Kymeta News

March 17, 2015

Echodyne Targets Drones, Self-Driving Cars with Metamaterials Radar

March 17th, 2015

Echodyne, a secretive Seattle-area startup company backed by investors including Bill Gates and Paul Allen, is developing a novel, high-performance radar suitable for drones, robots, and self-driving cars. The technology could potentially allow such vehicles to operate independently in a range of conditions.

The company, housed in a drab, unmarked building just off State Route 520 in Bellevue, WA, thinks it can dramatically improve upon current radar systems in terms of cost, size, weight, and performance, by using metamaterials, which Echodyne co-founder and chief technology officer Tom Driscoll describes as “sub-wave length geometric configurations of metal and circuit board.” (We’ll dive into that in a minute—for now, think tiny structures that can change the way a surface interacts with radio waves.)

Echodyne will be marketing its technology to government and military customers, the traditional behemoths of the radar industry. But its co-founders are more excited about building a commercial business serving new markets and applications that haven’t used radar before because it was too expensive, too heavy, or didn’t offer a meaningful improvement over existing optical sensing technologies.

“We have this concept of radar vision, where you’re actually using radar as a vision system for autonomous and unmanned vehicles as opposed to an exotic military-grade only sensor,” says co-founder and CEO Eben Frankenberg.

Echodyne is the most recent metamaterials company to spin out of Intellectual Ventures, the patent licensing and invention business co-founded by former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures amassed a significant metamaterials intellectual property portfolio and further developed the technology through its Metamaterials Commercialization Center, which Driscoll directed.

The other companies are Kymeta, which has raised $82 million to apply metamaterials technology to satellite communications (and Monday announced a partnership with Airbus Defense and Space focused on the maritime industry), and Evolv Technology, based in Boston and funded to the tune of $12 million to tackle advanced imaging.