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Drake Star: Interview with Maha Achour

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

Metawave is building one of the primary radar sensor that enables highly automated vehicles to safely operate at full speed in all weather conditions and operating scenarios providing ADAS sensor fusion early perception of broader surroundings. Metawave’s high-resolution SPEKTRA™ radar is the first 77GHz radar based on analog beamforming and beamsteering technologies that focus the beam on targets to separate closely spaced objects at long ranges to provide accurate detection, tracking, localisation, and classification empowered by our own machine learning and AI real-time algorithms. The Company demonstrated the core functionalities of SPEKTRA and is targeting a full demonstration at CES2020 that will tackle today’s difficult driving scenarios, including enhanced automated features like lane cut in / cut out, automated braking, lane assist, and adaptive cruise control. In parallel, and since Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) will eventually rely on 5G networks to operate more effectively and efficiently, Metawave is also developing its state-of-the-art TURBO™ active repeaters and ECHO™ passive relays to enable faster, more efficient 5G deployments to bring high-speed connectivity to billions as people connect in bustling cities, busy office buildings, crowded concerts and sporting events, and under-serviced pockets around the world. The Company announced demonstrated results with DOCOMO in 2018, showing how its ECHO platform boosts signals for better communication speed and coverage using 5G. Metawave is working with leading telecoms to demonstrate ECHO and TURBO, giving 5G users faster, economical, and reliable connectivity. HQ: Palo Alto, CA with state-of-the-art lab in Carlsbad, CA Founded: 2017 Funding raised: $17mn Seed + undisclosed amount in Series A Funding (announced in October 2019) Existing investors include: Denso, Toyota AI Ventures, NTT Docomo Ventures, Infineon Technologies, Bold Capital Partners, Mirae Asset Capital, AGC, Hyundai CRADLE, SAIC Motor, Khosla Ventures, Motus Ventures, Autotech Ventures, Thyra Global Website: Twitter: @metawavecorp Maha, what was your vision behind the founding of Metawave? Metawave is working on advanced long-range and high-resolution SPEKTRA radar for highly automated vehicles and innovative repeaters and relays for economical 5G deployment.

Early on, I knew from my work on HDTV systems in 1996 that one day mobile high-speed access will become reality opening the doors to unlimited low-latency applications. The thought of an autonomous vehicle was a SciFi concept then when independence meant owning and driving our own cars. Now, with shared mobility and mobility-as-a-service, independence now means accessing cellular networks continuously.

It is this junction between mobility and connectivity that drove me to found Metawave - history has proven that core innovations have always came from start-ups during these paradigm shifts. Having worked extensively on digital wireless solutions for commercial and defence applications, Moor’s laws were in full force until we reached the bottleneck of increasing data speed. We have now pushed the operating frequency spectrum to millimeter wave, and analog signal processing becomes an absolute must.

Being a physicist first and engineer second, I founded Metawave with the vision to solve these key challenges from their roots instead of patching solutions in the digital space like everyone else.

Autonomous driving requires sophisticated automation in the car today. Radar is a critical sensor, and ours can detect, classify, and distinguish between objects beyond 300 meters in all kinds of weather. Metawave believes that “physical is the new digital,” and that the functionality and precision needs to be perfected in the physical radar in the car.

Metawave is also delivering its analog beamforming platforms to enhance 5G signals. Metawave’s 5G platforms enable higher speeds, wider coverage, and ‘non-line-of-sight’ connectivity, using fewer radios in 5G deployed in cities, office buildings and malls, crowded stadiums and concerts, and other areas deploying 5G. How is your approach different than the other companies working on AV radars and 5G antennas? Metawave’s analog approach is what makes us stand out, both in automotive and 5G. Our antennas are physically built to help form and steer the beam in a very narrow cone to sharply detect and separate objects while avoiding interference caused by other radars. Safety requirements, as well as expectations for a smooth riding experience facing the auto industry simply cannot be met using today’s sensors, including top digital beamforming (DBF) or MIMO radars. Leading automakers are looking for innovative radar that provides longer range, higher resolution, and with greater angular resolution and accuracy augmented by intelligent object classification. Metawave’s SPEKTRA, our state-of-the-art analog radar, delivers these critical features, giving automakers the ability to provide next-generation adaptive cruise control, lane change assist, and automated emergency braking. Clearing these hurdles is critical to ensuring the highest levels of repeatable and dependable safety adherence while gaining long-term community acceptance.

Our focus in 5G is different because we focus on simple low-cost solutions that will reduce the cost to rollout and maintain 5G networks. These powerful concepts have been proven to provide gigabit speed where users cannot connect to base stations. Metawave TURBO active repeaters boost signals hundreds-of-millions times faster to extend coverage in challenging areas. Metawave ECHO passive relays are beautifully designed “smart mirrors” that bend and direct signals in areas of lower coverage. Both of these 5G millimeter wave platforms operate completely in the analog space. What are the key challenges within the Autonomous Vehicle industry, for companies such as Metawave? The answer is very simple. Hardware sensors are and will always be the key enabling factor of AV. With billions of dollars spent on lidar and camera, radar was left underdeveloped for years. It wasn’t until the past few years that OEMs started looking for high-resolution sensors that can reach distances beyond 300m and operate in all-weather conditions without reducing Electrical Vehicles (EV) operating ranges. We could have followed what others are doing and developed a better digital signal processing algorithm which would only provide incremental improvements. Instead, we dived deeper to solve the problem from its roots by focusing and steering the transmit and receive radar power on targets in a coordinated to reach long distances and precisely separate objects. Successful automotive companies and telecommunications carriers are filled with long-standing institutions that have been delivering to customers for decades. Because of this, they can get comfortable with who they work with, and what technology they deliver in their platforms. Metawave is in a great position because we have been working with a few of the true leaders in each industry since our founding. Our investors point that that too, working with Denso, DOCOMO, Toyota, Hyundai, Infineon, and others gives us a great amount of credibility. Where will Metawave focus be over the next 3 years? We will focus on building our revenue stream to grow the company organically while keeping clear focus on distinguishing our products from the rest in the marketplace. Playing in both 5G and automotive markets will help us meet this goal. In just 18 months, we not only built our core team and millimeter wave radar and 5G labs, but we also demonstrated the fundamentals from front-end MMICs and antennas to full radar with AI object classifications. We will continue to grow our team to deploy our 5G platforms globally, hand in hand with wireless providers, and also provide the services needed to test and measure 5G infrastructure. We will continue to work with top automakers to deploy our radar as the world drives toward fully autonomous driving. We deliver advanced technology to industry leaders in both automotive and 5G to help make driving safer and connect billions of people.

Something quite unique about Metawave is our strong IP focus. Early on, we believed if we are successful many will follow in our footsteps and the only way to make barrier of entry tougher is to have a strong IP portfolio. Our team includes three full time in-house patent attorneys with more than 150 provisional and utility patent applications filed. What would you advise young entrepreneurs active within the mobility industry? First, build a strong team that has direct industry experience. The core team will always lead companies to great success. Second, try to build products based on modular architectures to be able to adapt to changing market needs. Always listen to customers and get first-hand knowledge from experts who worked with them. Third, help build a team with company culture and core values, since this is what brings triumph after overcoming many difficult obstacles along the way. Remain passionate about your vision and don’t let downturns, which will occur, pull you down and lose focus. If we thought we loved the Internet and cell phone revolutions, wait until the post-mobility convergence era where high-speed, low-latency services and applications are unlimited, such as autonomous driving.

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