I Took a Test Ride in Qualcomm's Experimental Self-Driving Car on a Busy Freeway

Rich on Tech

A company known for its smartphone chips wants to power self-driving cars! We’re taking a test “ride” in their experimental vehicle!

Qualcomm is a San Diego based company best known for its smartphone chips. Now, they want want to be the brains behind self driving cars, too.

Recently I took a ride in their experimental prototype car: a Lincoln specially outfitted with radar sensors, cameras, GPS and Qualcomm’s special blend of self driving hardware and software.

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You might be thinking, “can’t any old Tesla already do this?” Sure, Tesla is an early pioneer of self driving car tech, but Qualcomm envisions a future where lots of automakers will want to build the features into their cars. Qualcomm would supply the building blocks of the technology.

The car we were in is experimental, so there was a driver and an engineer to monitor the system at all times.

Once we got onto the freeway, the driver switched the car into autonomous mode.

As the car took over, it sped up to merge onto a busy Las Vegas freeway.

The system announces commands so you know what it’s about to do next. Screens let you see what the car sees. A big red emergency button looms in the center console – thankfully, we didn’t have to use it.

“This is technology that is going to keep improving over the next 5 to 10 years, it’ not just about adding features, it’s about adding safety to vehicles, adding more productivity to vehicles, more convenience features. I think the timing for us to get into this market with Snapdragon ride is very opportune,” said Nakul Duggal, Senior Vice President and Head of Automotive Product and Program Management at Qualcomm.

The goal: create a platform that mimics the thinking of a human driver combined with the safety and security of a computer.

As a passenger in the car, I didn’t feel unsafe. While it might feel odd going 70 miles an hour with no hands on the wheel today, it’s a future that seems inevitable.

Qualcomm says they expect to have some of their self-driving car technology in vehicles on the road by 2023.

Now: Listen to the latest Rich on Tech Podcast, where I talk about the tech stories I think you should know about and answer the questions you send me!

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