After leaving Intel, Raviv Melamed and his co-founders spent a year working out of a garage on an image sensor that could produce 3D images of things behind boundaries like walls.
The result is a startup called Vayyar, which makes sensors that use radio waves to create 3D mappings of things like root systems or piping. The company said today that it has raised $22 million in venture financing in a round led by Walden Riverwood. Vayyar’s existing investors, which include Battery Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, also participated in the round.
If it works, the technology could be useful in a huge number of scenarios. Much of today’s basic needs — sewage, power and things like that — become heavily obstructed once they’re up and running. One example, Melamed said, would be determining the fat content of milk as it’s being produced without having to test it. But one of the main use cases, Melamed hopes, is detecting breast cancer with a lower-cost option. To help further determine some use cases, the company launched a board that others can tinker with in order to produce their own image sensor devices.
“While we were doing that, we understood the same sensor that was looking [for potential breast cancer] could be used in many other applications,” Melamed said. “The goal was to have a low-cost imaging device that every person can use, instead of just experts and people who understand complex technology.”
Vayyar works with chip-manufacturers to produce a sensor that companies can then plug into devices to produce 3D images in a variety of scenarios. It can range from plugging into a phone or computer, to devices that are stuck in the ground that can look at an irrigation profile on a farm. Vayyar already works with a number of companies that use its sensors — the startup launched in 2011 — and to date has raised $34 million.
“It’s mobile, and it’s compact, so the imaging tech is available any time and any where,” Melamed said. “What we do is give them a reference design with all the antennae tailored to their mechanics, they can refine it and we create the insides of it, we give them an API and then they just write their own applications.”
It’s also an interesting time for a company like Vayyar, which is starting to roll out its products in greater force while augmented reality is beginning to gain steam. There could easily be applications for these kinds of 3D images that could feed into an augmented reality device, which could help accurately identify problems and how to quickly fix them.
Vayyar is competing with ultrasound and MRI technology, which are widely adopted — so there’s a significant uphill battle for the company. And then there are other chip and sensor makers that could easily go after what Vayyar is trying to build. But Melamed argues that Vayyar’s edge is that it’s already in use, and will be lower-cost than those alternatives.
“For normal imaging, it’s basically something you can hook to your phone and look into the wall,” he said. “You don’t have to touch the milk.”