Echodyne and Supernal join forces on safety for air taxis

Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne, a next-generation radar platform company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has forged a partnership with Supernal to enhance the safety of that company’s air mobility system.

Supernal, a Washington, D.C.-based subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group, says it’s making a minority investment in Echodyne as part of the deal — but the amount of the investment was not immediately disclosed.

The newly announced strategic agreement adds to Supernal’s collaborations with MicrosoftBAE SystemsHoneywell and other companies on an air transport system that could go into service by as early as 2028.

Supernal is developing an electric-powered, vertical-takeoff-and-landing air vehicle, also known as an eVTOL, along with the ground-based systems required to support short-range, taxi-style flights. For example, the company’s website suggests that its eVTOL could carry passengers between Seattle and Tacoma in 25 minutes.

The precise timetable for commercial operations is likely to depend not only on technological developments, but also on the Federal Aviation Administration’s establishment of a regulatory system for advanced air mobility.

Under the terms of the partnership, Echodyne’s radar system could be used for in-flight situational awareness as well as for ground-based tracking installations around vertiports and flight corridors.


Radar love: Echodyne attracts $135M in new funding

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Echodyne, the radar platform company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is announcing its biggest influx of funding to date: a $135 million round co-led by Gates and Baillie Gifford, a high-profile investment management firm based in Scotland.

Other investors include Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group and Vulcan Capital, as well as Northrop Grumman, NEA and Vanedge Capital. Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg said the newly announced round brings total investment to $195 million, which makes the trend line for the eight-year-old company’s fundraising efforts look like a hockey stick.

“It’s the hockey stick on the raise, and we hope it’s the hockey stick on the growth of the company,” Frankenberg told me.

Echodyne is one of several Gates-backed ventures that make use of metamaterials — a type of electronic array that makes it possible to “steer” a flat-panel antenna without moving parts. Frankenberg’s company focuses on compact radar systems that can track drones and other aircraft, or can be installed on drones or autonomous vehicles.


Echodyne wins $20M contract for border-scanning radar

Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne says it’s won a $20 million, five-year contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection Innovation Team to widen deployment of the company’s compact radar systems — and to explore new applications for the radars at America’s borders and ports.

Today’s announcement marks the latest round of good news for the Seattle-area startup, which was spun off from Intellectual Ventures in 2014 with backing from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Madrona Venture Group and other investors.

Echodyne is one of several Gates-backed ventures that make use of metamaterials, a type of electronic array that makes it possible to “steer” a flat-panel antenna without moving parts. The company has been working with the Department of Homeland Security and industrial partners to adapt its radar systems to monitor movements across border areas — including drone flights.

Thirty EchoGuard radar systems have already been delivered under the terms of the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, Echodyne said in a news release.


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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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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Boeing HorizonX gives a lift to drone radar venture

Fortem Technologies’ DroneHunter UAV is designed to detect intruder drones, using its onboard radar system, and snare them in a net if necessary. (Fortem Technologies Photo)

Boeing’s HorizonX venture capital arm signaled that it’s doubling down on autonomous flight technologies by participating in a $15 million funding round for Utah-based Fortem Technologies, which sells a miniaturized detect-and-avoid radar system for drones.

The investment was announced today, less than two weeks after Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said self-flying air taxis “will happen faster than any of us understand.”

Boeing has placed some big bets on the technology over the past year — including the acquisition of Aurora Flight Sciences, which is working on an all-electric, autonomous air taxi, and an earlier HorizonX investment in Near Earth Autonomy.

Fortem Technologies’ TrueView radar system is designed to help unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs, detect and avoid other airborne objects beyond visual line of sight. It’s a key capability that’ll be required for future applications such as Amazon’s drone delivery system.

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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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