Envisics founder and CEO Dr. Jamieson Christmas launched the startup three years ago to “revolutionize” the in-car experience with its holographic technology. Now, it has a partner that could help it achieve that mission.
The U.K.-based holographic technology startup said Friday it reached an agreement with Panasonic Automotive Systems to jointly develop and commercialize a new generation of head-up displays for cars, trucks and SUVs. Panasonic Automotive Systems is a Tier 1 automotive supplier and a division of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The head-up displays are units integrated in the dash of a vehicle that project images onto the windshield to aid drivers with navigation and provide other alerts. The Panasonic HUDs, as they’re often called, will use Envisics holographic technology.
The deal, announced ahead of the virtual 2021 CES tech trade show, follows Envisics’ $50 million Series B funding round and news that its tech will be integrated in the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq electric vehicle. The funding round, which brought Envisics a valuation of more than $250 million, included investments from Hyundai Mobis, GM Ventures, SAIC Ventures and Van Tuyl Companies.
Envisics’ technology, the foundation of which came out of Christmas’ PhD studies at Cambridge University more than 15 years ago, electronically manipulates the speed of light. This process enables images to appear three-dimensional, Christmas explained in a recent interview. The company has secured more than 250 patents and has another 160 pending certification.
The company is solely focused upon the automotive application of holography, Christmas said, adding that its first generation is already integrated in more than 150,000 Jaguar Land Rover vehicles.
Christmas said this new agreement aims to combine Panasonic’s expertise in optical design and its global reach as a Tier 1 supplier with Envisics’ technology to bring holography into the mainstream. Mass production of vehicles using its technology is slated for 2023, according to the companies.
“This is very much about part of our business plan, you know the Series B funding round we undertook was about scaling the business and enabling us to move forward as we enter the market,” Christmas said. “Part of that was a commitment to engage in partnerships with Tier ones that we can then work with to deliver these products to market.
“This is the first of those agreements,” he added, suggesting that Envisics has a much larger aim.
What that means, Christmas said, will be head-up displays with high resolution, wide color gamut and large images that can be overlaid upon reality. The technology can also project information at multiple distances simultaneously.
“That really unlocks very interesting applications,” he said. “In the short term, it will be kind of relatively simple augmented reality applications like navigation, highlighting the lane you’re supposed to be in and some safety applications. But as you look forward into things like autonomous driving it unlocks a whole realm of other opportunities like entertainment and video conferencing.”
He added that it could even be used for night vision applications such as overlaying enhanced information upon a dark road to make it clear where the road is going and what obstacles might be out there.