After skipping CES 2021, arguably still the auto industry’s largest technology event despite being virtual this year, Qualcomm held its own virtual automotive summit, dubbed Automotive Redefined, on January 26 & 27, 2021. Although the event focused on partners, Qualcomm used it to make many technology and partnership announcements aimed at positioning the company as a complete vehicle platform technology supplier, much like what the company has done in smartphones and mobile devices, such as smartwatches and XR headsets.
Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit
Among the announcements were that Qualcomm has secured design wins at 20 of the top 25 automotive OEMs and Tier-1 system providers with its scalable 3rd-Generation Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit platform that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) for in-car virtual assistance, driver interfaces, and safety. Qualcomm also announced that it has partnered with Amazon to integrate a customizable version of Alexa for an in-vehicle intelligent assistant using the Alexa Automotive Software Development Kit (SDK) into the platform. Through the SDK, OEMs can provide a custom experience including unique wake words, voices, and other functions. The Alexa functionality can also be enabled and updated through Qualcomm’s Car-to-Cloud service similar to the Snapdragon Telematics system. The Alexa platform joins the digital assistants from Google’s Automotive Services (GAS), Cerence, and other virtual assistants already supported on the Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform.
In addition to Amazon, the list of partners for the platform is impressive, consisting of system, software, and semiconductor companies – Alps Alpine, Archermind, Bosch, Foxconn, Google, Green Hills Software, Harman, Joynext, LG Electronics, Maxim Integrated, Micron, OpenSynergy, Panasonic Corporation, Blackberry QNX, Sasken Technologies, Seeing Machines, Thundercomm, and Visteon. According to Qualcomm, the goal is to provide an open system that allows OEMs to select and customize the platform with the OEM’s preferred solution.
Commercial deployments of systems leveraging the 3rd-generation of the Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform will begin this year, but Qualcomm did not stop there. The company also announced the 4th generation of the platform. The new 4th-generation platform provides support for multiple zones within the vehicle with the SoCs acting as both zonal controllers and the central control unit. The 4th-generation includes a family of products branded Performance, Premier, and Paramount offering scalable solutions for equipment suppliers and OEMs. The new SoCs will be built on the latest 5nm process technology for optimal performance efficiency and will meet Automotive Safety Integrity Level D (ASIL-D) standards and automotive temperature requirements. The new Snapdragon Cockpit Platform will feature the 6th generation Kryo CPU core, Qualcomm’s AI engine, a Spectra ISP, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, and an Adreno GPU. The Adreno GPU can render multiple high-resolution displays for enhanced graphics and multimedia processing while dedicated multimedia accelerators provide the processing capability for camera stitching, audio, and video processing. The entire platform is designed to create a customizable and safe user experience for each occupant in the vehicle. Targeting vehicle launches starting in 2022, customers can start developing on the platform by next quarter (2Q2021).
In terms of software, the 4th-generation will be software compatible with the previous generation and continue to be supported by Qualcomm’s Car-to-Cloud for system updates, upgrades, applications, and services. The 4th-generation Snapdragon Cockpit Platform will support multiple high-level operating systems (HLOS) and application frameworks and services, including Android Auto Embedded, Android Open Source Project (AOSP), Automotive Grade Linux (AGL), BanMa AliOS, Google Automotive Services (GAS), Linux, webOS Auto, and Yocto. The new platform also supports Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOSs) Blackberry QNX, Integrity (Green Hills Software), QNX OS for Safety, SafeRTOS (Wittenstein), and u-velOSity (Green Hills Software). The platform also supports the use of hypervisors and containers.
Qualcomm also announced an additional partnership with Alps Alpine to deliver a camera-based sensing and positioning device called ViewPose that supports precise vehicle positioning. ViewPose will be leveraging Qualcomm’s automotive 5G platform with Multi-Frequency Global Navigation Satellite System (MF-GNSS), Vision Enhanced Precise Positioning (VEPP) software, and the Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform for image processing and positioning. According to Qualcomm, this combines the use of a variety of inertial sensors and wireless technology to provide positioning in areas where LiDAR point cloud maps are not available.
Telematics and CV2X
With Cellular Vehicle to Everything (CV2X) gaining steam, particularly in China, Qualcomm announced partnerships with GosuncWelink, LG, Quectel, Rolling Wireless, WNC, and ZTE to provide 5G connectivity and CV2X solutions for automotive applications. Note that all of Qualcomm’s Telematics products support CV2X, it is simply a matter of enabling it once the infrastructure supports the technology.
The final reveal of the event was an expansion of the Snapdragon Ride platform to support autonomous levels 1 and 2. The platform can now scale from 10 TOPS of performance to 700 TOPS in support of autonomous levels 1 through 5. And like the Cockpit platform, all the Ride solutions support ADIL-D safety standards and automotive temperature requirements. The Ride SoCs can be used individually or in multi-SoC configurations along with the Autonomous Drive Accelerator 300. Additionally, OEMs can enable or disable functions on the platform through the Car-to-Cloud service offering OEMs scalability across multiple platforms at different price points and flexibility through the life of the vehicle. The entire product family is based on 5nm technology, and, according to the company, are the first sampling automotive processors in 5nm. Snapdragon Ride will scale from 5W for 10 TOPS of performance to 130W for 700 TOPS and supports a wide range of industry-standard camera, radar, and lidar sensors. The entire product portfolio and full development platform are available now and production systems are expected in cars starting in 2022, earlier than what was announced at CES in 2020.
Qualcomm also announced that it is working with Veoneer to integrate its Arriver vision perception and driving policy software stack, with Valeo to support the Park4U software platform, and with Seeing Machines to design a DMS solution. The platform also supports Classic and Adaptive Automotive Open System Architecture (AUTOSAR) solutions, the Blackberry QNX Hypervisor for Safety, and several RTOSs, including Blackberry QNX for Safety; Safe RT Linux; and SafeRTOS from Wittenstein. The platform is also supported by a growing library of Qualcomm software tools, applications, and services, including the company’s Vision Enhanced Precise Positioning (VEPP).
While not discussed in detail, Qualcomm also indicated that both the Cockpit and Ride platform support have all the elements of the Snapdragon Secure Foundation as some automotive-specific enhancements. The platforms use a combination of both hardware and software security to protect the platform, communications, and content to each system and user. Some of the security features include a secure processing unit, a trusted execution environment (TEE), secure boot, secure debug, a cryptography engine, a secure DSP domain, a protection environment enabling 3rd party hypervisors, peripheral security, storage/key management security, and secure hardware extension (SHE). The Car-to-Cloud service provides another level of communications security.
Qualcomm is already the dominant provider for vehicle telematics, providing the components for every major automotive manufacturer, and over the past few years, the company has achieved a high number of design wins in future infotainment systems. In addition, the company is the only semiconductor company with a complete 5G RF solution. While Qualcomm is a relatively latecomer to vehicle control systems, it is using its expertise from the mobile segment, including low-power high-performance heterogeneous SoCs, high speeds wired and wireless networking, and AI expertise to enter the market. Qualcomm appears to have what it takes to deliver a complete automotive platform making it an attractive option for future EV and AV designs. In a sign of validation from one of the largest auto OEMs, Qualcomm has been working with GM for ten years on communications applications, including CV2X, which launched with the Buick GL8 MPV in China in 2020. According to GM, the companies are working together on next-generation telematics systems, future advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and digital cockpits, including using the 3rd-generation Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform.