Qualcomm Unveils Latest Snapdragon SoCs for Connected Cars

At CES, the chip maker announces Snapdragon 820A, a family of chips that is aimed at helping carmakers enhance the driver experience.

auto technology

Qualcomm is continuing to make a push into the growing automotive technology market, with officials this week unveiling a portfolio of processors based on the company's upcoming latest-generation Snapdragon 820 chips.

Officials unveiled the Snapdragon 820 Automotive (820A) family of systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) at CES 2016 as part of a larger series of announcements at the event that touched on everything from self-organizing networks (SONs) to smart homes. Automotive technology—from infotainment systems to self-driving vehicles—has been a key topic at CES, and Qualcomm officials are making clear that the company intends to be a player in the space.

It's a highly competitive market, as illustrated by Nvidia's introduction this week of its Drive PX 2 system aimed at accelerating the development of autonomous vehicles. Qualcomm is looking to leverage its capabilities for integrating multiple components—from the CPU and GPU to the digital signal processor (DSP) and machine intelligence—onto a single piece of silicon, making it easier and less expensive for carmakers to put the technology into their offerings.

The company already offers a range of products targeted at the automotive space, and in October 2015 ramped up its capabilities when it bought British chip maker CSR for $2.5 billion. CSR brought Qualcomm technologies aimed at Bluetooth connectivity, automotive infotainment and location.

"The automotive industry has long been asking for a single scalable solution capable of delivering the rich user experience and level of performance, connectivity and upgradability that consumers are accustomed to on their personal mobile devices—including real-time cloud connectivity and navigation, immersive 4K graphics and video displays, the flexibility of hardware and software upgradability, and the deep learning and remote diagnostic capabilities needed to deliver the next level of safety performance in the vehicle," Patrick Little, senior vice president and general manager of automotive at Qualcomm, said in a statement.

The Snapdragon 820A offers many of the same features that are found in the Snapdragon 820 SoCs that will appear in many smartphones this year. It's based on a 14-nanometer FinFET manufacturing process, which helps increase performance and drive down power consumption in smaller chip sizes. The 820A chips also include Qualcomm's custom ARM-based 64-bit Kyro CPU and Adreno 530 GPU, along with the company's Hexagon 680 DSP and the Zeroth machine intelligence platform. Qualcomm also is integrating an X12 LTE modem for wireless connectivity that is capable of 600M-bps downlink and 150M-bps uplink speeds.

It also is made to ensure heterogeneous computing by combining the CPU, GPU and DSP cores to bring greater processing performance and lower power consumption.

The Zeroth technology can be used by carmakers to create deep-learning solutions for in-vehicle infotainment products and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that are developed using neural networks and can be run on embedded platforms in the car. A development kit for automotive solutions powered by Zeroth is coming for the Snapdragon 820A, officials said.

In addition, the 820A chips offers integrated advanced camera and sensor processing to cognitive awareness, vehicle self-diagnostics and location navigation via GNSS and dead-reckoning technologies.

The Snapdragon 820A family includes a range of SoC configurations, support for QNX, Linux and Android operating systems and an upgrade option that enables cellular connectivity updates via hardware and software. The automotive chips will begin sampling in the first quarter, and there are several concept cars and demonstrations based on the SoC family at CES, officials said.

Qualcomm also announced that its Snapdragon 602A processors, which were introduced at CES in 2014, will be used in some 2017 cars from Audi for such jobs as infotainment, navigation and voice control.