Currently, the company has a $10B automotive backlog and in 23 of 26 car brands that places it as one of the top automotive suppliers. What’s been a little quieter was the company’s foray into autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies and 5G for the car experience.
This week, Qualcomm attended the IAA Mobility conference in Munich, Germany, where Cristiano Amon gave the keynote on the presence of how 5G and other advanced technologies will impact the automotive industry. I thought this was an interesting topic so let’s take a look at Amon’s key talking points and also look at what Qualcomm announced yesterday in partnership with Renault and Google.
A couple of months ago, Cristiano Amon took over as Qualcomm CEO, and I wrote a piece on Amon’s vision for Qualcomm as a leader in 5G and mobile SoCs. The IAA keynote was one of the first times we were able to hear Cristiano Amon speak about the future of the automotive industry, and, I have to say, it is very in line with the vision he laid out previously. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion. Referencing that vision will help us see how the future of automotive is being built at what Qualcomm calls the Connected Intelligent Edge (CIE).
You can hear more about Amon’s vision for the Qualcomm future in my interview with him at our Six Five Summit 2021.
5G and the automotive industry
The first step to achieving a CIE is the establishment of reliable low latency connections. Amon elegantly pointed out that the CIE is made possible by the convergence of ultra-fast 5G connectivity, alongside high-performance, low-power computing, and on-device AI technologies. 5G also allows us to be connected to the cloud all the time, and if 5G is to be as abundant as electricity as Amon said, the automotive industry will be reached by 5G in countless old and new ways.
When I think of where 5G and telematics fits into the automotive industry, I think of autonomous vehicles. I have said many times that I believe that AV will be one of the most impactful technological innovations in our lifetimes. Amon’s keynote broke down other areas or subcategories of the automotive industry that 5G will impact deeply, changing the way we experience our vehicles and how our vehicles are connected to everything.
5G will help the automotive factory bring in new car services and change the way we do maintenance and car sales. Automotive factories will be connected to the cloud and everything else so that the production of a car is more adaptable. Amon expounded on the capabilities of smart factories that allow for multiple products to be built on the same line. Amon says it will change the concept of economies at scale. In other words, factories will be adaptable and controlled by the cloud for maximum efficiency in factories.
The maintenance of a car and the selling of a car will be impacted by the next generation of personal devices, AR glasses that use 5G. Simulation is already happening inside dealers is a stretch on big displays, so I don’t think AR is a stretch. Vehicles will be connected to the cloud and connected to the transportation systems of smart cities. The connection to the cloud will breed new automaker services and in-car experiences. These are experiences and transformations are outside the vehicles themselves. I think it is fascinating that these transformations will be just as profound as the car experience themselves. I think Amon hit the nail on the head when he said that automakers would have a new and different relationship with customers.
Changes that happen inside the vehicle
I have written previously on Qualcomm being a player in the automotive electronics business with its telematics, dashboard, and ADAS technologies. You can read here of its potential acquisition of Veoneer, an automotive ADAS technology company. What I want to highlight from what Amon said about the in-car experience— the “digital cockpit” is where new car experiences come together. I believe the experience that we have with our smartphones is something that we are mimic in the in-car experience. We know this to be true because billboards tell us not to text or be on our smartphones and drive.
Drivers desire to stay connected to their devices while driving. As the digital cockpit mimics the smart device (also think AR devices of the future), we begin to see technologies like: advanced navigation, immersive driving experiences with massive screens and AR heads-up displays, superb graphics, premium audio, and content-specific intelligent AI. Drivers and passengers can stream videos, music, cloud-based multi-player games. I imagine it is as if you were inside a smartphone. If we ground ourselves for a second, what about those who desire to “just drive a car” or enjoy the car driving experience? I don’t see these experiences hindering this desire for the most part, and in some cases, I see it improving on that experience. Keep in mind that I can only say that out of speculation, but the futuristic experience should not be discounted by what we already find comfortable. If it would, then we should all likewise still be using flip “dumb” phones.
