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Audi turns to Qualcomm power for entertainment, navigation processing

Qualcomm proves its chip-making innovation, announcing a deal at CES where Audi will use its first automotive quality infotainment chipset, the Snapdragon 602A.

2017 Audi Q7
Qualcomm used an Audi Q7, similar to the model shown here, as the basis of a concept car to demonstrate the capabilities of its Snapdragon 602A chipset.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET

This story is part of CES 2016. Our editors bring you complete CES 2016 coverage and scour the showroom floor for the hottest new tech gadgets around.

With the increasing computerization of cars, chipmakers are eager to get in the game. Qualcomm demonstrated its success by announcing a deal with Audi to provide automotive quality chipsets to run infotainment features in select 2017 Audi models. Although specific models have not yet been announced, Qualcomm exhibited an Audi Q7 concept car at CES using the Snapdragon 602A chipset, showing off features that future Audi models may get.

In a parallel announcement, Qualcomm showed off an even more advanced chipset, the Snapdragon 820A, combining processing and graphics rendering with an integrated LTE data modem.

Qualcomm built its initial business on wireless data chipsets, such as those found in smartphones. The company has been expanding its expertise into broader markets, introducing the Snapdragon 602A chipset, its first automotive quality infotainment system, at last year's CES.

In a phone call with CNET, Qualcomm vice president Nakul Duggal pointed out that it had acquired a company called CSR, which builds Bluetooth chipsets for phone connectivity in cars. He said that Qualcomm was not only investing in chip technology for infotainment systems, but also developing technology to support advanced driver assistance features, such as lane departure prevention and pre-collision braking.

The new Snapdragon 820A chipset, a system-on-a-chip combining silicon and software, combines a 64-bit CPU and a GPU, or graphics processing unit. Programmed into this chipset is Qualcomm's Zeroth deep learning platform, a technology designed to extrapolate the identity of objects seen through cameras from extensive analysis of similar object imagery.

In what Duggal said was an advantage for Qualcomm's customers, an LTE modem chip can be integrated into the Snapdragon 820A, providing onboard data for destination searches, traffic and other information useful to drivers.

To prevent hacking, the Snapdragon 820A uses hypervisor technology, using virtual machines on the chipset isloated from other processes.

Because of lengthy automotive production cycles, the Snapdragon 820A will not likely see use in a production car for a few years. However, the Snapdragon 602A will find its way into Audi models late this year. Audi has been very innovative with its technology, partnering with companies such as graphic processing chipmaker Nvidia for infotainment functions.