The Startup That’s Bringing Holograms to Your Windshield

By Jemima McEvoy Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Earlier this month, Envisics, a startup largely unheard of outside of the auto industry, made headlines for flashy new major endorsements and financial injections. General Motors (GM) Ventures, along with a slew of other high-profile manufacturers, invested $50 million in the company in a bid to reimagine the future of car technology. Now worth over $250 million, what is Envisics, and where is all the love coming from?

Foot On The Pedal

The story begins in 2004 with Dr. Jamieson Christmas, who was at the time getting a Ph.D. at Cambridge University. At the prestigious British institution, Christmas focused on creating high-quality holographic displays. When his Ph. D. was complete, he tried his hand at entrepreneurship, founding deep technology startup Two Trees Photonics.

Even in its nascent stages, it became clear to Christmas the immense promise of holographic technology in automotive head-up displays (HUD). Soon after, Two Trees Photonics secured the opportunity to develop “the world’s first laser holographic HUD for Jaguar Land Rover,” per the company’s website. In 2015, this technology was raring to go, and the first vehicles were fitted with a Holographic Head-Up Display.

Jaguar Land Rover wasn’t the only company to spot the potential of Christmas’s venture. Later in 2016, California-based augmented reality startup Daqri acquired Two Trees Photonics. However, it was a short-lived love affair between the augmented reality (AR) wearables company and Two Trees Photonics’s holographic technology for automobiles. The holographic and automotive engineering team split from Daqri to become independent, and in October 2019, officially rebranded as Envisics, with Christmas as the CEO. This turned out to be the right move as Daqri shut down in September 2019.

Amazing Acceleration

Alone, Envisics grew, working quickly toward its goal to: “redefine the way people see and interact with their vehicles and the world around them.”

The product essentially is a holograph that overlays the driver's real world view, meaning the person behind the wheel never has to take their eyes off the road. The applications of this are vast. For example, instead of looking down at your phone GPS, this technology allows you to look straight forward at the road, and arrows, distances, and other information will guide you along your route — a marriage between reality and technology.

“Everybody that saw it was absolutely blown away, hugely impressed,” said Christmas when Envisics unveiled its new technology in 2019. “No-one had ever seen anything quite like it: compact HUD design; large image size; augmented reality; in a vehicle. All the things that traditionally have been very difficult to do, there they were in high quality.”

According to the Envisics website, over 150,000 vehicles have been delivered with this HUD technology.

Full Speed Ahead

The Milton Keynes, UK-based website’s growth has been largely non-stop since. Recently, Envisics announced a significant round of funding from a group of high-profile investors. In its series B round of funding, Envisics announced it had earned $50 million. This contributed to a new valuation of over $250 million, an amount that’s “significantly up” from the past, said Christmas.

In the words of TechCrunch, “The capital is coming from a strong group of strategic investors that points to companies that are already working with the startup: Hyundai Mobis, General Motors Ventures, SAIC Motors and Van Tuyl Companies.”

Envisics’s success is particularly notable because of the sheer competitiveness of new technologies in the automotive sector. “Billions of dollars have been invested into the automotive sector and its hot pursuit of what it hopes will be the next generation of transport, autonomous vehicles,” wrote Tech Crunch in the same article. Point in case: the infamous self-driving cars.

Envisics, on the other hand, is not looking to replace human drivers. It’s simply looking to enhance human driving, which simultaneously facilitates many manufacturers in accomplishing their unique AR driving goals.

That’s what’s attracted the attention of industry top dogs. Hyundai, a major donor to the aforementioned $50 million investment, will work with Envisics to jointly develop autonomous driving specialized AR HUDs, with an aim for mass production by 2025, the company announced. “We will proactively present the next generation AR HUD to global automakers with increased safety and convenience to avoid distracting the driver,” said Sung Hwan Cho, executive vice president, CTO.

GM Ventures President Matt Tsien similarly said he was “impressed” with Envisics’s holographic technology: “This technology will help us revolutionize the in-vehicle experience with a variety of safe, highly integrated, and intuitive applications, including applications that will enhance the hands-free driving experience in figure electric vehicles (EVs) like the Cadillac LYRIQ.

About the Author

Headshot of Jemima McEvoy

Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.

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