US mobile chip giant Qualcomm has gone big on automotive at the first major tech show of the year, launching a suite of car oriented SoCs.

They’re collectively branded Snapdragon Ride Flex and are positioned as a scalable family of chips to power everything from the ‘digital cockpit’, to ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and even automated driving. They’re the latest addition to the Snapdragon Ride platform, which Qualcomm seems to be hoping will be a one-size-fits-all computing solution for car manufacturers.

There’s even talk of the ‘software-defined vehicle’, which is constantly connected to the cloud. Not only will that enable ad hoc over-the-air software updates, it will also allow a degree of computational power that wouldn’t be practical using only local hardware. All this depends a robustness of connection that it’s still hard to be confident of in most countries outside of urban environments, however, which of course is where the telecoms industry comes in.

“We continue to remain at the forefront of automotive compute innovation, and as we enter the era of Software Defined Vehicles, the Snapdragon Ride Flex SoC family defines a new setpoint for high-performance power-optimized mixed-criticality architectures,” said Nakul Duggal, GM of Automotive at Qualcomm.

“We are making it easier and more cost effective for automakers and Tier-1s to embrace the transition to an integrated, open, and scalable architecture across all vehicle tiers with our pre-integrated suite of hardware, software, and ADAS/AD stack solutions while enabling the ecosystem to differentiate on our platforms with an accelerated time-to-market advantage.”

It all sounds very utopian but this launch coincides with the discovery of a bunch of software vulnerabilities in cars produced by most of the major manufacturers. A group of hackers tasked themselves with seeing if they could get access to the systems controlling modern cars and were surprised at how successful they were.

As cars become more connected, automated, and ‘smart’, the list of potential new vulnerabilities presumably grows. No doubt Qualcomm has all built sorts of super-duper security measures into its Ride platform but it’s hard not to be concerned that relinquishing ever more control over our vehicles to connected computers has considerable downsides.

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