Executive Interview: Maha Achour, Founder, CTO and CEO of Metawave
Updated: Apr 16, 2022
Metawave is pioneering disruptive technologies that accelerate the transition to highly automated and fully autonomous ground and aerial vehicle operation meeting safety and emerging services goals.
1. What’s your VC pitch for Metawave? Metawave is pioneering disruptive technologies that accelerate the transition to highly automated and fully autonomous ground and aerial vehicle operation meeting safety and emerging services goals. With its patented, high-resolution, all-weather imaging SPEKTRA radar modules and associated software stacks, Metawave is delivering the missing sensor with unmatched longer range sensing and perception based on novel machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to automotive, tracking, trains and aerospace customers. Related Resources Pasternack Launches New Series of Mechanically Tunable Waveguide Gunn Diode Oscillators High Velocity Cable Assemblies: ACH Series Suspended Substrate Bandpass Filter: BP13G-10G-CD-SFF2. You said your technology is delivering high-resolution, all-weather imaging with unmatched range. Tell us about the technology that enables you to do that. Metawave leads the industry in redefining the way next-gen radar systems are built using its “modular software-defined hybrid radar architecture,” by combining the best of phased array analog beam steering and digital MIMO technologies. Developing advanced automotive and aerial imaging SPEKTRA radar technology enables unmatched range and point-cloud resolution in all-weather conditions, fulfilling the needs of today’s missing advanced driver assistance systems sensor. The core technology is based on combining the best of analog front-end beamforming Marconi/Polaris and steering with virtual MIMO array architectures. These flexible and scalable Lego-like architectures meet OEM next-generation performance metrics within target price and size factors. Metawave’s core technology is also utilized in the mmWave telecom sector with focus on enhanced speed, bandwidth and coverage through low cost, infrastructure light deployments. The beamforming solutions for 5G communications include high performance passive KLONE reflectors and active, analog TURBO repeaters. Customers who tested Metawave’s radars always use the phrase “consistent performance” compared to other radar digital technologies at long range operation, with better false positives and negatives. 3. We’re seeing a number of startups developing 4D radar for automotive. What differentiates your approach and performance? Long range. All these 4D imaging radars claim long range only using their beamforming mode. This means their advanced virtual MIMO arrays cannot be used at these long ranges. Metawave using both beamforming/steering and MIMO virtual arraying simultaneously, thanks to our highly integrated front-end Marconi beamformer chip and antenna in package (AiP) integration. These Lego-block AiP modules fill in the gaps in front of tier 2 radar transceiver chips. 4. You’re also playing in 5G. What is your offering and value proposition for this market? In 5G, we are working directly with carriers and network planners/installers to increase the coverage of their mmWave outdoor 5G gNodeBs and indoor small cell new radios by deploying our purely analog KLONE passive reflectors—with zero delay and power consumption—and all-analog TURBO active repeaters—with 4 ns delay and very efficient active amplification—providing gains as much as 30 dB passive and 120 dB active, respectively. 5. You have a very ambitious product range for a startup: beamformer ICs, AiP modules, automotive radar platforms using AI and ML and 5G repeaters. What is the common thread, and how do you manage these multiple, parallel developments? Bridging the immense gap between challenging mmWave analog front-end and back-end advanced algorithms all the way up to AI and ML. Building a top notch multidisciplinary team wasn’t easy — but a must to meet all our milestones including the 300+ patent filings with the first 30 issued in less than five years. 6. Tell us about the semiconductor processes you’re using for your RFICs and the trade-offs that led you there. We use Global Foundries’ 8XP SiGE process for both the 77 GHz Marconi and 24 GHz Polaris beamformers. 7. When was Metawave founded, and where are you in the startup life cycle? I founded Metawave in January 2017. We are at the junction of the growth stage. 8. What is your ultimate business model? What will you sell and to whom? Selling our Marconi/Polaris, AiP modules and licensing associated radar algorithms and AWARE platforms for real-time object classification, the only one demonstrated with 94 percent accuracy at long ranges. 9. When do you expect your systems to be in production and widely deployed? Polaris in 2023 and Marconi in 2024. 10. Tell us about your background and entrepreneurial spirit. My first industry job was building high definition (HD) TV set-top boxes for the broadcast networks, when HD TVs were $25,000 and HD players $35,000. After seeing high-quality video, I realized it was just a matter of time before this would be in consumer living rooms. That was 1999, the time of high speed optical fiber and the internet bubble, so I embarked on my first startup venture connecting the last mile with gigabit speed free-space optical links. The problem at that time was the absence of streaming media to fill these dark optical fiber cables and last mile gigabit links. That was the starting point that led to my entrepreneurial journey. 11. Reflect on the business environment for women founders and the unique challenges you face. There aren’t any women founders in deep tech automotive radars. Being bullish to solve challenging industry problems the “right way” instead of patching things in the digital domain isn’t easy. Wall Street can focus on these all-autonomous cars and airborne vehicles but at the end, if they can’t meet basic safety standards, the whole vision will collapse. History showed that an advanced analog front-end is essential to meet these ambitious goals, especially when the back-end sensor fusion is hacked. This must change. Quantum Computing could be the solution in the next decades, but as of today, advanced analog circuitry must be improved and optimized, especially at high frequencies.