Pando

Navdy gets $20M to bring the connected car to the masses

By Dennis Keohane , written on April 16, 2015

From The News Desk

Between Google’s self-driving cars, rumors that Apple is building a car of its own, and obviously everything Elon Musk is doing at Tesla, the automobile space has become the next frontier for large corporations with an itch to innovate.

And it’s not just some of the country’s largest companies that are trying to take advantage of the slow pace of innovation that is ingrained in the auto industry.

Navdy, a two-year old company launched out of PCH’s Highway 1 accelerator in San Francisco and with an executive team of HP alums, thinks its affordable hardware can bring the idea of the connected car to the masses. The company has created an aftermarket heads-up-display that aims to limit distracted driving. Navdy’s device, which sits above a car’s dashboard, projects information on a transparent display within a driver's eye line.

The device reacts to a driver's hand gestures and voice commands so drivers don't need to pick up their phone to send a tweet or answer a call. It also sends notifications from a wide array of mobile applications while offering navigation capabilities that allow users to keep their eyes on the road.

Navdy announced today that it has received $20 million in new funding from a group of investors that includes Upfront Ventures, Formation8, Qualcomm, Promus Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, and Wareness.io. Previously, the company had raised $6.5 million in seed funding and has already received $6 million in sales in pre-orders of the device that it is selling for $299.

The company is planning to use the new funding to expand its research and design operations, adding more capabilities to its product, and to push the manufacturing of the Navdy to get it into the cars of customers who pre-ordered the device.

Like most hardware startups, there is an enormous opportunity due to the uniqueness of Navdy's HUD. But there are also a couple of red flags.

One would be the time table involved with building, manufacturing, and shipping the device. Like many startups that had successful hardware Kickstarter campaigns -- the Pebble watch comes to mind -- too lengthy a time from order to product delivery can lead to a negative impression of a product, even if it's truly a breakthrough device. The Navdy started taking orders last year, and with the $20 million influx of cash, says it will ship in the second half of the year.

The other problem with the long hardware process is that sometimes, by the time a product has shipped, it is no longer an innovation -- as the time between launch and delivery has allowed others to enter the space or the major players to react. This doesn't seem to be the case with Navdy's HUD, which should create a stir once it starts popping up in cars later this year.

Another major concern with Navdy’s HUD is whether or not it can stand up to safety standards for cars. Touting that it has gone through a more rigorous safety testing process than that of most automakers, the company says that not only it the device safe, but it eliminates distracted driving by allowing users to tweet, text, and talk on the phone without needing to pick up their phone.

It's a big hardware bet that now has some major backing. With an accessible price, and a product that can futurize any vehicle in a matter of minutes, Navdy may be the auto device that makes the connected car ubiquitous before companies like Apple and Google have even hit the road.