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VW banks on phone technology in the dashboard

Volkswagen vehicles will integrate Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820A chipset, an automotive version of the chip currently powering phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, to power navigation, audio and other dashboard electronics.

Qualcomm SnapDragon dashboard
Qualcomm has been hardening its Snapdragon 820 chipset to meet automotive quality guidelines, which require extreme vibration and temperature resistance.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Volkswagen and Qualcomm announced a partnership today which will see an automotive grade version of a smartphone chip used as the basis for cabin electronics in Volkswagen vehicles. Qualcomm will supply Volkswagen with its Snapdragon 820A processor, which will power navigation, audio and connected car systems.

Snapdragon 820a is an automotive grade version of the Snapdragon 820 chip, currently used in phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and LG G5. Volkswagen's adoption of the chip will be the first time Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820A sees use in a production car.

Over the last decade, cars have been gaining more advanced electronics in the dashboard, with features such as hands-free phone systems, digital music and connected navigation systems that show live traffic information. The hardware to power these features has similarly become more advanced, but the automotive industry has often been caught between its years-long production cycles and the much faster-paced cycles of consumer electronics, often measured in months.

Volkswagen's partnership with Qualcomm should give it more agility in incorporating new features into its dashboard for car owners. The deal also includes Qualcomm's LTE modem technology, used to power connected features in the car such as live traffic information and online destination search in the navigation system.

Qualcomm's technology portfolio includes other communications technologies as well, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The company is also developing transceivers to power vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, which have the promise of vastly increasing road safety. With this technology a traffic light can communicate with a car that it is about to turn red, and a car can broadcast when its driver hits the brakes, enabling warnings to drivers of other cars.

Volkswagen did not reply to a question as to which cars will see use of the Snapdragon 820A, but the announcement made clear that the chips will be integrated in cars sold from 2019. Brands made by the Volkswagen Group include Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and, of course, Volkswagen.

In a separate announcement, Qualcomm said its X16 LTE modem will be available in a reference design for automakers in the second half of 2017. This modem uses 4G technology to achieve peak download speeds of 1 gigabyte per second, greatly increasing the bandwidth for connected cars. The Volkswagen partnership does not include the X16 modem.