Best known for its smartphone processors, Qualcomm is quietly gaining ground in the embedded market.
Best known for its smartphone processors, Qualcomm is quietly gaining ground in the embedded market. The company’s processors power many new designs, including sports glasses from Everysight, a smart thermostat from Johnson Controls (JCI), and intelligent digital signage from Nanolumens. They also appear in smart cameras and VR glasses, among other design wins. The company’s new Snapdragon 820E aims to extend this winning streak.
Smartphone technology is Qualcomm’s not-so-secret weapon. By adapting its mobile processors for embedded applications, the company can deliver a unique combination of powerful CPUs, a complete multimedia subsystem, and wireless connectivity — all at lower power than competing embedded processors. The new 820E processor, for example, provides four Kryo CPUs at up to 2.35GHz plus a high-performance GPU, 4K video engine, and image processor, yet it fits within a smartphone power budget.
For lower-cost designs, Qualcomm also offers the Snapdragon 600E and 410E. These processors employ less-powerful Cortex-A53 CPUs and a smaller GPU, but they still offer a complete multimedia subsystem as well as integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GNSS (location). The company offers each processor as a complete platform, including power-management and RF chips as well as software. To speed development, the 410E and 820E are available in a small DragonBoard that complies with the Linaro 96Boards specification. The chips and boards are available through distribution (Arrow). To better support embedded life cycles, Qualcomm has guaranteed availability of these three processors through 2025.
These processors are ideal for designs that have displays and/or cameras and need a significant amount of processing and connectivity. For example, the 410E powers Everysight’s Raptor glasses, which provide a heads-up display to enable bicyclists to monitor their speed, distance, and heart rate as they ride. The glasses also include a 13MP camera, music player, microphone, and a small touchpad, all controlled by the 410E. They connect to a phone, smart watch, or heart-rate sensor using Bluetooth/ANT+, which is built into the 410E.
JCI’s Glas offers the usual smart thermostat functions, adjusting room temperature based on a schedule, via an app, or using voice commands. It also monitors humidity, CO2, and airborne pollutants such as VOCs. The 410E processor engages the sensors and formats the data for the unique transparent display. Nanolumens uses the 820E to add intelligence to its retail signage through its AWARE platform, which combines display diagnostics and support functions with content management services.
Everysight chose Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410E for its Raptor smart glasses, which allow cyclists to monitor their speed and distance, listen to music, take photos, and communicate with other riders using a hands-free interface.
The 820E includes a high-performance vector DSP that accelerates the latest AI algorithms. RetailNext uses the platform in a retail camera that monitors store shelves. The self-contained system employs a neural network (AI) to process the images in real time and alert the staff if a customer is browsing for an extended time, indicating that they may need help deciding what to buy. The camera can also track which store displays get the most (or least) attention. Allomind and others use the 820E in standalone virtual-reality glasses to offer immersive multimedia entertainment without a high-end smartphone or PC.
These examples demonstrate the capabilities of the Snapdragon processors to handle complex multimedia applications, voice and camera inputs, and wireless connectivity. The new 820E boosts CPU and GPU performance while adding an accelerator for emerging AI algorithms. Other mobile-chip vendors lack Qualcomm’s embedded support, while other embedded processors can’t match Snapdragon’s high performance and low power. Designers of demanding consumer and industrial applications have a new processor option to consider.
— Linley Gwennap is Principal Analyst at The Linley Group and editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report. Development of this article is funded by Qualcomm, but all opinions are the author’s.