Envisics Holographic HUD Technology is Ready for Prime Time

Driver distraction from the proliferation of display screens in cars can be alleviated by the adoption of augmented reality holographic HUD technology.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

March 10, 2023

5 Min Read
The Envisics augmented reality head-up display provides warnings about events in traffic ahead as well as navigational directions.Envisics

Head-up display (HUD) systems that project images in front of the driver where they can be seen while still watching the road ahead are seen as the ideal solution, especially when those systems are employed as augmented reality devices that overlay important information such as navigational directions on the real-life scenes ahead.

These AR HUDs make a good case for themselves, but there is an even better version that will arrive in the Cadillac Lyriq that employs 3D holographic images to provide even more realistic imagery that will be even easier for drivers to process.

Most of us associate the image of Princess Leia projected by Star Wars astromech droid R2-D2 as the definitive example of holography, and it was this inspiration that led to the technology developed by British holography pioneer Envisics. This is the company supplying the upcoming holographic HUD for the Lyriq. Envisics already provides its first-generation, two-dimensional HUD products to Jaguar Land Rover and the Cadillac system will mark the leap to 3D holographic HUD technology when it arrives in showrooms.

General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Stellantis, Hyundai Mobis (the Tier 1 supplier and contract manufacturing subsidiary of Hyundai Motors), and SAIC have all invested in Envisics, making them all obvious candidates to be members of the company’s unnamed list of additional customers already under contract. Supplier Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. of America has also signed an agreement to jointly develop and commercialize Evisics’ technology, which is covered by 250 granted and 160 pending patents.

Instant photography was a technology that appeared almost entirely because Edwin Land’s daughter asked him why she had to wait for photos shot with her Kodak camera to be developed. “Why, indeed?” Land asked himself before proceeding to singlehanded develop a technology so difficult that Kodak ultimately copied his work when that company’s engineers couldn’t come up with their own solution to the problem.


So it could be with holography, judging from how slow this long-predicted technology has taken to emerge. Envisics founder and CEO, Jamieson Christmas, was a Ph.D. student in photonics at Cambridge when he asked himself why we still didn’t have Princess Leia-grade holography. “Because it is really hard,” was the answer Christmas found upon investigation. “The mathematics and the systems’ technology was beyond what was feasible at that time,” he recalled in an interview with Design News.

Christmas went to work on the necessary mathematical foundation and the resulting algorithms, making “some significant breakthroughs,” he said.  The key was figuring out how to manipulate the light, which let him cobble together a proof-of-concept device using a projector to demonstrate its viability.

A benefit of Christmas’s design is that the hardware needed is small, which addresses the issue of packaging space which is a hurdle for full-width HUD AR systems. “This technology had some unique benefits that made it uniquely suited to this [automotive] application,” Christmas said. “Jaguar Land Rover said, “That’s amazing and solves so many of our problems.”

Envisics holographic AR HUD

A particular challenge for Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles was an absence of available space in the dashboard for a conventional HUD projector. “Our package is much shallower than the competition,” Christmas explained.

This was a two-dimensional system whose sole goal was to emulate the performance of competitors’ HUDs using a much smaller projector. It went into production in 2015.

Now, Envisics is ready for version 2.0, which will deliver full 3D holography. Unfortunately, two-dimensional photos can’t really provide the depth to show what this will look like. “The only way to genuinely articulate what it is like is to experience it,” Christmas said.

We should have that opportunity soon enough. “Our collaboration with Envisics is moving into production this year, as we add AR HUD technology to the all-electric 2024 Cadillac Lyriq,” said Sandy Lipscomb, Senior Manager of Ultifi Design at General Motors. “This innovation will further elevate the driving experience in the Lyriq, adding a second plane of graphics that gives drivers more immersive information integrated within their natural field of vision.”

Envisics FT Future of the Car - Final for Distribution2.jpg

Lipscomb’s enthusiasm explains the rush by automakers to invest in Envisics. The company says global market research predicts that the HUD market is expected to grow by at least 12 percent on average every year by 2025 and that AR HUD, is expected to grow exponentially from one million units in 2025 to 12 million in 2030.

There are rivals, such as WayRay, but Christmas insists that his brainstorm is better. The fundamental difference is that they are working with a static holographic technology using transparent film in the windshield,” he explained. “They use conventional projection tech and illuminate that static film. We calculate holograms hundreds of times a second in a system that is more power efficient and produces higher-resolution images.

“We have Incredible traction from the car companies,” Christmas continued. “They’re very excited by the potential our technology has as an enabling technology for the car companies.” Foolproof navigation could be the killer app for holographic augmented reality HUDs. “Making navigation intuitive is appealing,” he noted.

Envisics FT Future of the Car - Final for Distribution3.jpg

Stellantis was sufficiently impressed to give Envisics its Stellantis Startup Award, for the Automotive Tech category. “Envisics has been a great partner to work with,” said Adam Bazih, Managing Director and Head of Stellantis Ventures. “We are proud to see how startup  companies like Envisics, which are developing cutting-edge technology, will accelerate Stellantis’ efforts in shaping a more sustainable and exciting mobility experience.”

Envisics is putting the finishing touches on version 3.0 of the AR HUD technology, which, given the lead times of car manufacturers, means that it will likely appear in showrooms in three years or so, according to Christmas. Having the ability to project relevant information should help reduce the use of distraction-inducing displays in cars.

“It is likely that HUD will become standard [equipment] by the end of the decade,” Christmas forecasts. “It may well spell the end of the instrument cluster.”

About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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