Neurophos raises $7M to create exotic chips for AI

A semi-stealthy startup called Neurophos says it’s raised $7 million in seed funding to support the development of a chip that makes use of metamaterials for heavy-duty AI applications. And although the company’s HQ is in Austin, Texas, it has plenty of connections to Seattle-area tech leaders.

Founded in 2020, Neurophos was one of the first companies to receive pre-seed support from MetaVC Partners, a metamaterials-centric venture fund backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold. Neurophos’ co-founder and CEO, Patrick Bowen, previously contributed his expertise to Seattle-area metamaterials ventures such as Kymeta and Lumotive.

Tom Driscoll — the founder and chief technology officer of yet another Gates-backed metamaterials venture, Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne — is listed on Neurophos’ website as its CTO and co-founder. Kymeta’s former CEO, Nathan Kundtz, is listed as a board member.

The aforementioned ventures all rely on the exotic properties of metamaterials — electronic arrays that are structured to bend light in a variety of wavelengths, in a variety of ways, without the need for moving parts. Bowen told me that such properties could reduce the size and the energy requirements for photonic chips that could be tailor-made for artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT.


Bill Gates gives another boost to next-gen antennas

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is doing it again: He’s the lead investor in a new $84 million funding round for Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp., the mobile connectivity startup he helped foster a decade ago.

Kymeta says the fresh infusion of equity investment will be used to accelerate the production of its flat-panel antennas and set the stage for expanding its offerings for defense customers, as well as for users of satellite broadband services that are being offered from low Earth orbit.

The funding announced today follows up on an $85 million round that was also led by Gates in August 2020, as well as a $30 million investment that was made by South Korea’s Hanwha Systems just a few months afterward. Kymeta says Hanwha is also participating in the new round. All of the equity investments announced to date add up to nearly $400 million — with Gates playing a principal role ever since the company was spun out from Intellectual Ventures in 2012.


Kymeta and OneWeb move ahead with satellite terminals

Kymeta Corp., the antenna venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has signed onto a joint development agreement with OneWeb to develop a flat-panel user terminal for OneWeb’s global satellite internet network.

The plan calls for modifying Kymeta’s u8 antenna system for fixed-terminal applications on land, with an eye toward supporting additional applications including mobile service in land-based and maritime settings.

Today’s announcement comes just weeks after Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta and OneWeb reported a successful test of Kymeta’s u8 technology, which takes advantage of an exotic category of electronics known as metamaterials. The technology makes it possible to “steer” an antenna electronically rather than physically moving it.

OneWeb is one of several ventures that is creating satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, or LEO, to broaden access to broadband internet service. SpaceX’s Starlink service is furthest along, but OneWeb is planning to begin limited service in the Arctic within the next few months. The plan calls for Kymeta’s terminals to enter the market as an option by the third quarter of 2022.


Pivotal Commware’s 5G ambitions get a $50M boost

Kirkland, Wash.-based Pivotal Commware says it has closed on a $50 million funding round that will help it expand research, development and distribution for its millimeter-wave 5G network infrastructure products.

Tracker Capital Management, a venture capital investment firm that’s headquartered in New York, led the Series C investment round. Other participants in the financing include Devonshire Investors and Pivotal’s existing investors — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Gates has been investing in Pivotal since 2017, not long after it was spun out from Intellectual Ventures. It’s one of several Gates-backed ventures that make use of metamaterials, an exotic breed of electronics that can channel signals without moving parts.

Pivotal calls its metamaterials-based technology “holographic beam forming.” The technology is used primarily to support ultra-wideband 5G communications.


Kymeta rolls out next-gen connectivity service

Kymeta Corp., the Redmond, Wash.-based connectivity venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is making the next generation of its hybrid satellite-cellular mobile service for voice and data available to commercial markets starting today.

And although commercial availability of Kymeta’s u8 terminal and Kymeta Connect service marks a milestone, the company’s executives consider the government and military market to be just as important.

