Jan 4, 2022
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
The automotive industry is undergoing a digital transformation. Electric and autonomous vehicles, the growing demand for personalized in-car experiences, and the increasing compute power required for connected cars is driving this change. Unburdened from their legacy internal combustion engines, modern vehicles allow us to explore the opportunities that come with having a completely new and different digital and electronics architecture.
Based on more than 20 years of automotive industry experience, Qualcomm Technologies’ extensive product portfolio is at the center of the global automotive ecosystem. Our Snapdragon Digital Chassis — a set of technology solutions for building connected and intelligent vehicles that are safer, customizable, immersive and continually upgradeable — is empowering automakers to redefine vehicles for the 21st century and create new opportunities for the industry.
Recently, we sat down with Qualcomm Technologies Senior Vice President and General Manager, Automotive, Nakul Duggal to discuss the Snapdragon Digital Chassis — what it is, and why both automakers and consumers should be excited about the future of the automobile and transportation in general.
What excites you most about the digital transformation in automotive?
In 2021, vehicle sales revenues in the automotive industry reached $2.7 trillion, and are expected to grow at about 4 percent over the next decade. The industry, which is an essential spoke in the global economy, is embracing new technologies and innovations at an unprecedented scale.
In the past, the automotive industry relied on low-cost highly optimized manufacturing supported by robust R&D and skilled labor.
Today, a growing customer demand for unique features and use cases for next-gen automobiles and transportation solutions is steadily increasing, creating tremendous opportunity for modernization that is led by:
- electrification and battery electric vehicles that in turn require the deployment of charging infrastructure and innovation in battery technology;
- advanced semiconductors and software that allow automakers to redesign the electronics and digital architecture to create a continuously evolving platform on wheels, where a software-defined vehicle takes the lead;
- always-connected vehicle platforms that enable a plethora of use cases unlocking new business models that accommodate passenger vehicles, commercial fleets, shared mobility, and all forms of fractional ownership;
- automated driving that makes cars safer; a highly-assisted experience that allows drivers to disengage and, potentially, be removed altogether — enabling a variety of new use cases in passenger and commercial applications.
At Qualcomm Technologies, we are continuously innovating on our transportation solutions portfolio, developing an ever-evolving roadmap of products, technology innovations, and partnerships to help redefine the new automotive and transportation economy. Our innovations are bringing the consumer, wireless technologies, semiconductor, cloud, and software platforms together with 5G, AI, XR, and high performance compute along with advanced audio, video, camera, displays, and sensor technology — all designed to deliver premium in-vehicle and on-road consumer experiences.
What is the Snapdragon Digital Chassis?
The Snapdragon Digital Chassis is a set of cloud-connected platforms for telematics and connectivity, the digital cockpit, and driver assistance and autonomy — it's what automakers need to create the vehicles of the future. As vehicles trend toward electrification and increased use of technology in their digital architecture, the future of transportation becomes clear — it is going to be connected and increasingly autonomous. Connected to the cloud nearly 100 percent of the time and continually sensing and processing information from their surroundings, modern vehicles are becoming more immersive and entertaining, as well as safer and more convenient.
As the automotive industry transitions from the combustion engine to an EV-first approach, several key facets come into play:
- High-Performance SoCs - Legacy microcontroller-based designs are giving way to high performance SoCs that allow for up-integration of traditionally discrete functionality through a software-defined vehicle architecture.
- EV Chassis - EV architectures allow automakers to separate the ‘physical chassis’ – electric power-trains and battery management systems – from the ‘Digital Chassis’ of the vehicle.
