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Navdy partnering with Harman to sell its heads-up display at retail worldwide

Navdy, the transparent heads-up display for cars, has been more than four years in the making, and began shipping to backers of its crowdfunding campaign in September. Buying options for new customers were a bit limited, though — Navdy units were available exclusively through the startup’s website.

But that won’t be the case for much longer. On Tuesday, Navdy announced a partnership with audio megalith Harman that will see Navdy units made available through that firm’s automotive partners.

“We’re looking forward to working closely with Navdy,” Sanjay Dhawan, president of Harman’s connected services division, told Digital Trends. “[Our] partnership with Navdy follows [our] tradition of … pioneer[ing] the introduction of innovations that make driving safer, more enjoyable, and more secure.”

Navdy, for the uninitiated, is an augmented reality device that projects text messages, navigation data, and music visualizations onto a display situated in front of a car’s steering wheel. It plugs into a car’s OBD-II interface to serve up car information like fuel, RPM, and miles to empty, and sports a gesture-sensing camera that lets drivers accept and dismiss calls, respond to messages and calls, and hide notifications.

A companion Dial, a single-button rotating dial that straps onto a steering wheel, provides a means of navigating through the Navdy’s menus, and of quickly launching apps like Google Maps, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, and Google Play Music. And support for Siri on iOS and Google Now on Android allows a limited degree of hands-free voice control.

Harman is probably best known for its high-end lines of headphones and bookshelf speakers, but the company’s branched out in recent years. It partners with manufacturers like HTC and Toshiba to provide custom audio solutions for smartphones, tablets, and laptops. And it now commands a lion’s share of the infotainment market: Harman’s first quarter earnings report pegged its share of connected-car and lifestyle audio at 76.9 percent of overall sales, and around 35 percent of the premium audio market.

Harman, which has working relationships with carmakers including Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, Subaru, Toyota, Lexus, Audi, GM, and Mercedes-Benz, will make Harman-branded Navdy units available to its automotive partners globally in January of 2017.

Going forward, it will distribute Navdy to specialty auto shops, audio retailers, and select mobile carriers, in some markets as “synergistic” bundles with products like JBL’s visor-mounted Trip speaker. (Harman’s brands include Bowers & Wilkins, Harman/Kardon, JBL, Infinity, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, and Revel.)

Retail reach won’t be Navdy’s only benefit of the strategic partnership. Harman will integrate “new software functionality” and “hardware design” in the coming years. “Harman has wonderful technologies to share with Navdy,” Dhawan said. He mentioned beam-forming microphones of the sort that help Amazon’s Alexa make out commands in a crowded room, and Harman’s noise-reducing Halosonic software.

Audio-boosting algorithms were mentioned as another possibility — Navdy delivers music and audio through car sound systems. One such product in Harman’s portfolio, Clari-Fi, claims to “restore all types of compressed digital music” and “provide a more life-like … listening experience.”

The heads-up device market is a burgeoning one. According to a survey by IHS Markit, 55 percent of potential car buyers in the U.S. would like to have a display in their next car. Harman is betting that interest will drive the automotive aftermarket, a market worth an estimated $2.7 billion, to new heights.

Navdy, which now numbers more than 75 employees, took 17,000 pre-orders and generated more than $1 million in its first week of crowdfunding. It has raised more than $42 million from investors that include Qualcomm, Upfront, Promus, and Ludlow.

“We’re pleased to partner with Harman, who brings a wealth of experience across brands, technology, and global networks that will expand our reach,” Doub Simpson, founder and CEO of Navdy, said.

Harman and Navdy aren’t the only ones with much to gain. Just last month, electronics maker Samsung acquired Harman for $8 billion, a deal seen as an acceleration of the Seoul, South Korea company’s effort to break into the automotive market. Already, Samsung supplies electronic components for Audi’s infotainment systems, and earlier this summer it announced Samsung Connect Auto, a device that plugs into an OBD-II port and provides features like a Wi-Fi hot spot and maintenance alerts.

With Navdy in tow, Samsung has a leg up on the heads-up competition.

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