With $29M in New Cash, Echodyne Advances “Radar Vision” for Machines

[Updated, 5/23/17, 5:50am. See below] One of the Northwest’s most intriguing startups has a new wad of cash. Bellevue, WA-based Echodyne said it has raised $29 million in Series B funding led by New Enterprise Associates. The company’s previous investors also participated in the round; they include Bill Gates, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Madrona Venture Group, Lux Capital, and The Kresge Foundation.

Echodyne is using metamaterials technology to develop a new kind of lightweight radar that could be used as a vision system in drones, self-driving vehicles, and other machines. The company was spun out of Intellectual Ventures, the patent licensing and invention firm led by Nathan Myhrvold. It raised a $15 million Series A round in late 2014.

Echodyne says its metamaterials—engineered structures that can manipulate radio waves—use printed circuit board technology, off-the-shelf electronics, and software to control the radar system’s antenna elements.

Greg Papadopoulos, the former CTO of Sun Microsystems, is a venture partner with NEA (Echodyne’s new investor). He said in a prepared statement: “We’ve seen a lot of sensing technologies, but radar is especially well-suited to autonomous vehicles because they need to operate in all kinds of environmental conditions.” Papadopoulos touted Echodyne’s technology as “incredibly compelling in the way it combines the fundamental all-weather benefits of radar with the high-resolution imaging capabilities more often attributed to LiDAR or computer vision.”

That last bit will garner some attention. Autonomous vehicles tend to rely on laser-based and optical systems that can fail in bad weather, like snow or rain. Meanwhile, existing commercial radar systems are bulky and don’t have high enough resolution. Echodyne has been making progress testing its “radar vision” system, and the company and its investors hope to capitalize on the emerging market for autonomous vehicles. (As of late, there seems to be more commercial interest in self-driving cars and trucks than in drones.)

[This paragraph was updated with info on Pivotal—Eds.] Echodyne is one of at least four metamaterials-based spinouts from Intellectual Ventures. Redmond, WA-based Kymeta is working on satellite communications for vehicles. Waltham, MA-based Evolv is testing advanced imaging systems for security applications. And Bellevue-based Pivotal Commware is developing antenna technology for data connectivity on ships, planes, and other vehicles.

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