CARLSBAD — Auto giants are racing to develop the first fully autonomous commercial vehicle for everyday commuters. One Carlsbad company is on the front lines, making what was once thought of as science fiction fantasy into a reality.
Metawave, at 5993 Avenida Encinas, splintered off from Xerox Park in 2017 by Chief Executive Officer Maha Achour, who holds a doctorate in physics from MIT. Her team is developing solutions regarding radar and artificial intelligence, three critical components into making an autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles.
“When we started the company, we focused on automotive because it was a very big opportunity for innovation, for bringing more disruption to the status quo,” Achour said.
Metawave’s solutions are dependent on the increasing growth and development of 5G, the fifth-generation cellular network technology, which is one reason Achour landed in Carlsbad. Qualcomm, the San Diego-based tech giant, is one of the most prominent companies to develop 5G and the network is critical for Metawave’s radar, said Kaice Reilly, a senior customer technical architect with Metawave.
One goal for Metawave is to narrow the field of view for radar, while another focus is to extend its distance. Reilly said testing has reached up to 300 meters, a little over 900 feet, which will help identify vehicles further down the road and also locate pedestrians, cyclists and barriers and more.
Another key with 5G, Achour and Reilly said, is the drop-in latency, or the delay in data transfers.
Of the two products by Metawave, one is a passive reflector, which extends the coverage of 5G and reducing the number of radios, cost and power consumption of the vehicle, Achour said. The other product, she said, is an active repeater, which will be released later this year.
“We cut the Cap X (capital equipment) by 50%,” she added. “We don’t require any operating expense for these passive reflectors. We want to make sure we accelerate the progress of these level 4 and 5 cars, and at the same time the 5G rollout.”
Reilly said for the automotive side, they are focusing on the radar on a car’s sensors. The company has made a high-resolution narrow beam, about 50% longer than a typical beam, which allows the identification of an obstacle and its position.
As such, Reilly, who holds a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford, said the prediction is level 4 autonomy will be first. It would mean cars driving on the highway would be activated first followed by fully autonomous cars on highways and surface streets.
“With our radar, you could know your lane is clear or if the car next to you is slowing down,” Reilly said. “We’re seeing incremental changes to what people know as cruise control. As people become more confident … the speed will increase.”
Multiple radars and configurations are currently needed, but Metawave’s advances will reduce the number of sensors as well.
Their artificial intelligence, meanwhile, identifies objects to determine the difference between a motorcycle, bicycle or a pedestrian, Reilly said.
“We’ve also talked to train manufacturers and they are interested in different applications,” he added.
The company also recently raised $17 million in seed funding and is aiming for another sizable investment through a Series A, Achour said.