In context: Over the last many years, some of the most exciting developments that have come out of CES have been car-related. From informative cockpit experiences to promises of assisted and autonomous driving, much of the headline-generating news from the last few shows has been centered around the car. In fact, many have argued that the automotive industry is becoming the next big segment of the technology industry.
Companies like Intel’s Mobileye, graphics giant Nvidia and Qualcomm are all using CES 2022 to announce their latest offerings to the automotive industry as well as important new partnerships with automakers and car suppliers.
In the case of Qualcomm, Snapdragon Ride Vision brings a new level of simplicity and focus to automakers looking to offer safety-focused, computer-driven Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) features to a wider range of vehicles, while Snapdragon Digital Chassis takes advantage of the requirement of completeness and flexibility in advanced automotive computing solutions.
Digital Chassis provides a framework that can combine the company’s Snapdragon Ride-assisted and autonomous driving platform, Snapdragon Cockpit for multi-screen infotainment, Snapdragon Auto Connectivity for 5G and 4G LTE external connections as well as WiFi and Bluetooth internal connections, and Snapdragon Car-to-Cloud services to enable new functionality and business models for connected cars.
While Qualcomm introduced many of these offerings before, it adds with the Digital Chassis software that makes it easy to integrate and interoperate the parts. For car companies looking to find a technology partner for a complete, connected, digital car experience, the Digital Chassis looks like an exciting and potentially attractive option.
Modern cars are hugely complex beasts, and as many car manufacturers and suppliers have learned over the last few years, it is proving more challenging to add more, advanced technology offerings to the mix than many had originally expected. So any effort to simplify the process by essentially “pre-integrating” different parts (not only Qualcomms but also its software partners) can be considered as a positive step forward. This is especially true for newer car companies that have a modern, complete car system approach to design and manufacturing.
At the same time as veterans of the automotive industry and close observers in the industry understand, the componented way in which many cars from traditional automakers are designed and built can make it difficult for this kind of complete solution to work – despite its potential elegance. from a purely technological perspective.
Therefore, Qualcomm offers the flexibility of letting automakers mix and match different sub-elements of the digital chassis framework so that, for example, one automaker could use a Qualcomm solution ADAS but another vendor solution for infotainment.
To that end, Qualcomm has also added more open interfaces to its various services as part of the Digital Chassis effort to enable more customization options. This also allows car manufacturers to, for example, use their own specially developed driving stack software or take advantage of the software provided by Qualcomm.
In addition, with the expansion of its car-to-cloud services – not to mention its more than 20-year history of telematics and other connectivity solutions for automakers through its modem business, Qualcomm hopes to create service-based business models. The idea is to allow car manufacturers to generate revenue after the car has been sold for things like feature upgrades, new content services, etc. that consumers would pay for, potentially providing a new revenue stream for all parties involved.
On the partner side, Qualcomm recently introduced an agreement with BMW to operate several of the digital chassis functions, starting with the 2025 model year, and at CES, the company announced new initiatives with Volvo as well as expanded work with Honda, Renault, GM, Tier 1 supplier Alps and several Chinese automakers.
Qualcomm also announced the debut of the Snapdragon Ride Vision, which is expected to be in car production in 2024. Powered by a new 4nm-based Snapdragon SoC and partner Arriver’s computer vision software, Snapdragon Ride Vision is partially positioned as a competitor to Mobileye’s offering.
It can be paired with widely available cameras to create a simple yet highly functional system that brings critical safety-related features to even entry-level cars. It can also be scaled up to provide semi-autonomous Level 2 and 3 driving characteristics when paired with Qualcomm’s existing Snapdragon Drive SoC and Drive Accelerators, along with additional sensor technologies such as radar and lidar.
Solutions such as Snapdragon Ride Vision are focused on important functional safety benefits that consumers really want – such as automatic braking, object registration and avoidance, lane keeping and lane change, automated highway driving, driver monitoring, etc.
One of the challenges that has plagued the automotive industry’s implementation of potentially game-changing technologies for fully autonomous driving is that many early-stage efforts that received much attention were essentially trying to boil the sea. They have grossly over-elevated and under-delivered what they could do, and this has led to both dramatically longer timelines and significantly revised expectations for autonomous cars.
Even if these early efforts worked, it turns out that they were promising capabilities that a large majority of consumers did not even want. Solutions such as Snapdragon Ride Vision, on the other hand, focus on important functional safety benefits that consumers really want – such as automatic braking, object detection and avoidance, lane keeping and lane change, automated highway driving, driver monitoring, etc. In addition, these can be scaled up to more practical and more technologically realistic levels of autonomous driving for those who want to explore them.
The Snapdragon Ride Vision System offers open source software interfaces via the Snapdragon Ride SDK and allows car manufacturers, or their suppliers, to customize to their unique needs and preferences. For car manufacturers who want to be able to extend the value and uniqueness of their brand to a car’s digital experience, this is crucial.
Together, the Snapdragon Digital Chassis and Ride Vision offerings highlight the continued development of Qualcomm’s efforts in the automotive industry. While many still think of the company as mobile device focused, it is clear that Qualcomm’s vision of mobility is expanding to a much broader world.
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC, a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and the professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.