Science & Technology



Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Ride platform is first step toward self-driving cars

Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

SAN DIEGO -- After years of supplying Bluetooth and cellular connectivity to automakers, Qualcomm is pivoting toward safety with its new Snapdragon Ride platform, which aims to bring advanced driver assistance features such as automated parking, lane monitoring and highway auto-pilot to vehicles as soon as 2023.

Eventually, the company believes its new Snapdragon Ride platform can serve as a foundation for full-fledged self-driving cars.

Qualcomm announced Snapdragon Ride Monday at CES, the massive consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. Its foray into safety/autonomy systems pits it against several large rivals, including Google-parent Alphabet-Waymo and Intel-Mobileye.

In addition, Telsa and other automakers have their own in-house initiatives. Ford bought artificial intelligence start-up Argo for $1 billion to bolster its autonomous driving work. GM acquired Sidecar's assets, invested in Lyft and bought autonomous technology startup Cruise Automation.

Still, self-driving cars are likely years away from showing up on roadways in significant numbers. In the meantime, Qualcomm is betting that the Snapdragon Ride platform can reduce the complexity of current driver assistance and autonomous driving technology with a comprehensive software suite, power-efficient hardware, computer vision and other techniques to power such things as automatic braking and traffic sign recognition.

Snapdragon Ride includes processor and accelerator chips, artificial intelligence and sensor fusion technologies, as well as what the company called a pioneering "software stack. It is designed to be power efficient, which is important as electric vehicles become more widespread.


The computing hardware itself is relatively small -- about the size of a hardback book. The system is air cooled, so no fans or liquid-based cooling systems are needed to prevent the chips from overheating in the vehicle.

"Autonomous driving, of course, is just going to be transformative to the auto industry," said Nakul Duggal, Qualcomm's senior vice president for automotive product management. "It is going to bring the right technologies -- machine learning, sensors and really advanced capabilities -- to the next generation of cars and I think we have a fantastic starting point."

The company expects Snapdragon Ride hardware and software will be available to automakers and their suppliers for testing in the first half of this year. The company hopes that vehicles with advanced driver assistance features powered by Snapdragon Ride will be in production in 2023.

Qualcomm has long sought to diversify its business beyond smartphones. Last year, it booked about $600 million in revenue from supplying wireless and computer technologies to automakers. But it has $7 billion in pending auto orders in the pipeline -- up from $5.5 billion a year earlier. To date, 19 automakers have selected the company's infotainment technologies for vehicles.


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