Home >Companies >Start-ups >Auto makers bet on augmented reality startup

The venture capital arms of General Motors Co. and Chinese auto giant SAIC Motor Corp., among other investors, have acquired minority stakes in a startup developing hologram technology for autonomous driving systems.

GM Ventures and SAIC Capital, along with South Korean parts-maker Hyundai Mobis and others, invested $50 million into Envisics Inc. The Milton Keynes, U.K.-based startup builds hardware and software that use a vehicle’s windshield to project graphics and information that keys drivers into how the car’s autonomous system sees the road ahead.

The startup’s technology includes a holographic modulator and a processor chip that is installed beneath the dashboard near the instrument cluster that can essentially superimpose information and graphics at multiple depths up to roughly 425 feet ahead of a vehicle, Envisics founder, Chief Executive and Chief Technology Officer Jamieson Christmas said.

As more auto makers introduce self-driving features into cars, the technology is designed in part to help drivers interact with vehicles that are only partially autonomous.

General Motors plans to implement Envisics technology in its coming electric Cadillac Lyriq SUV, which will have autonomous features, said GM Ventures President Matt Tsien. The ability of drivers to understand how the autonomous system is working could help the driver know when to step in to take over control, Mr. Tsien said.

“Augmented reality displays really help provide some of that interaction between the vehicle and the driver," Mr. Tsien said, adding that the system could highlight pedestrians or road features.

The technology already is installed in some Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, including various Range Rover models.

The Series B investment underscores legacy auto makers’ continued appetite for placing bets on startups developing autonomous technology. It comes even as some have struggled amid the coronavirus pandemic and as timelines have been extended broadly for when such technology could become mainstream.

General Motors, for its part, has charted a future course banking heavily on autonomous vehicles. GM and other investors have poured roughly $7 billion into Cruise LLC, a San Francisco-based self-driving startup.

Shanghai-based SAIC, which is one of China’s largest auto makers by sales, is planning to incorporate the startup’s augmented reality displays in future cars, both in China and abroad, SAIC Capital Investment Director Michael Cohen wrote in a statement announcing the investment.

The deal comes after partially autonomous SAIC trucks that utilize 5G wireless technology were commercially deployed at a Shanghai port this year.

Other auto makers have placed similar bets. Porsche AG, for instance, led an $80 million funding round in 2018 into Swiss startup WayRay AG, which develops holographic augmented-reality technology.

Envisics, which was founded as Two Trees Photonics in 2010, hasn’t disclosed the total amount of capital it has raised to date. Investment firm Van Tuyl Cos also participated in the financing.

Envisics will use the new capital to roughly double the company’s head count and to open offices in Asia and Europe, Mr. Christmas said.

Write to Marc Vartabedian at

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