Israeli startup Innoviz is teaming up with a large Chinese truck maker on self-driving container transport on ports, as the country pushes industrial upgrades for freight deliveries using driverless technologies.

Why it matters: The partnership is an important step for Innoviz, which is going to great lengths to drive down costs for Lidar sensors in order to widen adoption in autonomous vehicles (AV), particularly in the hyper-competitive Chinese auto market.

  • The move by the Israeli company comes after its rival Velodyne scaled back its presence in China, replacing its direct sales team with single agents late last year.
  • Chinese media reported the US Lidar pioneer lost the market to local rivals such as Alibaba-backed Robosense, which offers an entry-level 16-laser unit at half the price of a Velodyne equivalent.

Details: Softbank-backed Innoviz is working on a pilot project with Shaanxi Heavy Duty Automobile, known outside of China as Shacman Trucks, to deploy the Innoviz Pro solid-state Lidar sensor in autonomous trucks on one of China’s biggest ports, the company said in an announcement released Wednesday.

  • The two companies are testing Shaanxi’s trucks to “see” the environment using Innoviz’s solid-state Lidar sensors, which send out thousands of laser points to detect objects and create maps for their surroundings at a range of up to 150 meters.
  • The truck maker has set a goal to deploy up to 600 vehicles in the port area with autonomous container loading and unloading capabilities. A China-based Innoviz senior executive declined to specify which port when contacted by TechNode on Thursday.
  • Solid-state Lidar, with fewer moving parts than traditional Lidar, is considered smaller, cheaper to build, and more resilient for mass adoption.
  • Shacman Trucks is China’s third-biggest truck maker by sales volume and a partner of Chinese AV startup Tusimple. The company recorded sales of 135,000 tractors and trucks last year, behind state-owned FAW and Dongfeng Motor.

Context: Founded in January 2016 by former members of the elite technological unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, Innoviz has secured total funding of $252 million from investors including Softbank, Tier 1 supplier Aptiv, and China Merchants Capital.

  • The new entrant has snagged several key customers including BMW, providing the German automaker with solid-state Lidar technology for the mass production of several models in 2021.
  • In an interview with Chinese media in 2018, an executive from Innoviz said it planned to outsource production of its premium model Innoviz One to a Chinese manufacturer in two years with a price tag of $1,000. A 64-laser mechanical Lidar produced by Velodyne costs $75,000.

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Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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