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7 August, 2012 - 15:19 By Tony Quested

£3.5m on radar for Aveillant commercial push

Aveillant CEO David Crisp

A Cambridge UK company pioneering 3D holographic radar technology to facilitate wind farm development without jeopardising aircraft movements, is set to raise £3.5 million Series B cash to underpin commercial rollout.

Aveillant, the Cambridge Consultants spin-out, is hoping to add international investors to the new round which it wants to close by autumn.

It plans to double headcount once the new funds are safely garnered and start shipment of its technology for universal field trials by the middle of next year.

In an exclusive interview with Business Weekly, CEO David Crisp said that Aveillant was ahead of plan.

And he added that the opportunity to commercialise the technology had actually increased since launch due to a bottleneck in wind power development.

Aveillant is no ordinary startup. It spun out of Cambridge Consultants with millions in its war chest and Crisp emphasised that the links with the technology design hothouse and its parent company Altran had been maintained and were hugely beneficial to future growth plans.

The company remains a Cambridge Consultants ‘tenant’ at the Science Park and is still calling on its expertise as it develops next-generation technology. Cambridge Consultants is Aveillant’s majority shareholder.

Aveillant is exploiting a step-change in the development of radar technology in the form of its proprietary 3D holographic radar. The solution is able to recognise the presence and position of even small aircraft in the vicinity of the largest wind turbines, providing a level of accuracy that will assure safe separation of aircraft and turbine in the most demanding airspace.

Wind turbines in motion can mimic aircraft on an air traffic controller’s radar screen. Aveillant will provide airfields with the accurate radar data needed to eliminate the potential confusion this could cause, without any resulting loss or compromise in performance.

The need is increasingly urgent; at the time of spin-out 66 per cent of all wind farm applications, equating to 6.5 gigawatts of electricity, were being delayed due to this problem in the UK alone. Crisp said this backlog was even greater now.

The spin-out started life with multi-million pound venture investment from Cambridge Consultants, DFJ Esprit and Aviation Investment Fund Company Ltd (AIFCL) – the wind industry fund. Crisp hopes the existing investors will want to remain involved but said it was possible new international investors would come on board in the new round.

“We are certainly seeking new investment,” he said. “We are actually ahead of track in terms of developing the technology. We have developed the prototype and the new cash will take us through to shipment of a commercial product to market by the middle of next year.”

Crisp said that dialogue had been accelerated both with airport operators and wind power specialists – and that included overseas parties.

“The key now for us is to get the next generation kit out into the market for commercial pilots and start to close some firm orders resulting from those field trials involving the next generation technology.

“The appetite of potential buyers of our technology has actually increased. Then we are not a typical technology startup. We are the equal of anyone in the world in our sector.”

Backing up the market view that demand for the technology is now more urgent than ever, a large number of wind power sites that have yet to be developed actually hold more potential and are more suited to development as wind farms than some of the sites already in operation. That fact has been backed by independent surveys.

Aveillant had buy-in from airports and wind power specialists from day one and the company has focused on transitioning the existing holographic radar technology into a next-generation, lower frequency but longer range product for the wind industry.

The prototype has been designed in a modular way so that, lego-style, it can be built on module by module. The sensor block is the startpoint and now exciting upgrades are being added.

Currently all the R & D remains in Cambridge and the manufacturing has also been kept in the UK. Cambridge will remain the heart and soul of the company as it grows, while Crisp wants to use international manufacturers based in Britain to handle production rather than going offshore.

“We have world-class, fantastic technology capability in the UK and we intend to build on that,” he said. Once the new cash is raised, Crisp expects the current eight-man team to at least double. That number could swiftly march onto 50 or so following commercial shipment of product mid-2013.

To recruit the talent it requires Aveillant has had to acknowledge heavy competition in the UK and has already spread the search process to the continent. The company will remain anchored at the Science Park for a year or so to leverage the relationship with Cambridge Consultants and Altran.

“We don’t need the distraction of finding a new HQ while we are focusing on the new generation technology,” Crisp said.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Aveillant CEO David Crisp

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