Echodyne unveiled a small radar subsystem that could usher in beyond visual line-of-sight drone (BVLOS) flights. Echodyne
, a Bellevue, WA-based company founded in 2014, is a privately held company backed by Bill Gates, Madrona Venture Group, Vulcan Capital (Paul Allen’s group), and others.
The radar technology behind the new system is called the metamaterial electronic scanning array (MESA) and is Echodyne’s “secret sauce.” Traditional radar systems use motorized gimbals to steer a radar beam, while Echodyne utilizes metamaterials, engineered materials that require no moving parts, for the MESA system.
MESA is ideal for detect-and-avoid in small drones because it allows electronic scanning radars to be smaller and lighter than traditional phased array radars, says Echodyne CEO and founder Eben Frankenberg.
“We saw this pent-up demand and the forecast for how the commercial [drone] industry is going to take off once beyond visual line-of-sight is approved and thought, ‘Hey, this is a great technology and there’s a big problem that’s not being addressed; we should jump in there and use [MESA],” he says.
Opportunity with drones
On May 2, Echodyne released a fast, electronically scanning radar called MESA-K-DEV that heavily utilizes the company’s MESA technology. This K-band radar is low in cost, size, weight, and power ― and it’s only slightly larger than an iPhone 6 Plus.
The K-band development kit can be used by researchers and companies to test detect-and-avoid, autonomous vehicles, ground based security radar, drone detection, and many other potential applications inside and outside drones.
“We wanted to get this core breakthrough technology out in as many people’s hands as possible across various applications as we could,” says Frankenberg. MESA-K-DEV is available for loan at a cost of $5,000 a month, and Frankenberg says a two to three month time-frame is probable for most testers.
Echodyne is also working on a detect-and-avoid radar system (MESA-DAA), which will be a specialized version of MESA-K-DEV but will be smaller in size and weight. The company’s detect-and-avoid radar is slated for release at the end of 2016 and final specifications aren’t being publicized at this time.
"We know that detect-and-avoid is a fantastic application for this technology," says Frankenberg.