Echodyne’s radar arrays are designed to bring some of the power and precision of massive, heavy, military-grade radars to a tablet-sized device.
Bellevue radar startup Echodyne has wrapped up a $29 million investment round, including contributions from previous investors Bill Gates and Paul Allen, to fund continued development of radar for drones and autonomous vehicles.
The funding round, the first since a $15 million haul in 2014, was led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates. All of Echodyne’s existing investors, including Gates, Allen’s Vulcan and Seattle-based Madrona Venture group, contributed to the new round, the company said.
Echodyne’s technology relies on metamaterials science, or infusing technology components with properties not found in nature, causing them to interact differently with light, sound or other waves.
Echodyne’s radar arrays are designed to bring some of the power and precision of massive, heavy, military-grade radars — mounted on ships or the nose cones of fighter jets — to a tablet-sized device.
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The company is in the process of shipping an initial production run of its first commercial product, a roughly $10,000 detect-and-avoid radar for small drones, built by contract manufacturers in the U.S. and assembled at the company’s Bellevue headquarters, Chief Executive Eben Frankenberg said. The devices can detect a small plane from about 1 to 2 miles away.
The buyers so far are primarily drone operators, manufacturers and firms building software designed to help guide or operate unmanned aerial vehicles. A backlog of orders is growing, Frankenberg said, without disclosing the size of the order book or the scale of current delivery plans.
“The market has come forward way faster than I think anybody expected,” Frankenberg said of the drone business. “There are all these vehicles and machines trying to figure out how they get around.”
Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations require that drones be operated by someone who keeps the vehicle in their line of sight.
But commercial operators of drones hope to push that standard to allow for use beyond an operator’s vision, which could smooth the way for such applications as Amazon.com’s hope for aerial delivery of goods, and AT&T’s aim to use drones to inspect remote cell towers.
Those applications might require drone hardware built to recognize objects in the air and on the ground. Echodyne is hoping a tool like the company’s 1.8-pound detect-and-avoid radar becomes required equipment.
Echodyne was born in 2014 as a spinoff to commercialize metamaterials radar technology owned by Intellectual Ventures (IV), the Bellevue patent-holding and research firm. Frankenberg is a former chief operating officer at IV.
Frankenberg also aims to sell into the nascent market for self-driving cars and trucks. Companies that make a wide range of sensor types are competing to help the computer brains of such vehicles “see” the world around them.
Echodyne hasn’t disclosed any auto-focused products or partnerships, but Frankenberg said announcements targeting the industry are coming.
“The phone has literally been ringing off the hook from companies that are in the autonomous vehicle space,” he said.
A list scrawled on the corner of a whiteboard in Echodyne’s offices recently offered a hint of the company’s ambitions, listing, in alphabetical order, major automotive suppliers.
Just below Continental Tires and auto parts giant Delphi was Echodyne.