One enabling technology that has been essential to the growth of automation is the steady improvement of processing capability. Qualcomm Technologies Inc. today announced its Snapdragon 820E embedded platform. Because of its high performance and power efficiency, the platform could be ideal for those developing Internet of Things applications and for small form factors such as in robots or drones.
“The latest product in our embedded computing portfolio will extend the ability to create premium-tier, cutting-edge IoT applications such as VR, digital signage, smart retail, robotics, and more,” Leon Farasati, director of product management at Qualcomm. “This SOC [system on a chip] has a lot of potential in the robotics space.”
The Snapdragon 820E (APQ 8096SGE) is designed to support connected computing, according to San Diego-based Qualcomm. Its Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU and quad-core Kyro CPU provide multi-core processing for machine vision, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality uses.
In particular, the company said its “enhanced object detection and navigation functionality allows recognition and tracking of multiple objects to navigate and perform dynamic collision avoidance in commercial drones and robots.”
Processor pedigree and longevity
“About a year and a half ago, we announced the the first two SOCs in our embedded product line, the 410E and the 610E,” Farasati told Robotics Business Review. “We’ve completed the first generation with the 820E.”
With the Snapdragon 820E, Qualcomm is targeting the broader embedded systems market, including industrial automation.
“The Snapdragon line was created for the mobile market, but we realized there are a lot of use cases beyond smartphones,” noted Farasati. “This one chip set has seen a lot of interest in adjacent markets because of its high connectivity and multimedia support.”
“The Snapdragon 820E is good for processor-intensive use cases. We have a very powerful GPU and a low-power sensor island,” he claimed. “This is good for visual processing and will take robotics applications to the next level.”
“We’re doing some big things differently — we’ve done a lot of things to make this processor scalable,” Farasati added. “Unlike the mobile life cycle of a few years, we’re publicly committing to an extended supply until 2025, providing longevity for industrial products such as robots.”
“While we can’t do that with every mobile processor, we’re working with the entire supply chain so they can commit to an extended life,” he said.
Software and open support
“On the software side, in the robotics space, the embedded operating system is often Linux, so we decided to invest heavily in Linux enablement,” Farasati explained. “We became a core member of Linaro, the group for Linux on ARM. Our Linux team is working on upstreaming our code to the main Linux kernel.”
“On top of that, we have a portal on the Qualcomm Developer Network without requiring you to come to Qualcomm,” he added. “We also realized that we need to have a development kit or community board, so we created a tool called DriagonBoard. It’s a single-board computer, based on the open-source, hardware standard 96board, plus connectors.”
“This allows anyone to create a compliant board or magazine cards for drones or robots,” said Farasati. “The DragonBoard can then be used for quick prototyping.”
“ROS [the Robot Operating System] is a great example of where we can work with the software ecosystem,” he said. “Thinking of all of the stacks enabled on the DragonBoard, ROS was one of the first.”
“With the 410E platform, we started talking to the Open Source Robotics Foundation,” he recalled. “They ended up doing a lot of the work enabling ROS [the Robot Operating System] on our Snapdragon platform.”
“There were lots of demos, proofs of concept,” Farasati said. “The TurtleBot2 ended up using our DragonBoard, and it ended up becoming the reference development platform.”
“You can do a chip-on-board design, plus a system of modules, and it’s ready to go for manufacturing,” he observed. “We’re supporting the design aspect and the go-to-market aspect.”
“Looking at the investments we’re making in SOC platforms — increasing performance, lower power, bringing in more capabilities, as well as being able to sense in real time and run off of battery, mobile SOCs are really a great fit for drone and robotics applications,” Farasati said.
In addition, Qualcomm has announced developer’s kits for wirelessly connecting a variety of devices for applications such as smart toys or home automation.
Global reach for Snapdragon 820E
“Another big thing with the Snapdragon 820E is ease of access,” said Farasati. “We’re working with Arrow Electronics and have put these processors on its procurement card for a global reach.”
“Our distribution channel is active today, and we’ve enabled our technology partners earlier, so there are products that are already using the 820E,” he said. “There are immersive-reality glasses for in-flight entertainment, digital displays, and other commercial products.”
“The chip-on-board price point is handled by our distribution channel partners, who will work with customers based on volumes and production timelines,” Farasati said. “Pricing will vary by design, since system-level specs can depend on connectivity requirements.”