Qualcomm all-in on cars at CES 2020

At the first big tech show of the year mobile chip giant Qualcomm is focusing on cars rather than phones.

The most eye-catching of its many CES announcements is Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride, a new autonomous driving platform. It consists of the family of Snapdragon Ride Safety SoCs, Snapdragon Ride Safety Accelerator and Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack. Qualcomm claims it’s one of the automotive industry’s most advanced, scalable and open autonomous driving solutions, but then it would.

In common with the smartphone Snapdragon platform, Qualcomm is aiming to provide as much of the technology required to enable autonomous driving as possible in one package. Right now that includes the following: L1/L2 Active Safety ADAS for vehicles that include automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assist functions; L2+ Convenience ADAS for vehicles featuring Automated Highway Driving, Self-Parking and Urban Driving in Stop-and-Go traffic; and L4/L5 Fully Autonomous Driving for autonomous urban driving, robo-taxis and robo-logistics.

“Today, we are pleased to be introducing our first-generation Snapdragon Ride platform, which is highly scalable, open, fully customizable and highly power optimized autonomous driving solution designed to address a range of requirements from NCAP to L2+ Highway Autopilot to Robo Taxis,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of product management at Qualcomm.

“Combined with our Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack, or an automaker or tier-1’s own algorithms, our platform aims at accelerating the deployment of high-performance autonomous driving to mass market vehicles. We’ve spent the last several years researching and developing our new autonomous platform and accompanying driving stack, identifying challenges and gathering insights from data analysis to address the complexities automakers want to solve.”

There were a bunch of other related announcements, including new strategic partnerships with GM, Denso and Sasken, as well as some other additions to Qualcomm’s connected car portfolio. Elsewhere the Bluetooth industry received another boost with Qualcomm’s launch of aptX Voice high quality audio. CES has always offered Qualcomm the opportunity to show off what it offers outside of the smartphone space and it seems to be taking good advantage this year.

The next generation of Bluetooth audio looks good

At CES 2020 the people who run the short range Bluetooth wireless standard unveiled a new version of its audio technology that promises a lot of new features.

The Bluetooth SIG (special interest group) is calling its next generation LE Audio as it is an evolution of Bluetooth Low Energy. Indeed LE Audio uses a new codec called LC3 that promises to improve sound quality while significantly reducing the power requirement. This in turn should enable even smaller wireless earbuds and that sort of thing.

“Extensive listening tests have shown that LC3 will provide improvements in audio quality over the SBC codec included with Classic Audio, even at a 50% lower bit rate,” said Manfred Lutzky, Head of Audio for Communications at Fraunhofer IIS. “Developers will be able to leverage this power savings to create products that can provide longer battery life or, in cases where current battery life is enough, reduce the form factor by using a smaller battery.”

On top of that this new tech comes with multi-stream audio for the first time. “Developers will be able to use the Multi-Stream Audio feature to improve the performance of products like truly wireless earbuds,” said Nick Hunn, CTO of WiFore Consulting and Chair of the Bluetooth SIG Hearing Aid Working Group. “For example, they can provide a better stereo imaging experience, make the use of voice assistant services more seamless, and make switching between multiple audio source devices smoother.”

Similarly another new feature enables multiple BT peripherals to access a singe audio source. This is handy not just as another way of sharing audio content, but also for location based audio that could intrude upon your listening, presumably with permission. The low power aspect also allows better support for hearing aids, which could also benefit from the broadcast feature for things like safety announcements.

“Location based Audio Sharing holds the potential to change the way we experience the world around us,” said Peter Liu of Bose Corporation and member of the Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors. “For example, people will be able to select the audio being broadcast by silent TVs in public venues, and places like theaters and lecture halls will be able to share audio to assist visitors with hearing loss as well as provide audio in multiple languages.”

It seems safe to assume that the Bluetooth chip in devices and peripherals will support this next generation from now on. Assuming it delivers as advertised there’s nothing to dislike about Bluetooth LE Audio. It seems to be a solid evolution of the technology that should improve the digital audio experience for people with nearly all levels of hearing capacity.

Verizon bets on connected vehicles with Here partnership

Verizon has decided to bang on about its mobile edge infrastructure at CES 2020 and is using a new partnership with location tech company Here as a pretext to do so.

Here is what Navteq became after Nokia chewed it up and spat it out. It was a big deal when Nokia bought it in 2007 as one of only two dominant satnav service providers. Nokia figured owning it would give its smartphones a strong differentiator but then Google came a long and scuppered that plan, as it did the entire Nokia smartphone business.

Now owned by a bunch of German car companies, who had a whip round to buy it in 2015 for a fraction of what Nokia paid for Navteq, Here is positioned as a standalone location services technology provider. With the advent of 5G and all the cool stuff we’re supposedly going to be able to do with it, Here’s time may have come as operators search desperately for use-cases to justify the hype.

“This collaboration with Here further proves Verizon’s commitment to innovating around and improving location services and pedestrian and intersection safety,” said Ashley Vogt, Senior Product Manager, Advanced Mapping at Verizon. “By harnessing the power of Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband and 5G Edge, along with Here’s proprietary 3D positioning algorithms, we are driving together toward a safer and more precise future.”

“5G will be a game changer for many use cases in every industry,” said Edzard Overbeek, CEO of HERE. “The scale of the Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband network is designed to enable higher-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity necessary for more precise positioning, Our partnership with Verizon not only allows us to tap into the innovation potential of 5G but also highlights what is possible when this technology is location intelligence enabled: connected services that are designed to make our world safer, more efficient and environmentally sustainable.”

So the big connected vehicle pitch seems to be around safety, although the future these two companies have in mind is borderline dystopian with its precision and efficiency. The two big initiatives this partnership will be working on are a collision avoidance system that warns people when they’re about to have an accident, and a visual positioning service that claims to augment GPS. It remains to be seen whether these new services will resonate with subscribers to any meaningful extent.