These days, the buzzing alert of a text or a tweet is almost Pavlovian. Without thinking, we check our phones wherever we are – a mistake that can be life threatening when you're behind the wheel.
San Francisco-based startup Navdy's mission is to help drivers carefully interact with their phones without compromising their safety on the road. The company makes a smart, transparent head-up display (HUD) that integrates with your car's computer to project text messages, driving directions and other phone features six feet in front of you. Drivers control the display through hand gestures and voice commands.
Today, the two-year-old startup that has dubbed itself the "Google Glass for your car" announced a $6.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Upfront Ventures. Other investors included Eniac Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Lightbank and Promus Ventures.
The funding round closed a week prior to the start of the company's pre-order campaign, which kicked off on Aug. 5 and has since generated $3 million in sales. "What we wanted to make sure that we had the funding in place to finish product development, scale on manufacturing and deliver the product, regardless of what happened with the pre-order campaign," said Doug Simpson, Navdy's CEO and co-founder.
The HUD is projected to retail for $499, but customers can pre-order it for $299, and get a $30 discount through the company's referral program. Simpson says he has been contacted by more than 650 retailers and distributors around the world who are interested in selling the display. The product is slated to begin shipping the beginning of next year.
Simpson, who founded Navdy in October 2012 with CTO Karl Guttag, says the idea stemmed from his own frustration in using his phone as a navigation device, as apps like Google Maps and Waze would drop as soon as calls came in. More importantly, was the safety element – taking your eyes off the road for five seconds while driving 55 miles per hour is the equivalent of driving a football field with a blindfold on. "It seemed like there was an opportunity to give users a much better experience, and one that was a lot safer as well," Simpson says.
The question of whether this sort of technology is safe is the subject of hot debate. Just this week, a new survey released by the University of Central Florida found that wearing Google Glass while driving may be just as distracting as looking down at a smartphone. And though there have been several instances of drivers receiving tickets for using Google Glass behind the wheel, Simpson says that he doesn't foresee the HUD running afoul of regulators. "The automotive industry has kind of already paved the way for us. Head-Up Displays are used in all commercial airplanes to help the pilot keep their eyes on the runway, and between 2010 and 2013 there were 4 million head-up displays sold in new cars, and there hasn't been any regulatory pushback that we're aware of."
Simpson says while the acceptance of the tech throughout the industry has helped the company's cars, he doesn't see the major car companies as competitors. "Last year [HUDs were sold] in only two percent of cars. We think that's because it is offered on so few models, it's typically an expensive option and there is no integration with your phone."
Looking ahead, the company is working towards releasing a third-party software and app development kit sometime next year. Simpson says he'd also like to collaborate with the auto industry; he sees HUD as a product that can work in any car and be sold directly to consumers, but also has the potential to be embedded in cars as well.
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