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Qualcomm launches new platform to ‘transform the robotics industry’

Qualcomm Technologies has launched its Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform – the chipmaker’s first integrated, comprehensive offering designed specifically for robotics.

Building on Qualcomm Technologies’ success in robotics and drone products available today, this purpose-built platform features a “highly optimized” set of hardware, software and tools designed to help manufacturers and developers create the next generation of advanced consumer, enterprise and industrial robotics products. 

Based on the Qualcomm SDA/SDM845 system-on-chip (main picture), the platform integrates key capabilities such as:

  • high-performance heterogeneous computing;
  • 4G/LTE connectivity including CBRS support for private LTE networks;
  • a Qualcomm AI Engine for on-device machine learning and computer vision;
  • hi-fidelity sensor processing for perception;
  • odometry for localization, mapping, and navigation, vault-like security; and
  • Wi-Fi connectivity.

The Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform also plans to introduce 5G connectivity support later this year to further enable low-latency and high-throughput industrial robotics applications.

Dev Singh, director of business development and head of autonomous robotics, drones and intelligent machines at Qualcomm Technologies, says: “Our technologies are at the heart of a wide array of robotics products available today, from companion robots including Anki Vector, Elli Q and Sony Aibo, to multimedia robots like Cerevo Tripon and Keecker, to labor-saving machines such as robotic vacuum cleaners from iRobot, Ecovacs and Panasonic.

qualcomm robotics platform
Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform

“With the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform, we aim to bring our cutting-edge AI, edge compute and connectivity technologies into the hands of many more robotics innovators to help spur the fast development and commercialization of a new generation of useful and intelligent robots in agriculture, consumer, delivery, inspection, service, smart manufacturing/Industry 4.0, warehousing and logistics, and other applications.”

The Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform is designed to allow for flexible design options for development and commercialization, from development board offerings for prototyping, to off-the-shelf system-on-module solutions for faster commercialization, to the flexibility for chip-on-board designs for cost optimization at scale.

The platform currently supports Linux and Robot Operating System (ROS), while also including support for the Qualcomm Neural Processing software development kit (SDK) for advanced on-device AI, the Qualcomm Computer Vision Suite, the Qualcomm Hexagon DSP SDK, and Amazon’s AWS RoboMaker, with plans for Ubuntu Linux support.

The platform’s hardware development kit contains the new purpose-built robotics-focused DragonBoard 845c development board, based on the Qualcomm SDA/SDM845 SoC and compliant with the 96Boards open hardware specification to support a broad range of mezzanine-board expansions.

Optional elements for the kit include:

  • a connectivity board;
  • an image camera for hi-res photo, 4K video capture and AI-assisted detection and recognition of people and objects;
  • a tracking camera for path planning and obstacle avoidance using visual simultaneous localization and mapping (vSLAM);
  • a stereo camera for navigation; and
  • a time-of-flight camera for people, gesture and object detection in low light conditions.

Key Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform technical features 

Heterogeneous computing architecture: For superior performance and power-efficiency, the Qualcomm SDA845/SDM845 SoC powering the platform is built on 10-nanometer (nm) LPP FinFET process technology.

The SoC integrates an Octa Core Qualcomm Kryo CPU with performance up to 2.8GHz, a Qualcomm Adreno 630 Visual Processing Subsystem (including GPU, VPU and DPU), and a Qualcomm Hexagon 685 DSP with Hexagon Vector Extensions (HVX), delivering sophisticated, on-device AI processing and mobile-optimized computer vision (CV) capabilities for perception, navigation and manipulation.

Qualcomm AI engine: Deep learning performance across the Qualcomm AI engine (CPU, GPU, and DSP) delivers up to three tera-operations-per-second (TOPS) performance, with the DSP itself delivering 1.2 TOPS at one watt with hardware acceleration.

Includes the Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK, which encompasses analysis, optimization, and debugging tools designed to allow developers and manufacturers to port trained deep learning networks on the various heterogeneous compute blocks offered by the platform.

Camera and video: Dual 14-bit Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP supporting up to 32 MP single camera; support for up to 4K HDR video capture at 60 frames per second (fps).

Security: The Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit (SPU) offers a high level of security and robustness, while also providing high performance while maintaining power efficiency.

The SPU includes the following key components: secure boot, cryptographic accelerators, Qualcomm Trusted Execution Environment (QTEE), and camera security. To address advanced AI, ML, and biometrics, Qualcomm SDA/SDM845 supports porting of virtualization software.

Robust sensor and microphone support: The platform includes support for sensors like a 6-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU) consisting of a 3-axis gyroscope and a 3-axis accelerometer; capacitive barometric pressure sensor; multi-mode digital microphones; and additional ports for supplementary sensors from TDK-InvenSense.

Connectivity: Supports integrated 4G/LTE and CBRS, with 5G support planned to be enabled late this year; Wi-Fi integrated 802.11ac 2×2 with MU-MIMO; Tri-band Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz with Dual Band Simultaneous (DBS); and Qualcomm TrueWireless Bluetooth 5.0.

An ecosystem in the making

Roger Barga, general manager of AWS Robotics and Automation Services, Amazon Web Services, says: “We are delighted to be working with Qualcomm Technologies to help developers easily build intelligent robotics functions using AWS cloud services and then deploy their application onto a commercial grade, scalable hardware platform.

“Our collaboration is designed to give robotics developers a complete cloud-to-the-edge solution, accelerating development, providing intelligence out of the box, and easing robotic lifecycle management.”

Dr Jean Baptiste Passot, VP of platform and artificial intelligence, Brain Corp, says: “As the creators of BrainOS, the leading solution for the development, deployment and management of mobile robots, we’re excited to see Qualcomm Technologies get involved in the space in a major way.

“We’ve expanded BrainOS to be optimized with the Qualcomm SDM845 and look forward to exploring the potential of the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform for our future products.”

Yazhuo Wang, general manager of innovation product department, IoT business group, says: “ believes that the combination of industry and technology can create infinite possibilities for digitalization.

“We look forward to the new generation of Qualcomm Technologies’ Robotics Platform, which will help us develop more efficient and intelligent service robots through advanced technologies such as deep learning algorithms.”

Fu Sheng, chairman and CEO, Cheetah Mobile, and founder, OrionStar, says: “OrionStar is excited to see Qualcomm Technologies launch the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform with cutting-edge AI, edge computing and connectivity technologies, which enables robots to benefit from the latest innovations in mobile technology.

“Based on previous successful cooperation with Qualcomm Technologies on our service robotics, OrionStar looks forward to continuing to work with Qualcomm Technologies to provide consumers with a new wave of innovative, smart and power-efficient useful robots.”

Nicolas Sauvage, senior director, ecosystem at TDK-InvenSense, says: “Contributing high-performance sensors to the next wave of robotics innovations on the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform is a collaboration made in heaven.

“Working together, Qualcomm Technologies and TDK-InvenSense have helped reduce the barrier-to-entry for both consumer and industrial makers, while maximizing their opportunities to innovate with a wide range of sensor solutions.”

Commercial products based on the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform are expected to be available in 2019.

Both Naver and LG are evaluating the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform, and plan to showcase select robotics products based on the platform early next year.

Additional early users are expected to be Anki, BrainCorp, JD, Misty Robotics, OrionStar, Robotis, and others.

A development kit based on the Qualcomm Robotics RB3 Platform is available for purchase now from Thundercomm.