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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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Computing power boosts ultrathin cameras

Metacamera
University of Washington rigged up an experimental setup to capture an image of flowers through a metalens (mounted on a microscope slide) and visualize it through a microscope. (UW Clean Energy Institute Photo / Matt Hagen)

Imagine a camera that captures pictures on a flat surface, without any need for a glass lens.

Such cameras already exist, thanks to exotic materials known as metasurfaces. They’re not yet ready for prime time, but a new approach that relies on heavy-duty computational processing could soon get them there.

University of Washington researchers show how it could be done in a paper published last week by the journal Science Advances. If the technique can be commercialized, it could turn metasurface-based lenses, or metalenses, into the next big thing in ultrathin cameras and microscopes.

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Pivotal Commware raises $17M 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. – Chalk up another score for metamaterials technology: Bellevue-based Pivotal Commware says it’s raised $17 million in Series A funding from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Globalstar’s parent company and other heavy-hitters.

The investment will give a boost to Pivotal’s “holographic beam forming” technology, which takes advantage of the beam-bending properties of metamaterials. The company’s software-defined antenna system facilitates easier communication with moving targets ranging from ships and planes to trains and connected cars.

One unusual angle to Pivotal’s play is that the company is already making a profit, said CEO Brian Deutsch. “The fact that we’ve had early commercial success is unique. … We’re not only post-revenue, we’re post-profit,” he told GeekWire.

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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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Metamaterials harnessed for beaming power

Russell Hannigan
Intellectual Ventures’ Russell Hannigan explains how a metamaterials-based reflector array antenna can focus a microwave beam on a power receiver. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Wireless power transmission has been a dream since the days of Nikola Tesla, but Intellectual Ventures is adding a twist to make it so, and make it profitable.

The twist is a little something called metamaterials, a technology that has already spawned several spin-outs from the Bellevue-based company. Russell Hannigan, senior director of business development for Intellectual Ventures’ Invention Science Fund, says a decision on how to commercialize the technology is just “a few months away.”

Right now, the company is working with a proof-of-concept setup that beams about 8 watts’ worth of microwaves across a lab space to light up an array of LED lights. But researchers expect to scale up the system to power devices at distances of 160 feet (50 meters) or more.

“Our driving application – the one that’s the most lucrative – is drones,” Hannigan said.

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