Qualcomm expands retail IoT with NRF 2022 demos


Qualcomm wants investors and customers to know that it now has a broadened industry focus beyond the mobile chips used for years in billions of smartphones and many wireless networking products.

That message has come from CEO Cristiano Amon repeatedly in his early tenure as chief, including when he spoke at an investor event in November and more recently at CES 2022 in Las Vegas. Even so, some of the subtleties behind that theme are now beginning to surface.

 One such subtlety is that Qualcomm has long been developing chips and other tech behind more applications than for wireless communications. Some of this tech can be used for IoT edge computing with improved processing of data through acceleration and AI. The edge can be used in applications involving smart traffic, smart cars, smart cities and areas like robotics. To hear Qualcomm executives tell it, the sky is the limit.

Retail IoT is one area. Art Miller, global head of retail IoT for Qualcomm, recently explained how his last three years at the company have been focused on retail IoT which he called a “well-funded startup” within Qualcomm that is devoted to enhancing retailer customer experiences, empowering associates and improving operational efficiencies.

He said the company already has 13,000 IoT customers where Qualcomm serves, often, as a trusted advisor and listed Walmart as a strategic retail partner. Miller ticked off dozens of ways retail experiences can be enhanced using Qualcomm products, everything from faster checkout with smart carts to retail online and offline electronic shelf technology to help associates quickly know what products   to restock. Customers can also expect to see digital status on an item out of stock, even with the ability to call up a QR code to order the product online from a personal mobile device in the store for later pickup or home delivery.

Qualcomm is going to demonstrate some of its retail tech with partners at the National Retail Federation show (NRF 2022) in New  York next week, a show where the company  has appeared before but not regularly. There will be 12 digitized retail demos highlighting work with 16 global partners, including Honeywell, Infineon, Clover and more.

Miller said Qualcomm has done much more than wireless chips for a long time and used its work in mobile phones as an example. Functions such as computer vision, touch and facial recognition are supported by Qualcomm. “We do highlight those and security, but everybody focuses on how quickly the phone connects to the internet and kind of downplays the other,” he said.

“Connectivity, compute, security and AI enable every use case” at Qualcomm, Miller said. Although now, Qualcomm is emphasizing compute, security and AI in addition to connectivity, he said. (If that isn’t too subtle a distinction.)   “A lot of it is hiding behind the curtain and we’ve been building billion-dollar businesses while others are talking connectivity,” he added.

Putting a focus on edge computing functions in a smart retail operation is “not a departure from what Qualcomm has done…it’s not a huge tech departure,” Miller added.

A new Qualcomm blog in advance of NRF 2022 is even more explicit in describing the transition: “Qualcomm Technologies is proving again it’s more than a leader in developing smartphones.  Qualcomm is expanding leadership into new industries including automotive, PCs, wearables and now retail.”

Some specific use cases with partners are mentioned in another Qualcomm blog. Arima is working with Ordxy, a restaurant point of sale provider to offer a biometrics checkout application. The Arima 6125 is a 10-inch display powered by Qualcomm’s QCS6125 multimedia process.  A facial recognition system from CyberLink and a palm recognition solution from Redrock Biometrics are part of the application.

SES-imagotag electronic shelf labels and a collaboration demo with Clover Mini will be shown at NRF as well.

Also, Qualcomm plans to demo contactless payment with no external payment hardware using a PHOS software application on the Elo M50 mobile computer, a rugged handheld using the Qualcomm SDA660 processor.

Miller said Qualcomm’s QCS8250 processor is used to support touchless technology that can be used in gesture-based food service kiosks.  Many applications such as edge AI, heat maps and customer store patterns are all enabled with processing at the edge so that  data is not streaming back to a data center or the  cloud.

 “We’re not there just to be a dumb pipe but doing the thinking at the edge on mobile devices,” he said. “That’s what needs to happen, to process data at the relevant point and not stream back to the cloud.”

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