Qualcomm announces ultrasonic finger scanner and machine learning engine, teases Snapdragon 820 processor

Qualcomm today at MWC 2015 announced their newest device security measure: an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. Dubbed Qualcomm Snapdragon Sense ID 3D Fingerprint Technology, the tech uses ultrasonic waves to penetrate through the outer layers of your finger to build a three-dimensional map of your fingerprint that's much harder to duplicate than a mere capacitive scanner as you'd find on the Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6. Additionally, Qualcomm also announced their new "machine learning" platform Zeroth, which aims to go for a device that learns and adapts to how you use it.

The Sense ID scanner recognizes sweat glands and the layers of your fingerprint ridges. But more impressive is that it works through metal, plastic, and glass, so it can be installed differently in a phone than under the glass plates that fingerprint scanners are currently placed. Additionally, by going ultrasonic, Sense ID can scan through any lotion, grease, or other grime that might frustrate a traditional capacitive scanner. Sense ID adheres to the FIDO open standard secure authentication.

Qualcomm Zeroth face recognition

Qualcomm Zeroth might be the more interesting announcement long-term, however. Right now it's a bit vague — Qualcomm President Derek Aberle described it as a cognitive and machine computing platform that "will allow your device to learn about you and customize itself over time". All of the data collected by Zeroth is stored on the device, none of it's pushed to the cloud. And while they're initially targeting mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, Qualcomm sees the platform extending to automotive and other sectors in the future.

So what does Zeroth do? Qualcomm provided one interesting demo: the camera. The camera app leveraged Zeroth to actually recognize what was in a photo — people, architecture, food, etc. — and where it was being taken — indoor, outdoor, night — to engage in automatic scene detection and tweaking of the camera settings appropriately. Zeroth also amplifies face detection that most modern smartphones support with face recognition. Yes, it can see who is in the photo, not just that there are people in the photo.

The last big new announcement was the new Snapdragon 820 processor. Aberle teased the new chipset, which will include a custom Kryo CPU and a "leading" LinFET process (though they would not comment on what process they're using — Samsung's up to 14nm at this point). The new processor isn't expected to start sampling to manufacturers until the second half of 2015, so it'll probably be a while before we start seeing Snapdragon 820 smartphones and tablets start shipping.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor

A few other notes on what Qualcomm has done and has in store:

  • In 2014 Qualcomm shipped 920 million chipsets to manufacturers.
  • The Snapdragon brand is expanding to encompass Qualcomm's LTE modems, recently rebranded as X-series modems. So Snapdragon will stand for the complete system-on-a-chip). Take the Snapdragon 620 and 425 for example: they both use the 450Mbps X8 modem.
  • Qualcomm is integrating specialized support for "select Cyanogen features and enhancements", and has seen more than 30 Windows Phone devices launched off the Qualcomm Reference Design.
  • Qualcomm's working on seamless hand-overs of voice and video calls between Wi-Fi and LTE and aggregating Wi-Fi and LTE for faster multi-stream downloads (several Android device manufacturers have implemented this on their own, but this is the first that will be built in at the hardware level).

Additionally, Qualcomm recently dug deeper into unlicensed spectrum, with Aberle saying that "LTE-U is even a better neighbor to Wi-Fi than other Wi-Fi networks." Of course, we'll have to see carriers actually start implementing LTE-U before we can even think about how well our networks will play together. On the other end of the spectrum, Qualcomm is also demoing the first Cat.11 LTE modems at MWC, topping out at a blistering 600Mbps downloads.