- Digital Chassis further segments into:
- Zones - A zonal architecture that maps the physicality of the vehicle to custom application processors, sensors, and management software — lighting, heating, cooling, seats, ingress / egress;
- Connectivity - In-car and cloud connectivity that supports 5G communication to the cloud, Wi-Fi/BT and Ethernet traffic within the car, V2X communications to other vehicles, roadside infrastructure, vulnerable road users including bicycles and pedestrians, Power Line Communications (PLC) to the charging station, and GNSS communication for precise positioning and navigation;
- Cockpit - Audio/Video/Displays/Multimedia always-connected experiences for the driver, passenger, and the rear seat passengers are created through a scalable roadmap of Snapdragon application processors that host virtualized operating environments that, in turn, host several applications concurrently — instrument cluster, navigation display, passenger, and rear seat entertainment — supporting a wide variety of global consumer and app ecosystems while running mixed criticality functions;
- ADAS & AD - Automated driving capabilities ranging from raw data from multiple sensors (e.g., multiple cameras, radar, lidar, V2X, and maps) processed at the edge, or in a central architecture; then fused together in a central compute application processor that run an intelligent drive policy and motion planning;
- Car-to-Cloud Services - Designing platforms to account for new requirements, performance boosts, and mid lifecycle upgrades, offering in-built global connectivity and enabling SaaS models are key to the flexibility needs of the Snapdragon Digital Chassis.
- Digital Twin - manages the vehicle over its lifecycle, so that diagnostics are in place locally, and where needed, in a crowd-sourced implementation; over-the-air updates then allow the latest software to be tested and then ‘pushed’ to the edge.
- Software-Defined-Vehicle architecture - Unlike traditional embedded architectures where the application is deeply integrated into the edge platform, newer cloud-managed microservices-based architectures provide the opportunity for some applications to be run independently of the underlying hardware architecture. This creates a tremendous opportunity for designing, developing, testing, diagnosing, and updating the vehicle as the architecture can now account for functions that require strict adherence to hardware and embedded software requirements due to safety, security, and latency while offering more flexibility for functions that work better as a microservice.
- Data and continuous learning - Data harvesting, edge-based analytics and crowd-sourcing engines are key to continuous learning, diagnosis, improvements, and software updates. Continuously refreshed data streams from a ‘sensor cluster on wheels’ continues to be critical to a variety of ecosystems including insurance, mapping, delivery and logistics, cities, and more.
- Upgradable hardware - Since EVs will have a much longer expected life than any digital architecture, new hardware architectures that are modular, blade- or cartridge-based allow for a second generation of hardware to be upgraded, refreshing the underlying EV platform.
With 5G, modern vehicles are becoming distribution points for content, data, and services. Like having a mobile office or living room, users can extend their digital life into the vehicle to relax, entertain, drive higher productivity, access real-time information, and build new and more flexible business models. Always-on 5G connectivity is truly transformative because it is the foundation for enabling new use cases and revenue generators for the automotive industry and the new transportation ecosystem.
The Value of Data - Not only are connected vehicles creating unprecedented levels of consumer engagement, they’re also helping make travel safer and more convenient for everyone on the road. The Snapdragon Digital Chassis will see (cameras, Lidar), hear (V2X, radar, location) and communicate (5G) with things around it — other vehicles, the road, road infrastructure, traffic situations, and even pedestrians.
- This real-time information is combined with on-board vehicle sensors and then locally harvested and analyzed at the edge before it is up-streamed to the cloud for crowd-sourcing — the data is aggregated to create an intelligent channel of information that is used for automated driving, high-definition maps, parking and traffic services, as well as value added information for insurance, cities, first responders and more.
- This sensor data can also be used to create a more personalized experience inside the cockpit. Fueled by information from their surroundings and user preferences, future in-vehicle assistants can provide a more natural and intuitive experience that considers a user’s whole life experience, not just their driving experience.
Qualcomm Technologies is providing these intelligent solutions to our customers globally, supporting many deployments and trials to help realize the industry’s vision for creating smarter, safer vehicles and intelligent transportation systems.
What else is in it for the consumer?
Because the Snapdragon Digital Chassis is always connected, consumers are no longer limited to the vehicle they drive off the lot. They’ll have the option to upgrade technology features and bring new services into the car, allowing for a highly customized experience that can be refreshed in a timely manner. Like I mentioned earlier, the car is a unique platform because it’s a personal device — but in some sense it's also like a mobile office or living room. We’re excited to be bringing these rich, immersive digital experiences to moving vehicles, offered through Snapdragon Car-to-Cloud Services.
We’ve been connecting cars with our telematics or auto connectivity platform for more than 20 years, and now we’re bringing 5G and C-V2X into vehicles. We also brought PLC from our enterprise wireline business to support EV charging.
