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WaveSense Announces a $15 Million Funding Round to Accelerate Autonomous Driving Using Ground Penetrating Radar

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【Summary】Massachusetts startup WaveSense announced today a $15 million investment round from Rhapsody Venture Partners and Impossible Ventures for its novel ground penetrating radar technology which can be used to help a self-driving vehicle more accurately determine its position and navigate when combined with other map data. The subsurface mapping technology used by WaveSense was originally developed at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory for military applications.

Eric Walz    Mar 30, 2021 10:30 AM PT
 WaveSense Announces a $15 Million Funding Round to Accelerate Autonomous Driving Using Ground Penetrating Radar
WaveSense's ground penetrating radar technology sends an electromagnetic pulse directly into the ground below the road.

Massachusetts startup WaveSense announced today a $15 million investment round from Rhapsody Venture Partners and Impossible Ventures for its novel ground penetrating radar technology which can be used to help a self-driving vehicle more accurately determine its position and navigate.

There is a growing demand for automakers to equip their vehicles with advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) to increase safety, including autonomous highway driving capabilities. These systems are supported by cameras, radar and lidar sensors and are used today for such features such as Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) or Lane Keep Assist.

However before an autonomous vehicle can safely navigate on the highway or any other road, the vehicle requires a high precision, or high definition (HD) map of its surroundings. Unlike a typical map that's used for turn-by-turn directions, these maps have extremely high precision at centimeter-level and help a self-driving vehicle know its exact position in the world.   

The HD maps are created using mapping vehicles equipped with cameras and lidar and other sensors which drive a route to collect the raw data used to build maps. 

However map data can also be supplemented using data collected from ground penetrating radar (GPR), which is what WaveSense is developing. The company's GPR technology works by sending an electromagnetic pulse directly into the ground below the street. The radar measures unique reflections from solid objects and changes in soil properties deep in the ground, including pipes, roots, rocks, and soil. The reflections of underground features can be used to generate a supplemental basemap for autonomous vehicles. 

The subsurface mapping technology used by WaveSense was originally developed at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory for military applications. The technology allowed military vehicles to stay on previously-mapped routes by matching radar measurements with maps of the ground below.

WaveSense's ground-penetrating radar unit can be mounted underneath a vehicle and is small enough to be more easily incorporated into existing vehicle designs. The GPR sensor itself is roughly the size and thickness of two laptop computers. It's also inexpensive, costing a fraction of other autonomous vehicle systems, according to Wavesense.

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Since every inch of road has a unique subterranean composition, the GPR technology can be used to build highly accurate maps for autonomous vehicles. By combining subsurface data with above ground camera and lidar scans of the environment, a vehicle can better determine its exact position at all times, according to WaveSense.

Self-driving vehicles today primarily rely on maps built using above ground sensor data, including GPS, cameras and 3D lidar scans. However WaveSense's GPR technology allows vehicles to determine their precise location in areas where these technologies are limited. Some examples are when lane markings are poor, low light or adverse weather conditions, as well as in areas with poor GPS availability.

More importantly, ground penetrating radar technology provides an extra layer of sensor data that can be used in conjunction with lidar, cameras, surface radar and GPS data to help an autonomous vehicle better localize and navigate.

"Safety is at the heart of the sensor revolution in automotive and safety is about edge cases. Keeping a car in a well marked lane on a sunny road in Arizona is different than driving through a winter wonderland in Boston. Reliable lane keeping is solved uniquely by GPR and in the last year we have seen leading automakers and suppliers recognize that," said Carsten Boers, Managing Partner at Rhapsody Venture Partners.

WaveSense has successfully demonstrated centimeter-level localization accuracy on roads without lane markings, during a snowstorm, in a parking garage, even on unpaved terrain. 

WaveSense is currently working to advance the integration of their centimeter-level precision technology into consumer vehicles in collaboration with some of the world's largest automakers and suppliers, the company said.

"By accelerating our product development and work with automakers, we're changing what is possible in terms of performance and safety for ADAS and autonomous vehicles," said Tarik Bolat, CEO of WaveSense. "With the assistance of this fundraise, WaveSense is laying the foundation for its path to market and is well-positioned to deliver results for hand-free lanekeeping, autonomous valet parking, and other next generation features that will make vehicles safer and higher performing, even in road conditions that current sensors fail in."

WaveSense recently announced it hired former Ford Motor Company Automotive President, Joe Hinrichs, to its Board of Directors as well as former General Motors CFO, Charles "Chuck" K. Stevens III, and Kurt Lehmann, former CTO of  automotive supplier Continental AG, to its advisory board.

WaveSense says it was the first company in the world to offer self-driving vehicle navigation based on ground penetrating radar. The new funding will be used to further develop and scale the technology.


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