“Government and military need the most reliable and seamless connectivity to safely fulfill their missions,” Walter Berger, Kymeta’s president and chief operating officer, said in a news release. “These men and women often go to the most remote or disaster-stricken areas of the world, and they need reliable communications to rescue lives, keep property safe and complete missions.”

During beta testing, the u8 system faced a trial by fire — literally.


Pivotal Commware raises $10M as it gets set for 5G

Echo 5G in home office
In this scenario for a wireless application, Pivotal Commware’s Echo 5G device consists of a paddle-like antenna placed on the exterior of a window, and a power puck installed on the inside. (Pivotal Commware Photo)

Pivotal Commware, one of several metamaterials startups backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, says it has secured $10 million in convertible-debt financing to help it roll out signal repeater systems for 5G wireless data services.

The company, based in Kirkland, Wash., takes advantage of the electronic properties of metamaterials to produce flat-panel antennas with no moving parts.

One product line, the Echo 5G, can be used by wireless customers to boost the millimeter-wave broadband signals transmitted by 5G operators. Another product line, the Pivot 5G, can be used by operators to extend the range of 5G signals and wrap them around corners, to places that might otherwise be dead spots.

Chris Brandon, Pivotal Commware’s chief operating officer, told GeekWire that the company is due to start shipping the Echo 5G to wireless network operators sometime in December. He said it was premature to disclose which operators will be using them, but they should start showing up next year.

“2020 is a big year for us,” Brandon said.

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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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How Lumotive will put metamaterials in your car

Lumotive's William Colleran and Gleb Akselrod
Lumotive’s co-founders, CEO William Colleran and CTO Gleb Akselrod, show off a printed-circuit wafer that’s part of their “secret sauce” for next-generation lidar detectors. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

BELLEVUE, Wash. — A succession of spinouts supported by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has taken an unorthodox technology known as metamaterials to high-flying realms ranging from satellite communications to drone-sized radar systems — but the latest metamaterials venture to come out of stealth is aiming for a more down-to-earth frontier: the car that will someday be driving you.

Like KymetaEchodyneEvolv and Pivotal CommwareLumotive takes advantage of electronic circuits that are able to shift the focus and path of electromagnetic waves without moving parts. Unlike those other Seattle-area companies, Lumotive is using those metamaterials to steer laser light instead of radio waves.

“It’s always been kind of a Holy Grail of metamaterials to figure out how you can do that at optical wavelengths,” Lumotive’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Gleb Akselrod, told GeekWire this week.

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Pivotal Commware raises millions more for antennas

Pivotal Commware beam-forming
An artist’s conception illustrates different applications for Pivotal Commware’s software-defined antenna system. (Pivotal Commware Illustration)

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Pivotal Commware, a venture that’s backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is in the midst of a fresh funding round that could bring in $20 million or more for its effort to develop flat-panel antennas that boost wireless communications.

In documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bellevue-based startup said that four investors have put $14.75 million into a Series B equity funding round so far.

The filing says the offering amounts to $20 million, with $5.25 million yet to be sold. However, Pivotal Commware’s vice president of marketing and sales, Kent Lundgren, told GeekWire via email that the final amount of the round is yet to be determined.

Lundgren said participants in the round could include “some new strategic investors,” but declined to go into further detail.

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Pivotal Commware demonstrates 5G wireless link

Echo 5G unit
Pivotal Commware’s glass-attached Echo 5G unit picks up a millimeter-wave signal and boosts the signal for wireless customers. (Pivotal Commware Photo)

Pivotal Commware, the Kirkland, Wash.-based startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, says it’s demonstrated its solution to a wireless annoyance: getting 5G reception inside a building.

Millimeter-wave 5G signaling is the next wave in cellular technology, revving up data transfer speeds by an order of magnitude over 4G. The new wireless standard also promises to bring less lag time and wider bandwidth.

But deploying 5G also brings technical challenges: Because of the physics of high-frequency radio waves, the signal typically needs a boost on the subscriber side to provide connectivity inside the home.

Pivotal Commware’s strategy is to use a metamaterials-based technology called holographic beam forming to intercept and amplify the signal. Its Echo 5G repeater is designed to be attached to a window, without the need for external wiring or drilling through walls.

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