Derek Kessler

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

  • Lumia 940 XL should use this.
  • Why?
  • Maybe the 950 XL, but there is no way Microsoft is gonna wait until next year for the snapdragon 820.
  • This is what's so annoying about MS missing a flagship cycle.
  • Don't think snapdragon 820 phones will come out untill feb-march of 2016 so maybe Lumia 950
  • Will MS try it...?
  • on low end, no. seemed they're like to release a low end phones these days. D:
  • W10 flagship better have all of this!
    Or even beter, an Intel chip with desktop abilities.
  • Why not Surface Pro 3 in 5 inch display? :P
  • The battery wouldn't last for an hour. lol
  • Oh yeah, right! Forgot to mention: Carry a power bank of at least 10,000 mAh with you! B)
  • Windows phone will support this processor with windows 12 gdr 5.. :/
  • 2nd half of 2015 for this chip may be cutting it close for a flagship Lumia, unless that flagship is coming Q4.
  • They said that there won't be any Lumia flagships until Windows 10 for phones is complete and in the RTM stage, which makes sense. Why make a flagship now, just for it to be outshined by the next flagship with Windows 10 in a couple months? They're probably waiting until they complete Windows 10 so they can make hardware that will utilize the software in every way possible and create a badass device accordingly. But why make one now when the software isn't finished, and odds are it will do the same exact thing that your current Lumia running 8.1 does?
  • You are right. The moment WIndows 10 is ready they will start to think about a new flagship and release it within weeks. Thats how long Hardware development usually takes.
  • Here comes the flagship!!
  • The next Lumia better have this
  • Microsoft should buy qualcomm
  • they should buy everything that related to phone making :p
  • +1
  • That seems to be Google's way of thinking.
  • But letting other OEMs use the products!! Not so goolglish!! :p
  • Well that there is a different story. Google does it just for the sake of being dicks and killing off amy competition that is a threat to them. Microsoft does it to help expand their products to other customers. If they really wanted to they could completely ban Skype from iOS or Android, but they don't because it wouldn't benefit them. It would hurt them. Though people aren't using their platform, Microsoft still makes profit from those that use Skype, Office, OneDrive, etc. regardless if its on iOS, Android, Windows, etc. Is it for their own gain? Yeah I guess in a way it is, but they're not pissing off the competition's customers in the process by banning cross-platform services like Google does to Windows users.
  • Pretty sure Microsoft lacks the capital to buy Qualcomm.  And that's ignoring the horror of legal quagmire MS would have to endure to even contemplate the deal.
  • The new nexus, note 5, LG and Microsoft are gonna be the first to use these chips, I hope my new Lumia 15xx has this chip.
  • XL
  • Oh my , already comes with SD 820? They should fix the SD 810 overheating issues first.. !
  • Apparently the overheating issues was largely experienced by Samsung.  According to everyone including LG and Qualcomm, the 810 runs just fine. 
  • If I'm not mistaken , Samsung were using their own processor call Exynos.
  • And if you were a desperate company loosing market share and trying to pinch pennies then you might finally start building on your own in-house hardware that you have sunk hundreds of millions of R&D into while spreading bad rumors about the competition as well.
    The 810 does run warmer than the Exynos, and it seems to throttle a bit more as well, but it also seems to be a faster chip even when throttled. At the end of the day, both are great chips.
  • Hope ISIS terrorist don't destroy technologies in the near future
  • I'm hoping technology will destroy them in the near future.
  • I'm hoping people will stop destroying each other soon and unite in something for a change.
  • ^ This guy is smart.
  • Just imagine if all those billions used in wars on this planet are channeled to research and technology for the betterment of peoples lives, where would we be by now?  
  • Keep in mind that most (almost all) technologies that we have today got their start by military funding for the express purpose of killing other people. If it was not for large-scale war we would all still be living in huts under some horrible fiefdom with no concept of science or technology as we know it. War sucks, and I truly hope that sustainable technologies will end the need for countries to war over territories and resources, but do keep in mind that war has often brought more prosperity and advancement than death and suffering. Not a justification, merely a fact that people tend to overlook.
    About the only thing that isnt (directly) tied to the military that has brought huge advancements was the space race... but it seems nobody is interested in doing that.
  • It looks as if the 810 was a stopgag processor coughed up by Qualcomm to avoid being left behind in the realm of 32 bit.  I'm interested to see where the 820 design falls compared to Exynos and Mediatek. Should be interest. 
  • These processors are necessary for camera phones like the Lumia 1040XL.
  • What does "sampling to manufacturer" mean? Does that mean that is when the chipset will be given to device manufacturers?
  • Yes, that is when a chip maker makes small batches and sends them to device manufacturers to see what they can do with them, and get feedback for any last-minute changes that might be implemented. If they are just shipping to manufacturers in H2 of this year then it means that we will not see these chips release until Q2 2016 at the earliest. This will be a chip for next year's flagships, not this year.
  • They need to release flagship now!
  • So on October 2015 we can see Lumia 1540 or 940 With these huge advantage CPU + ultrasonic Finger Print and Learning Cortana! OH MY GOD! Thank you Technology (Microsoft  + Qualcomm)  
  • Now that's impressive!
  • I think this would probably be in WP in 2020 or later, as MS is going today.....
  • Me likey. I hope all three of these techs make its way into next years Flagship Lumias.