​Bill Gates, Paul Allen back radar startup Echodyne in $29m round

The funding will be used to scale the production of Echodyne's radar system, which the company hopes will replace LiDAR and other sensors in powering drones and autonomous vehicles.

Echodyne has announced raising $29 million in a Series B round led by New Enterprise Associates.

Other investors in the round include Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen via Allen's Vulcan Capital, Lux Capital, Madrona Venture Group, and The Kresge Foundation.

The latest round brings the total amount raised by the Bellevue, Washington-based startup to $44 million.

The startup said the funding will be used to scale the production of its radar system, called Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA).

According to Echodyne, many of the sensors that are used in drones and autonomous vehicle prototypes such as LiDAR are "fundamentally flawed" in that they have low-resolution imaging capabilities and limited range, and can be adversely affected by environmental conditions such as the weather.

The startup's military-style radar system MESA, on the other hand, can not only withstand rough environmental conditions, but is also small and light enough -- the size of an Amazon Kindle -- to be mounted on commercial drones, Echodyne said.

The size and weight of Echodyne's radar system was achieved through eliminating a component called a phase shifter, which was previously needed for a radar to scan its beam around the field of view to identify and track objects.

"MESA can steer perfectly without a single phase shifter. Eliminating phase shifters dramatically reduces system complexity, eliminates primary sources of power loss, and simplifies waste-heat dissipation," it states on Echodyne's website.

The startup claims MESA can detect and track a Cessna-sized airplane or a helicopter at up to 3km, and a DJI Phantom sized drone at 750m.

Echodyne also believes its technology solves some of the problems regulators have raised when it comes to operating drones safely. The US Federal Aviation Administration previously said that systems that enable drones to detect and avoid other aircraft are needed before they can be permitted to operate without human supervision.

The startup is also currently developing a shorter range system for autonomous cars and trucks.

Echodyne was spun out of Intellectual Ventures in 2014, with former Intellectual Ventures entrepreneur-in-residence Eben Frankenberg heading up the company.