Qualcomm wants to do for robots what Snapdragon did for phones

Chris Davies - Feb 25, 2019, 3:00am CST
Qualcomm wants to do for robots what Snapdragon did for phones

Qualcomm’s refrain may have been “5G, 5G, 5G” the last few months, but it’s sneaking in some robots among its Mobile World Congress 2019 news. Qualcomm Technologies is announcing the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform, a Snapdragon-based set of hardware and software intended to make building smart robots easier.

It’s not Qualcomm’s first attempt in the segment. The company already has drone and autonomous vehicle platforms on offer, and the RB3 Platform takes a similar approach of a customized set of sensors, chips, and the software stack to integrate them.

So, the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform’s hardware development kit consists of a custom DragonBoard 845c dev board, using the SDM845 SoC. It works with the 96Boards open hardware specification, which means compatibility with a variety of so-called mezzanine-board expansions.

For example, you can add a connectivity board, to get the robot online. An imaging add-on includes photo and 4K video support, but also AI-assisted detection and recognition of both people and objects. A tracking camera add-on can be used to path planning and obstacle avoidance, with the RB3 Platform capable of doing vSLAM (visual simultaneous localization and mapping).

A stereo camera can be used for navigation, while a time-of-flight (ToF) camera can add people, gesture, and object detection, regardless of lighting conditions. They tap into the Snapdragon 845’s Spectra 280 ISP, which can handle a single camera up to 32-megapixels in resolution, and up to 4K HDR video capture at 60fps.

On the software side, Qualcomm’s new platform initially supports Linux and Robot Operating System (ROS). There’s also support for Qualcomm’s Neural Processing SDK for on-robot AI, and the Computer Vision Suite. Amazon’s AWS RoboMaker is also supported, and down the line Qualcomm says it intends to add Ubuntu Linux support.

The development kit will include the DragonBoard 845c, the navigation mezzanine – with a ToF camera, tracking camera, stereo camera, and main camera – and a power supply. There’ll also be multi-microphone support, and sensor support such as IMU and proximity. An LTE mezzanine for cellular connectivity will be optional; down the line, Qualcomm says it intends to add a 5G option too.

However, robot-makers will have plenty of options. Whether it’s prototyping, or an off-the-shelf system-on-module to drop into a commercial product, the RB3 Platform promises to cut down on development time. Qualcomm’s robotics products are already in more than 20 products – including Sony’s new aibo, robotic vacuums from iRobot, Ecovacs, and more, drones, companion robots, and industrial ‘bots – with more than 20 also in the pipeline.

The first commercial products to use the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform are expected this year, with NAVER and LG both among the chipmaker’s initial customers. JD, BrainCorp, Robotis, Misty Robotics, and Anki are also expected to have hardware. The development kit is available now.

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