We offer a suite of technology and connectivity solutions, including all current forms of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as advanced standalone and integrated GNSS positioning solutions to support location-based services. Because hyper-precise location is becoming essential for so many automotive business models, we’re also creating software to support new services. For example, the needs for a delivery & logistics application is quite different from positioning needs when you are looking for a parking location. As use cases evolve, we're advancing the technology and systems solutions to the next level.
Within a very short period, Qualcomm Technologies has also taken our Snapdragon Cockpit product line and made it a leading digital cockpit platform for automakers around the globe. Our turnkey hardware, reference designs and software provide them the tools to create differentiated experiences across their line-up. Whether vehicles include basic navigation, high-resolution video streaming, or multiplayer online gaming with virtual reality in the rear seats, the Snapdragon Cockpit allows automakers to create customized experiences to meet varying consumer expectations.
We’ve also taken an innovative approach in the automated driving and driver assistance space. With Snapdragon Ride, we have created an end-to-end open, customizable and scalable ecosystem which allows automakers to collaborate with different partners. We provide turnkey solutions for our customers, ranging from a fully comprehensive solution from SoC to Stack including vision perception, Drive Policy, and tools to just-an-SoC level enablement platform if customers wish to bring their own algorithms. Our Snapdragon Ride SDK provides the flexibility to achieve all of these objectives.
What’s the primary benefit for automakers?
The Snapdragon Digital Chassis allows automakers to own the in-vehicle experience like never before, giving them the opportunity to extend their brand and bring engaging consumer interactions into the vehicle. Supporting all regions, use cases and vehicle types, our open technology platforms help to simplify development while allowing automakers to have more control over their electronics and individual products. No longer constrained to just selling physical hardware and maintenance, having a Snapdragon Digital Chassis transforms the way automakers do business.
As automakers begin to understand the value and importance of having a customizable and upgradable Snapdragon Digital Chassis, they’re also thinking about the relationships they’ll need when formulating a product strategy. Who do they work with? From whom do they get hardware, software, and engineering support services? That’s why we’re seeing a reshaping of the automotive supply chain and ecosystem today. And as consumer and automotive technologies continue to advance, it's creating many opportunities for new players, including Qualcomm Technologies, to have a much bigger role as a strategic technology partner.
Automakers are looking to build long-term working relationships with companies that can not only work with them horizontally across a large number of systems within the car, but also have a comprehensive and turnkey approach. They want to work with companies that understand not just the technology, but the new business models these solutions create for the ecosystem.
Going forward, more of our investments in the automotive space will be focused on the Snapdragon Digital Chassis to best serve our automotive customers. Those customers stand to benefit from working with a company that understands this is not a one-off transactional conversation but rather a long-term working relationship that is helping drive the digital transformation of the automotive industry.
We know, for example, that when consumers buy an EV, it will have a usable life of 20 years and the platform will change owners many times. This creates many opportunities for automakers and service providers to monetize the full value of that vehicle. Our Snapdragon Car-to-Cloud Services work across our Snapdragon Digital Chassis, allowing automakers to grow revenue by offering customers on-demand updates, upgrades, and services long after the initial sale.
Is the Snapdragon Digital Chassis unique to Qualcomm Technologies?
The Snapdragon Digital Chassis is unique to Qualcomm Technologies, based on our one technology roadmap and technology expertise across domains. The platform’s scalability is also unique, as our history and experience in mobile has taught us to build products that address the needs for every tier, product, and market fit is a key criterion for mass adoption of any platform. Nowhere is this more true than in automotive.
We also bring a deep understanding of technology trends such as centralized compute, service-oriented architectures, microservices, and cloud-native edge applications that automakers are looking to deploy in their next generation of vehicles.
What is the key takeaway that describes Qualcomm’s Automotive strategy and the Snapdragon Digital Chassis?
It is not every day that an industry goes through a transformation similar to what is taking place in automotive and transportation. Electrification, autonomy, connectivity... this means massive opportunities for automakers and related companies to completely change their business models and better compete in the future.
We have the technology, the team, and the commitment to embrace these new opportunities — organically or through acquisitions or partnerships.
Most importantly, our technology is transforming the industry for both consumers and automakers. We are focused on impacting the new connected and intelligent experiences, and helping create the new underlying business models that emerge from this evolution.
Thanks for sharing Nakul.