Echodyne, a small Seattle-area startup building small radar units to help drones fly, has $29 million in new funding from big-name backers: Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, via Allen's Vulcan Capital.
The new Series B round is led by NEA. Gates, Vulcan Capital, and Madrona Ventures, a Seattle-based venture capital firm, also participated in a $15 million Series A round three years ago.
Echodyne's claim to fame is that it shrinks down the same sort of scanning beam radar technology used in jet fighters into a package that is small and light enough to be used in drones, where component size and weight are significant issues.
It does so, in part, by using lightweight "metamaterials" or synthetic composites that promises strength while remaining light in weight. The company says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is already using its radar in drones patrolling the U.S. border.
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Echodyne, based in Bellevue, Wash., claims that its radar—unlike other sensors often used in self-driving cars—is not affected by such factors as rain or bad weather. The company was spun out of Intellectual Ventures in 2014 with former Intellectual Ventures entrepreneur-in-residence Eben Frankenberg as chief executive officer.
The company hopes that its radar technology will find broader use replacing LiDAR—short for Light Detection and Ranging anti-collision technology—which is currently used in many self-driving car prototypes.
Correction: (May 23, 2017 4:32 p.m.) This story was updated to reflect that the Department of Homeland Security is using ground-based Echodyne radar to monitor for small planes and drones at the border. Because of inaccurate information from Echodyne, the original story said that DHS was testing the radars in drones.