The experience of driving a car today involves being able to feel the car, control it, and enjoy the surroundings of the car. How much of this experience is enhanced when the car’s navigation, the instruments, cloud computation, AI, and 5G connectivity of the car move the driver to see beyond what’s in the eye. Amon described the modern navigation system as being primarily on directions, with limited access to traffic reporting. The navigation experience of the future will contain richer and more fuller interactions with the surroundings of the car and the driver. Vehicles will communicate with other vehicles, pedestrians, infrastructure, smart cities and give the user an immersive experience where everything is considered. As mentioned before, AI will have its hand in this to keep from an overwhelming immersive overload.
The autonomy of vehicles will be beyond the driving of the vehicle. A car will be able to communicate with everything around it autonomously. It will be able to talk to traffic signs and tell you at the same time about other cars in the vicinity. As the car autonomously digesting information about the light, it simultaneously tells you about the car that is about to run the same light. The vehicle is navigating through not only traffic but through the connected cloud.
The Digital Chassis of the automotive future
Amon went on to introduce the digital chassis of the future. The Snapdragon Digital Chassis is a comprehensive set of technology solutions that allow automakers and Tier-1s to build connected and intelligent vehicles. These technologies of the future—car-to-cloud, ADAS/autonomous driving, digital cockpit, advanced telematics—will all be interoperable and connected. Amon doesn’t describe these technologies as separate technologies but rather as one architecture or system. We can get a peek at what this system looks like from when Qualcomm was at its Automotive Redefined event earlier in the year. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Chassis includes its Car-to-Cloud , Snapdragon Ride , and Automotive Cockpit platforms, as well as its Snapdragon Automotive 4G or 5G modem. Amon highlights the strengths of this platform, being its interoperable, open, upgradeable, and that allows innovation to happen at the ecosystem level.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Digital Chassis is comprehensive enough to allow for the adoption of legacy car innovations and the integration of new and consolidating technologies. I say this knowing that Qualcomm has been involved in the automotive industry for many years while currently working with 23 of the leading 26 car brands. As I mentioned before, there are many parallels between the experience of a smart device and a smart car. Qualcomm has the most combined smartphone-automotive experience of any business. In other words, Qualcomm does not need to reinvent the wheel but rather integrate the wheel with the always-connected, immersive, and personal experience of a smartphone. Just as we upgrade our smartphones, Amon envisions the same type of upgradeable technology to be inherent to the smart car experience.
I had the chance to catch up with Qualcomm’s SVP and GM of the automotive business, Nakul Duggal, where we talked about the Digital Chassis. You can see the interview below.
Google and Renault
Qualcomm announced at the show that it partnered with Renault Group and Google to power the next-generation infotainment system in Renault’s new electric vehicle, the Mégane E-TECH Electric. It uses Qualcomm’s 3rd generation Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit platforms. Qualcomm announced its 4thgeneration Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit platform at Automotive redefined earlier this year and that its 3rdGeneration Automotive Cockpit platform is available for customers. I am interested in seeing how easily Qualcomm and Renault made the new vehicle to be upgraded to the 4th generation later on down the line. The integration of the 3rd generation is a part of Qualcomm’s acceleration of the platform throughout 2021.
The platform comes with Android Automotive Operating System (AAOS) that includes Google apps and services. Google Maps have always been the gold standard for GPS maps, and I think having Google and Android in some form or fashion was a no-brainer. The new vehicle also has large portrait-sized touchscreens. When comparing the inside of the car and cars from Amon’s keynote, there is a noticeable difference in immersive displays. Although we may desire the total immersive experience with massive multi-display cockpits, the gradual introduction of large displays in a vehicle is the play. I think this is especially true considering the autonomy of vehicles is not at a level where drivers can be distracted.
In my follow-up conversation with Duggal talked more about this interesting tie-up. You can find that interview here.
After over 20 years of automotive electronics experience, Qualcomm still doesn’t get a lot of credit for what it brings to the table in the space even with a $10B backlog and being in 23 of 26 auto brands. Part of that reason is that Qualcomm is so successful in smartphones it’s hard to get credit for anything else.
Part of getting that credit moving forward is diversifying the business across the three pillars of automotive, IoT and, yes, smartphones. The company just recently broke out the business between its modems, RFFE, IoT and automotive. So, check. The other part is talking more about its auto prowess, which is exactly what Qualcomm CEO did at IAA Mobility 2021.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.