Purchasing a Tesla or a Chevy Volt can have its advantages, but what if you could turn your current car into an electric one and get all the benefits just by purchasing an add-on?
Unfortunately that’s not possible yet, but what is possible is to get a head-up display system without having to buy an entirely new and pricey car, thanks to a new company called Navdy.
Navdy, which is opening up pre-orders today for its product, has created a head-up display that can be set up in virtually any current car model on the market.
Navdy’s head-up display, meaning that it’s hands-free and lets you keep your eyes on the road without having to look away, is a tiny projector set up in front of a reflective glass. It projects images six feet in front of the windshield for a natural feel. It lets drivers interact with their smartphone notifications and apps, including text messages, phone calls, and navigation, through simple gestures. It’s easily hooked up to the car’s computer and mounted on top of the driver’s dashboard so that it sits in the driver’s line of vision. The company describes its product as “Google Glass for your car, but without the glasses.”
“It all started with one too many near-accidents,” co-founder and chief executive Doug Simpson told VentureBeat. “That really caused me to start thinking, ‘What’s the right UI for the car,” he said.
For the most part, people are currently interacting with their phones either by using them as they always do (meaning, unsafely with their hands), through voice command systems that are integrated in certain cars, or through head-up displays that are also integrated into certain cars, but again, must be ordered when purchasing a new car.
Despite 1.3 million cars being sold with head-up displays last year, according to the company, it doesn’t have any true competitors: Garmin’s model isn’t really a head-up display as it uses a fluorescent tube light that doesn’t project the image in front of the driver unlike Navdy’s, and Pioneer only sells them in Europe and Japan, and frankly, are quite clunky and obstructive as they’re attached to the sun visor. Both of these are also limited in the software and functionalities they have, unlike the variety of apps Navdy plans to support.
With that said, Navdy will still face challenges, especially when it comes to distribution.
“[Distribution] is a problem for every company, but it’s especially acute for hardware companies. Beyond that, pairing devices to our phones still isn’t easy. Bluetooth can be a bit janky. Overall, I think folks in the Valley discount how unnatural device pairing is for the average consumer,” Navdy investor Semil Shah of the Haystack fund, told VentureBeat via email.
However, it’s “uncertain when all the mobile operating systems will be up and running inside the dashboards of vehicles, and the initial rollouts will likely be in the newest models. In other words, it will take a while for that to happen, and in the meantime, Navdy is well positioned to get into the market much earlier,” he added.
Software and capabilities
Although Navdy is a hardware product, the team has still put a lot of thought into the software.
To start, it will focus on three areas: communication, navigation, and music, although the team said it will eventually release an SDK to allow third-party developers to create additional kinds of apps, including family-oriented ones like Life360 or location-sharing apps like Glympse. Apps for the hardware itself are a possibility down the road as well.
As mentioned, Navdy has designed its product to be easily controlled through specific gestures the team deems natural and easy to do while driving, such as pointing towards the display, “swiping” to the right, and so on.
Moreover, since Navdy integrates with the car’s computer, through the on-board diagnostics (OBD) port, it can track the car’s vitals, such as oil quality and so on. The idea is that Navdy could eventually start alerting the driver when the car needs repair or care and could even suggest nearby places that offer the needed services. The team also told me that customization of the dashboard will eventually be possible, such as making it look like a Ferrari’s (yes, some people care, apparently).
As for setup, it’s much easier than it sounds: OBD ports are located somewhere within reach near the driver’s feet, and Navdy can be plugged in as easily as you’d plug in an electronics cable.
And in terms of safety and customization, the team said that while laws vary by state, many allow hands-free texting, making Navdy a perfectly legal option. Drivers can also customize the alerts they want to receive, and parents can set limits for their teenage drivers (no texting alerts, only calls, and so on).
Navdy is now available for pre-orders and is scheduled to ship in early 2015. It is priced at $299 for pre-ordered units and will retail for $499.
The Navdy team is currently raising an undisclosed amount of funding and says it’s using its pre-orders campaign as a way to validate the market and gather feedback from early adopters.
Navdy was founded in Oct. 2012 by Doug Simpson and Karl Guttag and is based in San Francisco. It participated in PCH International’s hardware-focused accelerator program Highway 1 in 2013.