Invest Now, Qualcomm Announces First Silicon for Future Self-driving Cars

Qualcomm Announces First Silicon for Future Self-driving Cars

Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) is the wave of the automotive future

Qualcomm has finally put the first version of its smart automobile vision on a chip. The euphoniously named Qualcomm 9150 C-V2X will be available for commercial sampling in 2H18. The company posted a press release today with automotive manufacturing partners Audi, Ford, Groupe PSA (France), and SAIC (China).

Although the company has been a leader in telematics (used for GPS and navigation) for 15 years, this new chipset represents the future of digital automotive technologies, which involve a good deal more than just vehicle tracking.

Unpacking the chip name, C-V2X refers to “cellular vehicle to everything,” which itself requires a bit more explanation. The cellular is mobile communications, of course. However, in the 9150, there won’t be any cellular. That will come in later versions. This one will be deployable in scenarios without the need for a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), cellular subscription, or network assistance.

The “vehicle to everything” part is more interesting. Essentially, cars of the future — which will have self-driving features — will have to communicate with their own nest of sensors, each other, satellites, the Internet, people inside the car, other vehicles, road infrastructure, and in some cases pedestrians (who may have enabled phones).

As noted, the 9150 will not support cellular. Instead, it will make use of direct communications. This capability is critical for safety, as it will include vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P). Because cars are moving — sometimes fast — there’s not enough time for a safety-oriented command to make the round trip through the network. The drawbridge has to tell the vehicle directly, “Stop! I’m lifting for a boat!” The car in the oncoming lane will have to be able to tell your car directly, “You’re heading right for me! Veer off!”

The other important communications link in the 9150 will be global navigation satellite system (GNSS) support. GNSS support has been around for years. GNSS systems include GPS in the United States, GLONASS in Russia, and Galileo in Europe. But new capabilities will now allow the determination of location down to 10 centimeters. This highly precise capability is a requirement for self-driving car safety.

Other data emanating from the car will be used to enhance the precision of satellite positioning information. For example, knowledge about velocity, heading, timing, and intent can help an on-board positioning and navigation system determine what steps to take next.

The 9150 will operate in the 5.9GHz spectrum and has been designed for extended range, enhanced reliability, low latency, and high-density environments. The reference design that Qualcomm is making available to manufacturers includes the C-V2X chipset with integrated GNSS, an application processor running the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) V2X stack, and a hardware security module.

This announcement is coincident with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project’s (3GPP) Release 14 specification. Among other enhancements in this latest specification is the ability of vehicles to share sensor information, which is critical for safety. If my car, which is behind yours, can see through your camera, then I get early warning of that accident up ahead, and my car can take avoidance measures even before I know there’s a problem.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will help automate driving with immense computing resources, the fusion of data from multiple sensors, machine learning, and path planning. These systems will make use of radar in poor visibility situations, camera data, lidar, ultrasonic data for short-range information, shared sensors from other elements (the X in V2X), highly detailed 3D maps, and the aforementioned precise location data.

The 9150 will set a baseline for V2X functionality by handling the most critical communications. Those that are more latency tolerant — like finding services along the road, long-distance safety and traffic warnings, browsing for information, and entertainment content — can be handled by the cellular network.

In order for a system like this to work, the 5G communications network must be in place. 5G is just beginning to roll out now. A key feature of 5G is integrated communications, which means that data streams can take any number of paths: cellular of various types, WiFi, Bluetooth, satellite, and others. When data leaves or enters the vehicle, it needs to take the best path, which may by the fastest (for safety) or the cheapest (for informational queries), or the least congested. With 5G, C-V2X doesn’t have to worry about the pathway. The appropriate one will be available. And by using multiple channels, 5G will have the throughput necessary for the data-intensive job of automated driving.

The 9150 is just the beginning. Many types of companies will be involved in the development of autonomous driving: ITS stack providers, chipset manufacturers, traffic industry suppliers, telecom suppliers, automotive suppliers, road operators, network operators, and car makers. The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), the industry group working on bringing advanced technologies to the automobile is comprised of members from all these categories.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to have the network take over driving. I’ll finally have the chauffeur I couldn’t afford otherwise, and someone sensible will be driving all those other vehicles so I can relax and enjoy the ride.

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