When Echodyne showed off its compact yet intelligent metamaterial radar system back in 2017, the applications seemed endless… but some, like urban air mobility and autonomous vehicles, we’re still waiting for. Thankfully, the defense industry has backed the company through some difficult years and is now looking for new opportunities with a $135 million funding round co-led by Bill Gates.
company technology, in detail thenessentially replacing large, power-hungry, often mechanized radar arrays with a device the size of a hardback book.
The power and weight savings alone would make it attractive enough, but it also adds features such as intelligent beamforming to direct the radar’s ability to discern details to a small area of interest. This is made possible by metamaterials, a class of technologies run by Intellectual Ventures and where Echodyne was developed.
It was originally intended to be a great addition to things like drones, which are fairly limited in the sensory equipment they can comfortably carry without affecting range or maneuverability, and autonomous vehicles, where space is also a big deal.
EchoDrive was the company’s first commercial product., released in January 2020 and aimed at AV – and, as you remember, this market is still struggling to emerge. Not to mention the pandemic.
Fortunately, the possibilities of Echodyne technology have not been overlooked by some other people with big pockets, such as the Army, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA and Northrop Grumman, all of whom have signed contracts with the company for various reasons.
“You don’t have to tackle cornerstone AV cases when it comes to radar solutions for unmanned aerial systems, homeland and critical infrastructure security, or defense mission requirements. And we have products for dozens of applications in each of these large and global markets,” said Eben Frankenberg, CEO and co-founder of Echodyne.
The reality is that people have been hungry for better and smarter ground radars as part of a new generation of tracking and detection tools to be applied in industrial and military situations around the world. If your main radar for detecting small UAVs in a military warehouse is a rotating radar atop a control tower, then you are a lightweight fruit for today’s savvy drone operator. But a dozen Echodyne radars scattered all over the place could do ten times better for a quarter of the price (these numbers are purely for illustration purposes).
It doesn’t hurt that they now offer devices in desert tan:
All of this is part of a fixed, security-focused package that Echodyne calls EchoGuard. You can see in the top render that it is designed to work as an all-sky tracking and warning system.
“We’re really leaning towards the idea of deploying networks of radars that work together as a single instance and relay intelligent radar data to higher-level systems,” said Frankenberg. There is nothing surprising; The use case naturally comes to mind for institutional clients replacing or expanding existing large scale systems and legacy installations.
This is a good use case for existing airports and bases, but it could also apply to future infrastructure, such as what might be needed in and around cities to support still-theoretical air taxis and drone delivery services on a full-time basis in a couple of years.
And don’t think they’ve abandoned self-driving cars:
“All very smart AI developments require the decision stack to run at the speed of light without aberrations in order to achieve the highest probabilistic fidelity,” said Frankenberg. In other words, making a decision (is it safe to change lanes?) depends on the system’s confidence in the conclusions it draws, and the more and more accurate the data increases that confidence. “Our radar design should allow higher levels of the decision stack to drive the operation of the radar, validate or refine elements of the operating environment, and provide higher probabilistic confidence for improved decision making and actuation.”
Of course, automation goes beyond consumer mobility in industry and robotics, but we’ll know more about Echodyne applications there when the time is right.
The $135 million round C (in total the company has raised $195 million since 2017) will allow the company to move beyond the relatively safe markets of defense and federal contracts in which it thrived during the pandemic. “Our product team needs to grow and evolve, and we have global sales and marketing expansion to plan and do right. All this takes time and money,” said Frankenberg.
The round was led by Bill Gates and Bailey Gifford, with participation from Northrop Grumman (turning clients into investors is a reason to celebrate), NEA, Madrona Ventures, Vulcan Capital and Vanedge Capital.
Credit: techcrunch.com /