Snapdragon Ride Flex, Qualcomm’s unique chip to drive the cars of the future
Instead of sprinkling various functions (driver assistance, infotainment, etc.) across multiple chips, Qualcomm is launching the Snapdragon Ride Flex. A complete platform based on the power of a single automotive chip.
Just like your Android smartphone, your upcoming 2024-2024 car may run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. In any case, this is the ambition of the American processor designer with the Snapdragon Ride Flex. A model derived from the technologies developed for our smartphones (4nm etching, CPU and GPU block, ISP, etc.), but adapted to meet the dual challenge of increasing computing power requirements as well as simplifying the way cars are designed.
Compared to existing solutions, the Snapdragon Ride Flex platform stands out for its single-chip approach. Currently, lane correction, autonomous driving and infotainment systems work in separate systems (and therefore components). Understandable initial design, redundancy where all systems do not have the same need for criticality (real-time or not) and avoid a cascade of failures.
However, this approach, as well as existing manufacturing processes, have many limitations. In terms of wear, the selection of “mature” junctions (typically around 28 nm) during manufacturing limits the density of transistors and therefore computing power. Transition to a state-of-the-art hub – but tailored to the criticality of the automotive environment! – for example, 4nm should offer a huge power boost.
Combine all functions in one chip
Next, the Snapdragon Ride Flex slices where it’s at by bringing all the capabilities together on one chip. Because in the distribution of forces, the other side of the coin has weight. Financial burden, because not only more components are needed, but above all they must be compatible, and their number increases the complexity of the car design. Moreover, complex systems with heterogeneous solutions are more difficult to evolve because each evolution must be qualified in its environment.
Also read: Qualcomm Announces Self-Driving Car Platform Snapdragon Ride (Jan 2020)
Against this hardware complexity, the Snapdragon Ride Flex presents itself as a lot of computing power backed by a huge software “stack”. Specifically, each fundamental function is isolated from the others even though they are performed on the same chip – especially virtualization systems. Even more powerful, Qualcomm has developed a complete software architecture from the vehicle chassis to the cloud. Far from being a gimmick, automakers must have the means to update and evolve cars over time using modern networking, hardware, and software bricks.
While Tesla has a fairly similar approach – Mr Musk’s company’s cars are particularly known for their regular automatic updates – the rest of the industry maintains a fairly old-fashioned approach. Involving little or no evolution of functions during the life cycle (especially for solid models).
Smartphone bricks in the service of the car
Known in our columns as the world’s No. 1 in all-in-one smartphone chips (SoCs), Qualcomm is also a giant in networking and professional embedded platforms. Many manufacturers, especially the brands of the Stellantis group, which owns Peugeot, use its solutions for interior screens or the network part.
Also read: Qualcomm unveils flagship processor for 2023 high-end smartphones (November 2022)
The Snapdragon Ride Flex is an opportunity for Qualcomm to add “smartphone” bricks to the car. Because its Snapdragon chips include all the computing components required in the cars of the future. Be it a central processing unit (CPU) that can run critical applications, a graphics chip (GPU) to render a map in 3D, a 4G/5G modem to keep the vehicle connected. Or the image processor (ISP) responsible for controlling the cameras that contribute (or not) to the level of autonomy of a particular vehicle.
Also read: Qualcomm unveils Orion, the heart of its anti-M1 weapon from Apple (Nov 2022)
Qualcomm issued two press releases for this announcement, both fairly basic and broad. Second, more complex, compliance with ISO standards, different levels of criticality of supported applications, regulations, standards, etc. Because far from the classic consumer platforms that are smartphones, car platforms are giant liners loaded with elements directly or indirectly related to safety. A crashing smartphone is annoying. A car with a unique car processor driving on the highway at a speed of 120 km/h is certainly more serious! It’s the ability to convince Qualcomm to embrace this extreme complexity that will determine the adoption (and therefore success) of its Snapdragon Ride Flex platform. If manufacturers were quite reluctant a few years ago, the acceleration of the transformation of the old car into an all-electric platform covered in electronics (and a shortage of semiconductors!), has accelerated the change in mentality.
While in the past Qualcomm press releases only referred to secondary brands, we are also seeing a shift in the group’s communications. In addition to Stellantis, major brands such as BMW, Ferrari, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz or Renault have signed contracts with Qualcomm for Sade 2022. So, in addition to your smartphone, who can drive your car in two or three years!