Phiar Inc., an augmented reality startup eyeing revenue opportunities in the self-driving car segment, today announced that it has raised $3 million to bring its technology to market.
The seed round was led by Virtual Reality Fund. The over half a dozen other backers that participated in the investment included prominent Sand Hill Road firm Mayfield Fund and famed startup accelerator Y Combinator, where Phiar incubated until its launch earlier this year.
The startup is developing a mobile navigation app that uses homegrown AR technology to help drivers reach their destinations. Whereas most augmented and virtual reality services are designed to let users immerse themselves in a digital environment, Phiar is going for the opposite effect.
The startup’s service turns the user’s phone into a kind of dash camera, overlaying navigation cues on footage of the way ahead. The idea is to let drivers keep an eye on the road and other cars even when they’re looking at their mobile device for directions. Competing services such as Google LLC’s Waze that have a traditional opaque interface, in contrast, require the user to turn their full attention to deciphering the on-screen information.
Phiar chief executive officer Chen-Ping Yu told TechCrunch that the startup expects to launch its app in mid-2019. Phiar plans to offer the service for free and generate revenue by extracting anonymized mapping data from the road footage recorded by users. The startup hopes to sell this data to various partners, most notably auto makers developing self-driving cars.
Phiar isn’t the only player to have identified the potential value of crowdsourced mapping data. Last month, Lyft Technologies Inc. inked a deal reportedly worth $103 million to acquire Blue Vision Ltd., another AR startup that had developed a platform for turning crowdsourced mobile footage into maps. The ride-hailing company said that it will use the technology to boost its self-driving car program.