Baidu Apollo Project Vehicle Silicon Valley

Chinese driverless vehicles present spying risk, US transport chief warns

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US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg has expressed concern over the possible national security implications of allowing the automated vehicle technology from Chinese firms to run on US roads.

It followed a letter earlier in the week from a bipartisan group of Representatives urging the Administration to investigate and limit the operations of such firms in the US.

“Whether we are talking about hardware or software, in the same way there are concerns around telecom or TikTok, there are concerns around transportation technologies,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Reuters.

The letter, which was sent by Representatives Tim Walberg (R-MI), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Bob Latta (R-OH), and Marc Veasy (D-TX), admitted that advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are the key to “reducing and even eliminating traffic fatalities”.

“But Americans will not benefit from the future autonomous vehicles (AV) promise to bring if the United States continues its current trajectory of inaction. China is already filling the void to set global standards, establish supply chains, and deploy the technology on its own,” it read.

“The People’s Republic of China also has strong restrictions on United States autonomous vehicle companies operating or testing in China. We are concerned that we are ceding a serious strategic advantage by not barring Chinese companies from operating in the United States in return,” the lawmakers continued.

It warned that the technology used by AVs – which includes lidar, radar, cameras, AI – as well as other advanced sensors and semiconductors, can all be used to collect data on American citizens and infrastructure that could be shared back to China.

“The massive amount of data being collected by these cars could give the CCP an unprecedented vantage point into the United States. Beijing has already pioneered the use of big-data analytics to identify dissidents at home, and we are concerned that those tactics could be deployed here and abroad,” the letter warned.

In a similar fashion to Google and its spin off project Waymo, Chinese tech giant Baidu has been working on its Apollo project since 2017.

The project has been operating in Shanghai and has seen more than 100 Apolong buses being produced that can autonomously carry 14 people. The buses are guided through cloud technology, have a wheel span of 4.3 metres, and are considering to have level 4 driverless capabilities.

The US needs to better understand “the true ownership of the different enterprises that are supplying different elements of our transportation systems,” Buttigieg said.

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