Volvo, Qualcomm, Google team up to make car infotainment even more smartphone-like than ever. If Wintel (Windows plus Intel) is the default software + hardware combo of the PC era, then the smartphone equivalent must be Android and Qualcomm (Andcom? Qualdroid?). Volvo is bringing this combo to the upcoming Polestar 3 electric SUV, which is due in 2022. We also got a glimpse of what the new interface would look like.
Volvo’s Polestar 2 was the first to integrate Google’s Android Automotive operating system into a car. Unlike Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay, which runs on your smartphone, Android Automotive OS has a customized version of Android preinstalled on the car, as the car’s primary infotainment operating system. . Even if you have an iPhone, your car is still running Android. The Polestar 2 used an x86 chip (an Intel Atom A3900), but now Volvo is pairing a Qualcomm smartphone chip with its Google smartphone operating system. The Polestar 3 will ship with Qualcomm’s “Snapdragon Cockpit Platform Gen 3” and while it looks unique, it’s actually just a refurbished smartphone chip with a few extra features.
Integrating cars with computer technology is always difficult. The development of a car takes around five years, which can seem almost incompatible with the pace of development of smartphones and computers. This is still the case with the Polestar 3 2022. Qualcomm’s Gen 3 automotive platform has been announced back in 2019, but the winning platform designs were just announced at CES 2022. Qualcomm says The Gen 3 automotive platform is based on the Snapdragon 820 SoC, a 2016 ARM flagship smartphone chip. You may remember This chip from phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Google Pixel 1. The Intel Atom in the Polestar 2 was also from 2016.
Gen 3 might not be the newest chip in the world, but Volvo is still on the same hardware and software platform as smartphones. Volvo should now have a simple and consistent ARM upgrade path, thanks to the development of smartphones that occurs every year. Hopefully this consistency will lead to a faster path to market for the hardware. Qualcomm already announced the Gen 4 automotive platform at last year’s CES – it just won’t appear in a car for a while.
But about the extra Gen 3 features: It has enhanced RF capabilities like Wi-Fi 6, 5G, and the newer bluetooth, which you couldn’t get on the Snapdragon 820. Support a car, especially an Android car, also means needing support for virtualization. Android can run the infotainment system, but something else needs to be running the gauge cluster display behind the wheel. Security regulations require that the gauge cluster cannot run Android. Android is not a Real time OS, which means it can slow down if the processor is too slow, which is not allowed for critical driving components like the speedometer. The solution is to have the Snapdragon 820 run two operating systems through virtualization, with Android running the central infotainment screen and another operating system running the gauge cluster display. Android can still send the gauge cluster a UI overlay for things like media info and Google Maps info, but speedo is banned.
Resurrecting the Snapdragon 820 for a modern product is an interesting proposition for Qualcomm. On smartphones, Qualcomm’s product support is often cited as a major obstacle to the longevity of Android phones. The Snapdragon 820 would have supported something like three major versions of Android, so Android 6, 7 and 8. Qualcomm would have stopped support around 2019, exactly when the third-generation Snapdragon 820-based car chip was released. announced. So while Qualcomm would have killed your phone, it doesn’t look like Android’s development for this chip was ever stopped. The Polestar 3 will most likely start with Android 11 or 12, and support will have to continue for years to come, even if the company is unwilling to pass this work on to smartphones.
Today, Qualcomm has a public support schedule for phone chips: three years of major operating system updates and four years of security updates. When asked if there is a similar plan for auto assistance, Qualcomm said it would support car chips longer than phone chips, but the company would not offer details.
Inserting a smartphone chip into a car gives Qualcomm a quick way to enter the market, as phones are its biggest market right now. But the solution is not ideal. Smartphone chips are designed entirely around the size and power restrictions of a smartphone, none of which exist in a car. A car is big. The entire floor is a battery. Cooling can be as important as you need it to be. Qualcomm faces the same problem as many companies in the industry: the bigger ARM chips are still mostly just smartphone chips. Apple is setting the trend by expanding ARM to include desktops and laptops, but it can do so because it has a custom chip design division. Most other companies don’t. Qualcomm is working on getting there, though, and plans to start designing more powerful ARM chips for laptops (and cars?) In the future.
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