The Bellevue company, backed by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, is testing the radar for use in the commercial-drone market and in other industries.
Echodyne, a radar-technology startup backed by investments from Bill Gates and Paul Allen, says it has successfully tested its detect-and-avoid radar mounted on a small commercial drone.
The Bellevue company says tests showed its radar, the size of a small tablet computer, could “see” moving and stationary objects and, in the case of another aircraft, trace its path.
“The radar did what it was supposed to do; it’s definitely progress,” Echodyne Chief Executive Eben Frankenberg said.
A video of one test shows the views from a webcam mounted on a commercial drone alongside the radar images Echodyne’s device was picking up.
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As the drone rises, the radar picks up a pair of fence lines — a decent imitation, Echodyne says, of the power lines that commercial drones will have to avoid. Later, another drone flies into the field of view, and even though it’s hard to make out on the webcam video, the radar output charts the position and path of the other vehicle.
Echodyne is among the companies building technology aimed at the growing commercial-drone industry. Drones are already in use from inspecting cellphone towers to getting a bird’s-eye view of how crops are growing.
New Federal Aviation Administration rules governing drones took effect in August, mandating that pilots keep the vehicles within their line of sight and fly no higher than 400 feet above the ground.
Industry groups are pushing to expand operating guidelines to include flight beyond line of sight. Eventual regulations governing that kind of operation, Echodyne hopes, will include mandates for radar of the sort it is building.
Echodyne’s technology uses metamaterials, the emerging science of engineering materials so they have useful properties that don’t occur in nature.
The goal is to make a radar that is cheaper and lighter than the advanced radar arrays on the market, and suitable for the growing world of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Frankenberg said he expects the radar involved in the test, which the company is calling MESA-DAA (for metamaterial electronically scanning array — detect and avoid), to be available commercially early next year, starting at $9,995.
The device is designed to detect Cessna-sized aircraft and other objects from up to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away, and small drones at a distance of up to 750 meters (nearly a half-mile).
Echodyne in 2014 was spun out of Bellevue patent-holding and technology company Intellectual Ventures and later drew investments from Gates, Allen’s Vulcan Capital and Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, among others.
Beyond the commercial-drone market, Echodyne hopes to find customers for its technology in the auto industry and among defense contractors.