How Can Robots See the World?
►The push for self-driving cars by the global car industry has created business opportunities for many companies along the chain such as LiDAR technology providers.
►As autonomous cars become a worldwide reality, the LiDAR market is getting crowded - it will hit USD 2.5 billion by 2026. RoboSense is one of the important players in the market.
RoboSense (Suteng Innovation Technology Co., Ltd) founded in 2014 with the help of a group of engineers from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) based in Shenzhen. The company supplies LiDAR technologies.
LiDAR means ‘light detection and ranging.’ It is a remote sensing technology that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (distances) to a target. A LiDAR sensor fires off beams of laser light and then measures how long it takes the light to return to the sensor. A number of auto companies that are developing self-driving vehicles use this technology.
RoboSense delivers its LiDAR solutions to a wide range of domestic and international autonomous driving technology companies, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM)s, and tier-one suppliers.
Chunxin Qiu is the founder and the current CEO of the company. He completed his Ph.D. in Control Science at HIT. Over the years, Qiu has published multiple articles at world-renowned journals, including the Journal of Field Robotics (JFR) and has participated in several robotics projects, including those led by Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). His background and expertise won the trust of many investors, including Alibaba Group Holding, SAIC Motor Corp and BAIC Group, in its latest financing round that was the biggest among local peers. Consequently, RoboSense has been able to raise USD 45 million within four years after establishment.
"The rapid development of autonomous driving has ignited a huge demand for lidar," said Qiu in 2018, during the company's latest financing round, "This round of funding is not only for capital assistance but also for strategic resources. We are looking forward to continuing working with our partners to lead the large-scale commercialization era of the autonomous driving industry."
The push for self-driving cars by the global car industry has created business opportunities for many companies along the chain. While the US is anticipated to be the first market with autonomous vehicles on the road, China is predicted to lead the market by 2040. It is expected that around 14.5 million autonomous vehicles will be sold in China in 2040, according to a study by IHS Markit.
Currently, in the domestic market, RoboSense is partnering with Cainiao, JD.com, Suning and Meituan Dianping for their self-driving delivery vehicles. The company has also collaborated with autonomous driving technology start-ups such as Roadstar.ai and TuSimple.
With these developments, RoboSense is rising as a significant competitor in the market. Last year, the company announced its launch of a developed and complete LiDAR perception solution for Robo Taxi (RS-Fusion-P5) in markets outside China. Equipped with an RS-Ruby and four RS-BPearl, The RS-Fusion-P5 is considered the alternative to Waymo's LiDAR solution, further accelerating the development of Robo Taxi. This new technology provides full coverage and zero blind spots for robots to operate in 360° surrounding view.
Moreover, the company has also gained international recognition. In January, RoboSense won CES 2020 Innovation Award for autonomous vehicle technology.
However, the company also faces various allegations regarding intellectual property rights, which affects the future of its business. Last year, Velodyne Lidar Inc - the San Jose-based autonomous navigation sensor maker, backed by Chinese internet giant Baidu– accused Chinese rivals, including RoboSense, of stealing its intellectual property.
"RoboSense knew of and studied Velodyne's products and patented technology before it incorporated that technology into its own products, as its personnel admitted in public interviews. Foreign counterparts of the '558 patent was also cited in a RoboSense foreign patent application (CN105824029A)," said David Hal, Velodyne's founder.
Velodyne asked the court to stop both companies from selling the allegedly infringing products and for enhanced damages.
Another problem for RoboSense is the competition among LiDAR technology providers. As autonomous cars become a worldwide reality, the LiDAR market is getting crowded. According to the HIS report, it will hit USD 2.5 billion by 2026.
While these kinds of accusations are damaging the brand reputation and the competition is threatening the company's revenues, RoboSense seems to be optimistic about its future.
In an interview with the COO, Mark Qiu, he said they will continue investing in improving their LiDAR solutions and reducing the cost of their technologies. The company hopes to take over the market with these two simple strategies.