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Phiar raises $3 million for an AR navigation app for drivers

Augmented reality is a very buzzy space, but the fundamental technologies underpinning it are pushing boundaries across a lot of other verticals. Tech like machine learning, object recognition and visual mapping tech are the pillars of plenty of new ventures, enabling there to be companies that thrive in the overlap.

Phiar (pronounced fire) is building an augmented reality navigation app for drivers, but the same tech it’s built to help drivers easily pinpoint where they need to make their next turn also helps them build up rich mapping data that can give partners like autonomous car startups the high-quality data they so deeply need.

The SF-based company has just closed a $3 million seed deal led by Norwest Venture Partners and The Venture Reality Fund. Other investors include Anorak Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Zeno Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, GFR Fund, Y Combinator, Innolinks Ventures and Half Court Ventures.

While phone and headset-based AR have received a lot of the broader media attention, the automotive industry is a central focus for a lot of augmented reality startups attracted by the proposition of a mobile environment that can showcase and integrate bulky tech. There have certainly been quite a few heads-up display startups looking to take advantage of a car’s windshield real estate, and prior to joining Y Combinator, Phiar was actually looking to build some of this hardware themselves before deciding on a more software-focused route for the company.

Unlike a lot of phone AR apps built on top of Apple or Google’s developers platforms, Phiar’s use case doesn’t quite work with the limitations of these systems which understandably weren’t built with the idea a user would be moving at 60 miles per hour. As a result the company has had to build tech to greater understand the geometry of a quickly updating world through a single camera while ensuring that it’s not just some ugly directional overlay, using techniques like real-time occlusion to ensure that the digital and physical worlds interact nicely.