Silicon Valley self-driving truck startup Kodiak and China Hesai lidar partner up

By Jane Lanhee Lee

OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) - Silicon Valley self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics Inc and Shanghai-based lidar maker Hesai Technology Co Ltd on Wednesday announced a partnership to integrate the Chinese lidar into the autonomous trucking system.

Laser-based lidar sensors help self-driving cars detect objects ahead and around the vehicle and are a key component to many self-driving systems.

Kodiak will use a Hesai lidar on each side of the truck and will also keep one forward-facing Luminar lidar, said Don Burnette, Kodiak's CEO, who was a co-founder of self-driving truck startup Otto and before that an early engineer working on Google’s self-driving car program.

U.S. lidar maker Luminar Technologies earlier this month said it was partnering with SAIC Motor Corp, China's largest automaker.

Burnette said Kodiak focuses on the software of autonomous driving and integrating hardware from suppliers.

“I think it is a distinct advantage for Kodiak to have started in a time where we had access to a rich and mature ecosystem of services and suppliers,” Burnette said.

The company was launched in 2018 to focus on long-haul trucking and delivers freight between the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway.

Increasing deals with several big self-driving vehicle companies and momentum in the industry has helped Hesai increase it sales, said Hesai’s CEO David Li.

Last year’s revenue exceeded $60 million, up over 27% from 2019, he said. Revenue in 2017 was a mere $2.98 million.

Hesai and another Chinese lidar firm RoboSense were sued by U.S. lidar company Velodyne Lidar Inc in 2019 for patent infringement, but Li said Hesai has settled with Velodyne with a global cross license deal.

“We will not have legal problems one way or another with Velodyne,” he said.

Hesai now also counts Robert Bosch GmBH, a major auto supplier, as an investor.

(Reporting by Jane Lanhee Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates)