Less than a year since it was spun off from Intellectual Ventures, metamaterials startup Kymeta has closed a $50 million funding round. The company designs and manufactures satellite antennas, but these aren’t your ordinary satellite dishes. The company’s adaptable antennas steer beams dynamically without mechanical parts, which could make them ideal satellite broadband receivers for fast-moving vehicles such as planes, trucks and boats.
New investors Osage University Partners and the Kresge Foundation participated in the round joining existing investors Bill Gates, Liberty Global and Lux Capital – all of which participated in Kymeta’s initial $12 million funding round. The Microsoft(s msft) connection to Kymeta goes further than Gates investment. Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold is IV’s founder.
Metamaterials are a key part of Intellectual Ventures vast patent portfolio and one of the few examples of IV commercializing its intellectual property rather than merely suing other companies that do. IV has granted Kymeta an exclusive license to use its metamaterials patents in the satellite field, but it’s not the only the spin-off IV has planned. Another IV-backed startup, PivotBeam, plans to use the technology to create software-defined antennas for mobile backhaul networks linking thousands of small cells.
Kymeta is producing a briefcase-sized antenna panel that can be mounted onto a moving vehicle yet still maintain strong links to a satellite above. Instead of constantly changing the orientation of the antenna to keep it pointed at the proper horizon, the metamaterial antenna manipulates radio waves passing through it, sending them off in the proper direction.
Kymeta says such antennas not only maintain stronger connections and support faster speeds, they also take up a far smaller footprint and consume much less power than mechanically steered antennas. U.K. satellite broadband provider Inmarsat is already working with Kymeta to develop an antenna rig for business jets that will support up to 50 Mbps connections.