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Echodyne helps DARPA with drone tracking test

Aerial Dragnet
DARPA’s Aerial Dragnet program tests techniques for tracking drone flights over urban terrain. (DARPA Illustration)

When the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tested an “Aerial Dragnet” system for tracking drones over urban terrain last month, Echodyne lent a helping hand.

Echodyne — a Kirkland, Wash.-based startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates — provided the compact radar systems for DARPA’s tests during the week of Oct. 23 in the San Diego area, in conjunction with the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Aerial Dragnet exercise involved putting Echodyne’s EchoGuard and EchoFlight flat-panel radar systems on two large tethered aerostat balloons that flew as high as 400 feet, as well as on rooftops and towers around San Diego and National City.

DARPA then sent up several types of drones for the systems to detect and track. A key challenge involved being able to distinguish the drones from other objects in the background, including ground vehicles and birds.

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Echodyne raises $20M for next-gen radar systems

Echodyne radar system
Echodyne’s flat-panel radar antenna is small enough to be held in your hand. (Echodyne Photo)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and other investors have contributed to a fresh $20 million funding round for Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne, a company that makes use of exotic metamaterials to build high-performance radar technology for government and commercial markets.

In today’s announcement, Echodyne said the additional capital will enable the company to meet growing demand for its EchoGuard 3D surveillance radar, expand its distribution channels and continue to invest in the development of sensors for commercial drones, autonomous vehicles and other applications.

The latest round’s other investors include firms that have previously backed Echodyne, including Madrona Ventures, NEA, Vulcan Capital and Lux Capital. But there’s a new backer on board as well: Vanedge Capital, which is based in Vancouver, B.C. Vanedge managing partner Moe Kermani will be added to Echodyne’s board of directors.

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Echodyne plays a role in a pioneering drone test

Alaska drone flight
A Skyfront Perimeter drone takes off from the Alyeska trans-Alaska pipeline right of way near Fox for a milestone flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. The drone flew 3.87 miles along the pipeline corridor. (University of Alaska Photo / Sean Tevebaugh)

A public-private consortium led by the University of Alaska has conducted the first-ever federally authorized test flight of a drone beyond the operator’s line of sight without on-the-ground observers keeping watch – with Echodyne, the radar venture that’s backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and headquartered in Kirkland, Wash., playing a supporting role.

Autonomous flight beyond visual line of sight will be key to the kinds of drone delivery operations envisioned by Amazon, Walmart and other retailers.

During the July 31 flight, a Skyfront Perimeter multirotor drone inspected a 3.87-mile stretch of Trans-Alaska Pipeline infrastructure as part of the University of Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, one of 10 such programs that won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration last year.

The big thing about this flight is that the drone made use of Iris Automation’s Casia onboard detect-and-avoid system, paired up with Echodyne’s ground-based MESA airspace management radar system, without having a human on the route.

Current FAA regulations limit drone flights to the operator’s visual line of sight. Pilot projects have been experimenting with technologies that can ensure safe operations beyond the visual line of sight, known as BVLOS. But until now, the FAA’s waivers still required a ground-based observer to look out for non-cooperative aircraft coming into the test area.

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Super Bowl could host drone-detecting face-off

DroneHunter at work
A video view from Fortem Technologies’ DroneHunter aircraft shows the targeting of an unauthorized drone. (Fortem / Today Show)

Fortem Technologies, a Utah-based venture that makes drones as well as radar detection systems, wants to be in on a drone-hunting test to be conducted during Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The test could turn into a high-tech matchup that parallels the football face-off between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

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Echodyne seeks clearance for Super Bowl radar test

Echodyne radar
Echodyne’s radar antenna system is about the size of a paperback book but can track drones from a distance that’s 10 times as long as a football field. (Echodyne Photo)

Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne, a radar-focused startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is seeking the Federal Communications Commission’s expedited approval to have its drone-detecting radar system used in an experiment planned during the NFL’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The request, made in an application to the FCC, came to light today in a report published by The Guardian.

The experiment would reportedly compare Echodyne’s low-cost, miniaturized radar platform against other detection systems in the “no-drone zone” that the Federal Aviation Administration has set up for Sunday’s Super Bowl football contest between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams

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Echodyne gets $29M boost for radar gizmos

Eben Frankenberg with drone
Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg shows how one of the company’s flat-panel radar units might fit onto a drone. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen are among the investors putting another $29 million into Echodyne, the Intellectual Ventures spin-out that’s developing low-cost, miniaturized radar systems for drones and self-driving cars.

Echodyne founder and CEO Eben Frankenberg said the Series B funding round was led by New Enterprise Associates, or NEA, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Gates, Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, the Kresge Foundation and Allen’s Vulcan Capital are among the investors following up on their participation in 2014’s $15 million Series A round, Frankenberg told GeekWire. He declined to say how the new investment affects the valuation of the company, based in Bellevue, Wash.

“The new investment will be used to continue developing the technology,” Frankenberg said.

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Border Patrol will test Echodyne’s drone radar

Eben Frankenberg at Echodyne
Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg holds one of the company’s radar units at Echodyne’s headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Echodyne’s drone-sized radar system has received a vote of confidence – and a $118,721 award – from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The award, made through the department’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program, is designed to help the U.S. Border Patrol enhance its ability to monitor activities at the nation’s borders. The potential applications range from tracking down bad guys to search-and-rescue operations.

An award of a little more than $100,000 may not sound like a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a welcome boost for Echodyne – a startup headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., that counts Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen among its investors.

“The great thing is we get the opportunity to take the commercial product we’re developing, do a few modifications and have them test it,” Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg told GeekWire today.

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Echodyne’s drone radar passes first flight test

Eben Frankenberg with drone
Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg shows how one of the company’s flat-panel radar units might fit onto a drone. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – A radar-equipped drone is blazing a trail for the day when flying robots fill the skies – and deliver your packages.

The drone took to the air last month in Texas for a series of tests aimed at finding out how well Bellevue-based Echodyne’s miniaturized detect-and-avoid radar could spot obstacles and other aircraft. The results confirmed that Echodyne is on the right track.

“It’s great to see our technology performing in real-world field tests exactly as designed,” Eben Frankenberg, Echodyne’s founder and CEO, said in a news release timed to coincide with this week’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Convention in upstate New York.

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Echodyne unveils radar that’s dandy for drones

Image: Echodyne radar
Echodyne’s MESA-K-DEV radar, shown here in comparison with the size of a smartphone, is designed for use in a wide variety of applications, including drone guidance systems and security systems. (Credit: Echodyne)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Radar and aircraft go together like hand and glove, but what do you do when the aircraft is a commercial drone that weighs less than a fully loaded suitcase? Bellevue-based Echodyne is taking the wraps off a radar system that’s just a step up from smartphone size but provides advanced capabilities for drones and autonomous vehicles.

Echodyne’s technology is known as Metamaterials Electronically Scanning Array, or MESA. It takes advantage of beam-directing metamaterials to perform radar scanning without moving parts, and without the complicated electronics that phased-array systems require. The system’s small size and big capability hit the sweet spot for small unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, which could soon be used for package deliveries.

“No radar has existed that anyone could think of to put on a small UAV,” Eben Frankenberg, Echodyne’s founder and CEO, told GeekWire. “That’s where we’re super-excited to come into play.”

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