This week I’m attending CES 2019 in Las Vegas. All eyes in the tech industry are on the annual show for all things consumer electronics, where everyone from startups to industry stalwarts showcase their latest and greatest technologies. Qualcomm is on full throttle right now—last month it announced the new Snapdragon 855 mobile platform—the first to support multigigabit 5G (read my take here). Qualcomm also announced a very unique chip for the Always Connected PC market, the Snapdragon 8cx. (read my take here).
While mobile is obviously a huge piece of Qualcomm’s repertoire, the company’s reach extends far beyond smartphones. The big story out of the CES 2019 for Qualcomm was a significant expansion of its presence in the automotive market which is hot as electronics are increasingly becoming a larger part of the bill of materials.. Let’s take a closer look at what all was announced.
3rd Gen Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform
The biggest announcement, in my view, was the 3rd Generation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform, building on the groundwork laid by the Snapdragon 602A and 820A. The new platform is divided into three tiers—Performance (for entry level), Premiere (for mid-tier), and Paramount (for the best experience). Qualcomm calls the 3rdgeneration “the automotive industry’s first-announced scalable artificial intelligence-based platforms,” and says they were designed to meet the evolving needs of the automotive industry, across all classes of vehicles. I think this is fair and something that companies like NXP Semiconductors NV just can’t provide. Segmenting the 3rd generation line to drive volume and intra line differentiation is a classic Qualcomm move as it runs the play well in smartphones. The segmentation byproduct is that it positions competitors who can’t offer a full line as niche or point players. To a tier 1, having a full line means you have one architecture to scale from your budget to mid-tier to premium car lines, saving engineering time and money as well as delivering a consistent experience.
The next generation of vehicles will require better AI and more powerful compute for in-car assistance, contextual safety, navigation, computer vision and much more. These platforms seek to enable just that, with the inclusion of a multi-core Qualcomm AI Engine, a 4th generation Qualcomm Kryo CPU, a Qualcomm Hexagon Processor, Qualcomm Spectra ISP, and the 6th generation Qualcomm Adreno Visual Subsystem—all optimized to take full advantage of their AI capabilities. That’s a lot of AI power. The heterogeneous computing approach enables the right compute engine (CPU, GPU, DSP, ISP) for the right task, which is very different from other approaches. Some vendors who are weaker in heterogeneous computing capabilities load up AI all on the NPU, CPU, or GPU which could be limiting and not as efficient. Qualcomm’s approach is harder but hard is what the company is best at.
The new cockpit platforms sport Qualcomm’s Vision Enhanced Precise Positioning-based computer vision capabilities and camera sensors. As for connectivity, Qualcomm’s suite of wireless technologies supports multi-mode cellular connectivity, Wi-Fi 6, and enhanced Bluetooth capabilities. For security—which is obviously paramount when we’re talking about vehicles hurtling down the highway at 70+ mph and nation-states motivated to disrupt—the 3rd generation platforms feature Qualcomm’s Secure Processing Unit, which it says will help protect personal and vehicle data. The 3rd generation platforms also feature software support for real-time operating systems, including Android, LINUX high-level, and others.
CES automakers demos and C-V2X
Qualcomm also announced the continued joint efforts with Audi AG, Ducati, and Ford Motor Company to accelerate the commercial deployment of Qualcomm’s C-V2X direct communication technology. C-V2X, for the uninitiated, stands for cellular vehicle-to-everything—designed to serve as a foundation for vehicles to talk to each other and the environment around them. C-V2X seeks to improve roadside safety, traffic efficiency, and automated driving, and act as a compliment to the various other Advanced Driver Assistance System sensors on board the vehicle.
Qualcomm says that C-V2X is currently the only V2X option that has a clear evolution path to 5G, and I tend to agree, which has the potential to give the company a significant leg up in the years to come. Qualcomm says the technology can be integrated easily into all wireless modems, making its implementation cost-efficient for the automotive industry. As mentioned earlier, security is extremely important for automotive technology. I believe C-V2X benefits from established security transport layers and various application protocols from leading automotive standards communities.
At CES, the companies involved in the partnership are showcasing various scenarios in which C-V2X will be useful. These include vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian, and vehicle-to-infrastructure safety scenarios. One example is a demonstration of how several vehicles equipped with C-V2X negotiate the right of way at a four-way intersection without a traffic signal.
On the topic of C-V2X, Qualcomm also announced at the conference a new partnership with the City of Las Vegas and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to deploy the technology in Las Vegas. Geared towards showcasing the benefits of this technology and accelerating commercial deployment, the partnership will include the trial installation of C-V2X-enabled roadside units along certain roadways in the city.
All this considered, I’m confident in saying Qualcomm has the current lead in C-V2X. Vehicle-to-everything communication is no walk in the park, but these kinds of complex, interconnected problems are right up the company’s alley. Ford, for one, committed today to deploy C-V2X in 2022. More will follow.
Showcasing in-vehicle Amazon Alexa
The last announcement I’ll hit on is the news that Qualcomm will be showcasing various AI in-vehicle capabilities utilizing Amazon Alexa at CES 2019. Qualcomm plans to demonstrate how its Smart Audio Platform and Alexa’s speech recognition and natural language processing capabilities can enhance the in-vehicle experience, improving vehicle-driver interactions, navigation, and multimedia experiences. Qualcomm says the demonstration will also feature other Amazon offerings, such as Amazon Music, Prime Video, Fire TV, and Audible.
Qualcomm has become the secret sauce in much of today’s technology—from smartphones, routers and to the connected and intelligent car. With yesterday’s announcements, it continues to push into the automotive market. It has the chops to be successful here, whether we’re talking about powering the next generation of vehicles with the 3rd generation Snapdragon Automotive Platforms, or the C-V2X technology to make sure these next generation cars interact safely and smartly with each other and their surroundings. I’ll continue to monitor with interest, particularly the addition of safety and self-driving capabilities and look forward to witnessing these demonstrations firsthand.