DJI’s Livox launches sensors for self-driving cars as Chinese drone maker faces US regulatory challenges

  • Drones
  • Wednesday, 08 Jan 2020

DJI says two sensors created by its spin-off company, Livox, can scan the environment with barely any blind spots. The drone maker has come under increasing scrutiny from US regulators amid tensions between the world’s two largest economies. — SCMP

China’s DJI Technologies has unveiled two light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors that it said could be used in areas such as autonomous driving, mapping and mobile robotics.

The sensors, introduced at the CES technology event on Jan 6, were created by Livox Technologies, an independent company formed in a DJI incubator.

Lidar is a sensing technology that uses lasers to measure distances. Traditional lidar sensors scan the environment using horizontal beams, which DJI said runs the risk of blind spots between the repetitive lines no matter how long the scan lasts.

In comparison, Livox’s Horizon and Tele-15 sensors use a non-repetitive flowerlike scanning pattern to create three-dimensional images of the surrounding environment. The accuracy of these images improves with time and can cover nearly 100% – 99.8% – of the field of view, at a fraction of the cost of traditional lidar units, DJI said.

The latest announcement may be a sign that DJI is stepping up its exploration of ways to diversify its drone business amid ongoing tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, and as its drone technology is scrutinised by US regulators for possible security risks. Media reports in recent years have suggested several times that the drone maker is secretly exploring self-driving technologies, although it has never confirmed this.

Livox was formed in 2016 by a group of engineers within DJI’s Open Innovation Program, with the aim of revolutionising the lidar sensor industry, DJI said in a statement.

“The products will make Level 3 and Level 4 autonomous driving a reality with their powerful performance and reliable quality,” the drone manufacturer added.

Level 3 autonomous driving is a classification for vehicles that can take over all driving functions under certain circumstances, whereas Level 4 means that the car can handle most driving situations independently although a human driver can still request control.

Shenzhen-based DJI has been facing mounting challenges from US regulators, with the Trump administration voicing security concerns that its devices could be sending sensitive surveillance data back to China. In recent months, US lawmakers introduced more than 20 drone-related bills, many aimed at regulating or restricting Chinese-made machines and building up US competitors. The company’s drones – which account for 75% of the global market – have also been banned by the US military since 2017.

In spite of security concerns, DJI drones are still widely adopted by US government agencies, police and first responders. Its drones account for as many as eight in 10 drones used in the US, according to a 2017 report by Skylogic Research.

The high profile CES technology gathering in Las Vegas, US is expected to draw over 175,000 visitors and 4,500 companies exhibiting their latest technologies and products this year, although participation from Chinese companies is forecast to fall.

Chinese exhibit space at the trade show is projected to be down 5% to 6% compared with last year, according to a Wall Street Journal report. With the ongoing tensions, China’s trade watchdog has offered pro bono legal services to Chinese exhibitors on the sidelines of the event in case they face any unexpected attempts by US police to seize their exhibits.

This year’s CES will also see a bigger-than-usual contingent of senior officials from the Trump administration, including White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and US Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios. – South China Morning Post

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