American business magnate Bill Gates has invested in a US startup
Echodyne that raised $29 million in a Series B financing round led by New Enterprise Associates
. Other investors including Madrona Venture Group
, Vulcan Capital
, Lux Capital
and The Kresge Foundation
also participated in the round.
Echodyne provides self-driving drone technology, applying the physics of metamaterials to deliver radar vision, a combination of high-performance agile imaging radar hardware with computer vision-like software for classification, recognition, and perception. Its patented technology, called MESA (Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array), produces radar that is orders of magnitude smaller, lighter and more affordable than phased array radar, which has long been considered the pinnacle of radar technology.
“The capability of MESA is truly unprecedented. It gives these platforms a powerful new way to adaptively see and sense the world around them,” said Tom Driscoll, CTO, Echodyne.
The startup believes that while the autonomous era is evolving very quickly, most existing sensors have fundamental flaws. LiDAR and cameras have limited range and don’t operate reliably in even moderately adverse conditions, and existing commercial radars have woefully inadequate resolution. Echodyne claims that its radar vision platform solves these problems by delivering high-resolution, long-range, and all-weather capabilities ideal for autonomy.
“When safety matters, Echodyne’s radar vision sensors will be onboard. With new investment by some of the world’s most influential people and organizations, Echodyne will focus on extending our technology and scaling production as corporations, consumers, and regulation demand the highest standards in a more autonomous world,” said Eben Frankenberg, CEO, Echodyne.
Echodyne’s first commercial product is the size of an Amazon Kindle and enables drones to navigate safely as they fly beyond sight of their operator. The sensor can detect and track a Cessna sized airplane or a helicopter at up to 3km, and a DJI Phantom sized drone at 750m. And, since it’s a radar, it can do so in the dark and in adverse environmental conditions (clouds, rain, etc). A shorter range system ideal for autonomous cars and trucks is also in development.
“Echodyne has made amazing progress in a very short amount of time. We knew their radar technology represented a fundamental sensor breakthrough, but the autonomous vehicle markets have developed even faster than we expected. The convergence between their tech and the needs of autonomy couldn’t be more perfect and timely,” said Tim Porter of Madrona Venture Group.