Standards, Regulations & Compliance

US Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge Crackdown on Chinese LiDAR

House Members Warn That Chinese-Made LiDAR Technology May Already Be in US Devices
US Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge Crackdown on Chinese LiDAR
Close-up of Chinese smart sensing technology company Hesai Technology's LiDAR on a self-driving car in California on Feb. 28, 2020 (Image: Shutterstock)

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged the Biden administration to consider intensifying restrictions on semiconductor sales to Chinese companies in a bid to ensure that U.S. remote-sensing technology doesn't aid Beijing's national security efforts.

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Members of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party called for an investigation into the market for light detection and ranging technology that could conclude with new export controls on technologies such as field-programmable gate array chips that power most commercial LiDAR tech. They also said the government should consider blacklisting Chinese LiDAR companies for their ties with the military.

The letter, sent to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, also urged the Biden administration to probe whether Chinese-made LiDAR technologies should be banned from use in U.S. government and critical infrastructure systems. "There is significant risk that PRC-made LiDAR is already present in U.S. defense systems and platforms that the U.S. military and its contractors are unaware of," committee members wrote. If so, Beijing could potentially mine troves of mapping, infrastructure and military data or introduce malware degrading the performance of systems that use the Chinese-made parts.

Letter signatories include committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.

LiDAR uses lasers to measure targeted areas and create comprehensive 3D maps or models, and it can be used in autonomous systems and robotics.

The U.S. has increasingly cracked down on Chinese technology companies, targeting a broad range of technologies with export controls and procurement restrictions. The Biden administration in October sharpened export controls on semiconductors and chip manufacturing equipment sold to China in a bid to limit the country's access to cutting-edge technology used in military applications.

President Joe Biden in August issued an executive order banning U.S. investments in China in semiconductors and microelectronics (see: US Restricts Investment in Chinese AI, Other Technologies).

None of those restrictions have applied to Chinese LiDAR companies, the lawmakers said, despite the technology increasingly becoming a critical component in key industries, the military and across critical infrastructure sectors.

Committee members said the administration should in particular investigate the potential of export controls on field-programmable gate array chips not already covered by export controls. FPGAs with more than 700 digital inputs and outputs already come under export licensing requirements, but the chips typically used in LiDAR fall below that threshold, they said.

"Thus, PRC LiDAR companies rely on U.S. FPGAs to build their systems, and it is concerning that there are currently U.S. components that are potentially being used in the PRC military’s autonomous vehicle systems," they wrote.

About the Author

Chris Riotta

Chris Riotta

Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Riotta is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president. His reporting has appeared in NBC News, Nextgov/FCW, Newsweek Magazine, The Independent and more.

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