A UK start-up developing hologram technology to replace car monitors to improve driving safety has been valued at $500mn following investments from Stellantis, General Motors and Hyundai.
Envisics says projected displays could reduce driver distraction and warn motorists of oncoming hazards earlier, particularly on busy urban roads.
Founder and chief executive of the Milton Keynes based group Jamieson Christmas said the group raised more than $50mn from backers that also include Jaguar Land Rover, valuing the company at $500mn.
The business, which has an office in Detroit and staff in Tokyo, is in the process of considering expanding its international footprint to cater for growing interest in its technology among global carmakers.
The group has also attracted interest from other European governments, which have put pressure on the start-up to relocate.
“We have been approached by a number of European nations that have offered to help us relocate HQs to their locations. They recognise the value of high-tech, high-growth companies,” he said.
The group, which employs about 100 people, is committed to the UK but has struggled to attract international staff.
“Convincing people that the UK is open minded and welcomes highly skilled people is not easy frankly,” he added. “We have got to be careful to shape the message we send, that we are not a closed nation.”
Subsidies in the US and Europe for technology companies were also making the UK less attractive by comparison, he said. “I want to remain a UK company, but it needs to be a level playing field.”
The current uncertainty over government support for technology is “not conducive” to growing a business in the UK.
Envisics’ systems are a step ahead of technology in some cars that allow drivers to view speed limits and navigation information on the windscreen, rather than on a screen lower down within the car.
The latest generation of its technology, which uses self-driving cameras fitted into cars to warn drivers of hazards they may not have spotted, will be in GM’s electric Cadillac Lyriq from next year.
Envisics raised $50mn in a series C round, the fourth stage of start-up financing, typically focused on scaling up the company, that it will use to roll out its system.
It also aims to use the money to speed up the next stage of the product’s development to enable it to project three-dimensional images on the road ahead, allowing drivers to see turns or other signs in advance.
“Big screens in cars are not the answer” to driver distraction, said Christmas.
“Car companies are looking at their interiors, the experience, and realising that augmented reality, with information on the glass that gives much better situational awareness, is a better solution.”
GM and Hyundai were early backers and reinvested during the funding round, while Stellantis and Jaguar Land Rover bought into the company for the first time during the round.
Californian family fund Tarsadia Investments is its largest shareholder.
Typically, carmakers take about three years to integrate technology into new models, meaning vehicles from its new investors are unlikely to feature its systems until after 2025.