Qualcomm wants to be the digital keystone of tomorrow’s cars

The major American specialist in smartphone semiconductors is taking a growing place in the automotive world. A breakthrough described during its investor day for the auto branch, which we attended in New York. The opportunity to better understand the car of tomorrow.

By

Nicolas Valeano

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The Qualcomm Snapdragon Chassis chip can handle infotainment, connectivity and driver aids.

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Automobiles will either be high-tech objects or they won’t be. “ Electricity is the accelerator of this transformation” says Nakul Duggal, in charge of Qualcomm’s automotive business. Infotainment, digital instrumentation, 4/5 G and cloud connectivity, C-V2X (communication between vehicles), GNSS positioning (using several satellite networks), driving aids (ADAS), even autonomous driving: these are all features to be integrated into vehicles, requiring an immense capacity for calculation and management of graphic displays (CPU and GPU) in an on-board supercomputer. This is what Qualcomm offers, with what it calls its Snapdragon digital chassis. The latter totals no less than 31 billion dollars in orders from an impressive list of builders from all walks of life. Among them is Stellantis, which will adopt it from 2024. In a video message broadcast during the New York event, Carlos Tavares uses a sports parable to explain how “ Snapdragon is going to give us the horses we need to win the race”.

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Nakul Duggal, head of Qualcomm’s automotive business, at Investor Day in New York.

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GM is also adopting this solution, inaugurated with the Cadillac Lyriq, 100% electric and 100% based on Qualcomm’s digital chassis. But other brands are doing the same, such as Renault, Honda, BYD, Great Wall or Volvo, including those that have adopted Google’s Android Automotive operating system.

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Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive Chassis

In an ultra-compact box concentrates a phenomenal computing capacity.

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The new Mercedes E-Class, Qualcomm inside

Among the announcements of this event, the reinforced partnership with Mercedes-Benz will materialize from 2023 with the launch of the new generation of the E-Class. The car will be equipped with the digital cockpit boosted with artificial intelligence, as well as Snapdragon telematics.

Regarding the autonomous driving part, the work of level 3 driving development with BMW for the Neue Klasse (2025) will serve as a benchmark for Qualcomm for future developments in this area; progress that can then be applied to other manufacturers. The San Diego (California) firm is also a supplier of Cariad, the specialized software branch of the Volkswagen group, and the Snapdragon will be the basis of the system equipping VW’s future electric sedan called Trinity. The company also announced a collaboration with the Red Hat operating system, operating in open contribution (open source) and based on Linux, particularly renowned for its operating security. A fundamental aspect when it comes to embedded systems.

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Qualcomm Snapdragon Chassis

The Cadillac Lyriq, based entirely on the Snapdragon Chassis, will be released next year.

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From smartphone to car

Qualcomm is one of the giants of semiconductors, especially for the smartphone market, where its Snapdragon are popular. However, it is not the same to design chips installed in automobiles. You have to deal with thermal constraints, but also with a much longer lifespan and complexity for the various on-board software to be managed, in particular for ADAS. Qualcomm has been supplying manufacturers with on-board modems for about twenty years and thus has more than 250 million cars on the road. But its place in the market for on-board automotive electronic chips remains for the time being behind that of the giants such as NXP, Renesas and Infineon. In this market there are also specialists like Nvidia, from the world of video games. The latter has just presented its Drive Thor, an integrated super-computer dedicated to driving assistance and infotainment.

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Qualcomm Snapdragon Chassis future auto architecture

All the screens and their graphic animations are managed by the same computer.

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“The industry came to us,” says Akash Palkhiwala, CFO of the brand. Cristiano Amon, the boss of Qualcomm, clarifies things: “ Manufacturers no longer choose multiple suppliers because speed and performance are the most important aspects. The performance delivered for each watt consumed is a non-negotiable criterion. Afterwards, it is the software that makes the diversity. » As for the sizing of the computing power, everything depends on the technical sheet required by the manufacturer. It will also be possible, in the future, to change certain computers or modems in order to evolve with the advance of technologies, because the life cycle of a car is much longer than that of high-tech products. For manufacturers, it’s a way of maintaining a direct dialogue with their customers. But it is also, according to Qualcomm, a way to create as much revenue with connectivity as with the actual sale of the vehicle.

The chip specialist also plans to attack the market for motorized two-wheelers and other VAEs with a simplified extension of automotive security systems. But he assures that he has no intention of embarking on the production of sensors such as radars and lidars, “natural” complements to any driver assistance system. At least for the moment.

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