Metawave CEO Dr Maha Achour talks to InnovOil about her company’s new radar technology and how it could help the oil and gas industry
US company Metawave has raised an additional US$10 million from strategic and financial investors to develop its smart automotive radar system.
Metawave has been developing a new kind of radar, designed for use with self driving cars, dubbed WARLORD.
“What prompted us to develop our radar is because mainstream radar technologies haven’t been able to meet these kinds of milestones in terms of range and high resolution,” Metawave CEO Dr Maha Achour said in an interview with InnovOil.
Current radars use digital beamforming (DBF), which illuminates the surrounding area omnidirectionally. This produces a great deal of background noise, which computers find difficult to process quickly and efficiently, making it slow to pick out relevant information.
It also makes it hard to increase the resolution of a long-range signal, as any boost in resolution will also increase the amount of noise, making it hard to identify objects in congested environments.
Metawave’s WARLORD offers a higher resolution radar by working in analogue mode, steering the beam to increase resolution and reduce the signal-to-noise ratio. This helps it recognise objects, feeding the information to the integrated AI, helping the radar learn and recognise objects faster.
“So, with time, say 10 years from now, the radar, by itself, will be smart enough to tell the car with high probability that the object that the radar sees are human or cars or bridges or so forth,” Dr Achour said.
Whilst Metawave has designed WARLORD for use with autonomous vehicles, Dr. Achour discussed how it might be used in the oil and gas industry. Radar has been discussed as a way to detect oil slicks, monitor pipelines and other infrastructure or even simply to provide security at oil installations.
“In the energy sector, and oil and gas applications, radar is being used extensively. I would say the old-fashioned radar that is quite expensive, and all these applications could be replaced by our smaller radar, because we operate at a much higher frequency, making it safer.”
“If you go to a mine, and mines are very sensitive to any instability in the structure round these mines … even a few centimetres or even sub-centimetre structure change may hint to some issues that can emerge. So the radar can provide you with a continuous sensing of the stability of the structure.”
Radar is better suited for remote areas, especially those that suffer from extreme weather.
“Dirt and mud being accumulated on the apertures of the cameras … is always going to be an issue because as soon as you block these apertures they’re not going to work. Radar, even if the aperture is blocked with dirt it is still going to operate,” said Dr. Achour.
“For security reasons, for example, if you want to add another security mechanism in addition to cameras, because cameras cannot see very far, and if you are in the desert or areas where it gets very dirty, a camera can be blind, when you have dirty conditions, so the radar can take over and can assess the surroundings of either mines or oil wells and so forth.
“Of course, in transportation of these, oil or gas or other energy supplies can also utilise the radar, both on the ground, in marine time, and, who knows, maybe down the road, in air time, so we can be on the ground, on the water and in the air,” Dr. Achour added.
“You’ll be able to detect objects … that are not visible to the car itself, so at these wave lengths, we’re talking about 77 gigahertz, the wavelength is 3.8 mm, much longer than the 1.5 micron [used by] lidar or visible light, and that’s why it’s able to operate in even at night or when you’re blinded by the sun.”
The additional US$10 million Metawave has received in funding, the company has added five new strategic investors to its list of backers.
DENSO, who led the round, alongside Toyota AI Ventures, Hyundai Motor Company and Asahi Glass will not join original investors Motus Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Autotech Ventures, Bold Capital, SAIC Capital, Western Technology Investment (WTI), and Alrai Capital.
This new wave of funding brings the total investment in the new radar system to US$17 million.
The funding will be used to grow the company to meet demand. Dr Achour said: “We have to increase the size of the company to meet the size of demand of companies interested in our radar.
“We doubled our size just in the past few months and we will triple it by the end of the summer.”
Metawave aims to demonstrate the WARLORD by the end of the year.