Skip to main content

Qualcomm draws a road map to the self-driving car of the future

Ultra-high definition video. GPS that’s even more precise than GPS. Massively multiplayer online gaming. 5G connectivity. All the buzzwords that define modern technology? Qualcomm has a single chip for it — designed for your car.

On Tuesday, Qualcomm unveiled its second-generation Connected Car Reference Platform and the QCA6696 chip, which brings next-gen Wi-Fi 6 connectivity to automobiles and enables an enormous array of technologies that promise to bridge the gap between the ordinary cars of today and the self-driving entertainment centers of the future. And at the center of all of those technologies is the new Wi-Fi 6 standard and — you guessed it — 5G cellular connectivity.

“We believe our new Snapdragon Automotive Platforms will help launch the connected vehicle into the 5G era, offering multi-Gigabit low latency speeds, lane-level navigation accuracy, and an integrated and comprehensive C-V2X solution for increased road safety for cars and transportation infrastructure,” said Nakul Duggal, senior vice president of product management for Qualcomm. “With these new wireless solutions, we are excited to support our automaker, Tier-1 and roadside infrastructure customers as they develop faster, safer, and differentiated products for the next-generation of the connected car.”

Sure, Wi-Fi 6 promises faster throughputs, better battery life, and lower latencies. And 5G makes similar promises. But it’s the features beyond the mere network speed that may really enhance tomorrow’s cars. For one thing, there’s the “lane-level navigation” Duggal mentions. You see, Qualcomm has spent years working on a more precise form of positioning than GPS. Modern GPS is generally accurate to within a few feet, which is fine when you’re studying a map and need to know that a turn is coming up, but hardly good enough to keep a vehicle in the correct lane on the highway.

To improve it, Qualcomm leaned on its existing patent portfolio; it merges data from existing GNSS satellites (including GPS, Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, and more) with something called VEPP, or vision enhanced precise positioning. In essence, Qualcomm is using imagery from existing video cameras to pinpoint a car’s precise location. Self-driving cars will also need to communicate with each other — and with stop signs, traffic lights, and all sorts of traffic infrastructure. Qualcomm argues that CV2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) communication will fill that need. And it’s baked into the Reference Platform, of course.

“The cost to go do this is not astronomical,” Duggal told Digital Trends. “You basically need a standard camera like you have today… everything else is something you are already enabling the telematics unit for.”

Then there’s all of that multimedia goodness. Imagine screens embedded in the back seats, passengers playing massive online games that they connect to through the car, multimedia through the dashboard for the front seat passengers, and more. Support for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands make it possible, and because Qualcomm builds in two SIMs — one for the car, one for the driver — the chip can simultaneously stream your favorite Jason Isbell songs while your car dodges and weaves through traffic.

There’s more of course. Imagine using your cell phone as a key fob to unlock your car, rather than … well, a key fob. Imagine a heart-rate monitor on your wrist that keeps tabs on your vitals and shares them with your sedan, to ensure that you’re alert and awake. Imagine all of that showing up in your next car. The future is always right around the corner … but it turns out, it might be closer even than you think.

Editors' Recommendations

Jeremy Kaplan
As Editor in Chief, Jeremy Kaplan transformed Digital Trends from a niche publisher into one of the fastest growing…
Ignore the scaremongers. 5G won’t interfere with weather satellites. Here’s why
Verizon 5G Node

5G will completely change the way we use our mobile phones, offering super high speeds that won't just mean downloading your favorite shows faster. But 5G comes with a host of concerns, from limited range and poor building penetration to worries of adverse health effects.

But now there's a new issue: weather satellites. An April article in Nature set the meteorological community into an uproar, as it detailed the potential fallout of a recent auction from the Federal Communications Commission of  24.25 to 24.45 and 24.75 to 25.25 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum. There's one problem: that's close to the frequency meteorologists use to detect water vapor in the air.
Disrupting the weather?
Water vapor emits a weak radio signal at a frequency of 23.8 GHz, which satellites detect. Water vapor imagery has become a crucial part of forecasting the weather, as it helps meteorologists better understand movement in the atmosphere, and provides computer models with crucial data to better forecast the development of storms.

Read more
How Verizon and Team Penske used 5G to help win the Indy 500
Simon Pagenaud wins 2019 Indy 500

5G promises faster speeds, so what better place to use it than at a racetrack? Ahead of the 2019 Indianapolis 500, Team Penske used Verizon's 5G network to send data from race cars on the track to the pit wall in order to fine-tune car setups. Penske driver Simon Pagenaud won the legendary race, bringing the team's win tally to 18 -- a number unmatched in Indy 500 history.

Most race teams use wireless networks to pull vast amounts of data from cars on the track. That data is used to monitor the health of the car, find areas where performance can be improved, or to highlight drivers' mistakes. Drivers may be alone in the cockpit of an IndyCar, but data connections allow the team to digitally look over their shoulders. While the 5G network is rolling out slowly for average phone users, Verizon's sponsorship of Team Penske ensures the race team's access to the fastest speeds.

Read more
Microsoft’s rumored Always Connected Surface Pro could emerge as a 5G PC
Surface Pro 6 Review

Chip-partner Qualcomm is making big bets on the Windows on ARM initiative with the latest Snapdragon 8cx chipset. Will Microsoft answer by putting more weight on the Always Connected PC platform?

While describing a version of the Firefox browser being developed for ARM, Thurrott also reported that Microsoft has developed a prototype of its Surface tablet that relies on an unspecified version of Qualcomm's ARM-based Snapdragon chipset rather than an Intel CPU. It's unclear if and when Microsoft intends to launch this PC, but if this Surface Pro prototype runs on Qualcomm's newest 8cx platform, it could be one of the first 5G PCs given the chip's support for 5G modems. Even if 5G networks aren't ready, a Snapdragon 8cx-powered Surface Pro could fall back on LTE and take advantage of other features of the Always Connected PC experience, including long battery life, background app refresh, and a thin and light design.

Read more