In context: Over the last several years, some of the most intriguing developments to come out of CES have been car related. From information-rich cockpit experiences to promises of assisted and autonomous driving, much of the headline-generating news from the last few shows has centered on the automobile. In fact, many have argued that the car industry is morphing into the next big segment of the tech business.
Companies like the Intel's Mobileye, graphics giant Nvidia, and Qualcomm are all using CES 2022 to announce their newest offerings for the automotive industry, as well as important new partnerships with car makers and automotive suppliers.
In the case of Qualcomm, Snapdragon Ride Vision brings a new degree of simplicity and focus to automakers looking to offer safety-focused, computer-vision powered ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) capabilities to a broader range of cars, while the Snapdragon Digital Chassis taps into the demand for 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, with Digital Chassis it’s adding the software that allow the pieces to easily integrate and interoperate. For car companies looking to find a technology partner for a complete, connected, digital car experience, Digital Chassis looks to be an intriguing and potentially attractive option.
Modern cars are enormously complex beasts, and as many automakers and suppliers have learned over the last few years, adding multiple, advanced technology offerings into the mix is proving to be more challenging than many initially expected. So, any efforts to simplify the process by essentially “pre-integrating” various pieces (not only Qualcomm’s, but its software partners' as well) can be considered a positive step forward. This is particularly true for newer car companies that take a modern, complete car system approach to design and manufacturing.
At the same time, as auto industry veterans and close industry watchers understand, the componentized way that 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 pure technology perspective.
That’s why Qualcomm is offering the flexibility of letting car makers mix and match different sub-elements of the Digital Chassis framework so that, for example, a car maker could use a Qualcomm solution ADAS, but a different vendor’s 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 carmakers to, for example, use their own custom-developed driving stack software or leverage the software that Qualcomm provides.
In addition, with the broadening of its car-to-cloud services options—not to mention its 20-year+ history of telematics and other connectivity solutions to car makers via its modem business—Qualcomm hopes to create service-based business models. The idea is to allow carmakers to generate revenues 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 a deal with BMW to power several of the Digital Chassis capabilities starting with the 2025 model year, and at CES, the company announced new efforts with Volvo, as well as expanded work with Honda, Renault, GM, Tier 1 supplier Alps and several Chinese carmakers.
Qualcomm also announced the debut of Snapdragon Ride Vision, expected to be in vehicle production by 2024. Powered by a new 4nm-based Snapdragon SoC and partner Arriver’s computer vision software, Snapdragon Ride Vision is positioned in part as a competitor to Mobileye’s offerings.
It can be paired with widely available cameras to create a simple, yet very functional, system to bring critical safety-related features to even entry level cars. It can also be scaled up to provide semi-autonomous Level 2 and 3 driving capabilities when paired with Qualcomm’s existing Snapdragon Drive SoC and Drive Accelerators, along with additional sensing technologies like radar and lidar.
Solutions like Snapdragon Ride Vision are focused on key functional safety benefits that consumers really want—such as automatic braking, object detection and avoidance, lane keeping and lane changing, automated highway driving, driver monitoring, etc.
One of the challenges that has plagued the auto industry’s implementation of potentially game-changing fully autonomous driving technologies is that many early efforts that received a great deal of attention were essentially trying to boil the ocean. They grossly overpromised and underdelivered on what they could do, and that has led to both dramatically longer timelines and significantly revised expectations for autonomous cars.
Even if those early efforts did work, it turns out they were promising capabilities that a large majority of consumers didn’t even want. Solutions like Snapdragon Ride Vision, on the other hand, are focused on key functional safety benefits that consumers really want—such as automatic braking, object detection and avoidance, lane keeping and lane changing, 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.
Snapdragon Ride Vision System offers open software interfaces via the Snapdragon Ride SDK and gives automakers, or their suppliers, the ability to customize to their unique needs and preferences. For automakers that want to be able to extend the value and uniqueness of their brand into a car’s digital experience, this is crucial.
Taken together, the Snapdragon Digital Chassis and Ride Vision offerings highlight the continued evolution of Qualcomm’s efforts for the automotive industry. Though many still think of the company as mobile device focused, it’s 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 professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.