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MicroVision cuts cash burn, signs auto deal

22 Jul 2011

The developer of pico projectors based on direct-emitting green lasers will work on a prototype head-up display with a major auto maker.

MicroVision, the Redmond, Washington, company that specializes in laser-based pico-projectors, has signed an agreement to develop a prototype head-up display (HUD) that may eventually be deployed in a mass-production car.

The agreement will initially see MicroVision work with the unnamed auto company and a leading supplier to produce a prototype HUD incorporating the company's next generation of “PicoP” display engine, which is based around direct green laser emitters.

“These prototypes are intended for installation in early test vehicles for specific upcoming models already identified on the automobile manufacturer's production roadmap,” MicroVision announced in a statement. “It is anticipated that the first phase will be followed by a series of milestones that may result in introduction of the HUD into a production vehicle.”

If the development is successful and the auto maker decides to go ahead with the technology, which is designed to improve car safety by combining the various dashboard and navigation information into a single display on the car’s windshield, MicroVision says that the mass-produced model could appear in 2014.

Cash burn
The development adds another potential future revenue stream for the company on top of its existing agreements with technology giant Apple and Taiwan-based Walsin Lihwa, although those deals are yet to bear much in the way of revenues for MicroVision, which remains in a tough financial position.

In its latest quarterly update, released to coincide with the auto display announcement, the company posted a $9.3 million operating loss on revenues of only $1.2 million for the three months ended June 30. And although CEO Alexander Tokman has been able to cut the firm’s rate of cash burn by 30% from last year through “aggressively managing costs”, MicroVision still ate up $7.4 million in cash in the second quarter.

As a result, the company has signed another equity financing agreement with the investment company Azimuth Opportunity, which may allow MicroVision to raise up to $40 million through the sale of 21 million shares over the next two years to boost its dwindling cash reserves. As of June 30, MicroVision listed cash and equivalents of $9.3 million on its balance sheet.

One way that MicroVision has been able to reduce its cash burn is to concentrate on using direct-emitting green laser diodes for products in development, rather than the frequency-doubled devices that it previously used, and which required multiple parallel development efforts.

The company was hit badly last year when previous supplier Corning unexpectedly decided to stop selling the frequency-doubled devices, but direct green diodes are still at a very early stage of maturity and still need to be qualified by many customers. With the green diodes set to be sampled by the end of 2011, fully commercialized products featuring the devices would now look likely to appear in early 2013.

MicroVision says that it has now delivered an initial order of first-generation PicoP display engines to Walsin Lihwa. Those should appear inside Walsin’s new Pico Panda products, scheduled for commercial release in China later this year. Meanwhile Pioneer, with whom MicroVision is developing the next-generation HD PicoP display engine based on red, direct green and blue lasers, is expected to use the projector as part of its own HUD offering, currently planned for 2012.

Addressing an investor conference call to discuss the latest progress, CEO Tokman said that the technology was seeing “a real pull from the automotive sector”, while he also said that the company was now more comfortable with its green laser supply. “Direct green lasers offer us a clearer path to market,” he said.

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