U.S. Takes a Closer Look at China’s Lidar

In February, the White House said it would investigate connected cars to gauge national security risks due to advances in Chinese technology. The impetus for the investigation is that state-subsidized Chinese vehicles could flood the U.S. market and access sensitive data through lidar sensors—especially military data. Today, lidar is a key feature in many Chinese connected cars. Hesai is one of the biggest makers of these sensors.

In military applications, a lidar-equipped unmanned aerial vehicle could surveil a bombing site to assess the aftermath, providing accurate estimates of the physical and functional damage on the ground without exposing military personnel to the scene. 

Hesai enlisted the efforts of Washington’s two top lobbying firms (based on revenue). It hired Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld for $300,000 in August and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for $220,000 a month later, paying them $300,000 and $220,000 through February. However, both companies filed paperwork to terminate their contracts with Hesai and have so far refused to comment.

Until 2018, the U.S. dominated the global lidar market. Chinese companies have since made huge strides. Currently, Hesai controls 47% of the global market by sales. However, U.S. companies Velodyne and Ouster accused Hesai of intellectual property infringement, and in the past few months, the Pentagon included them on its list of “Chinese Military Companies” operating directly or indirectly in the states. Hesai claims it does not sell its lidar technology products to any military in any country worldwide. 

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