For this teardown, we’re joined by Telind Bench, the Lead Product Design Engineer for Orion Labs. Telind gave us a lot of great design insight into the Navdy Heads Up Display (HUD).
In case you missed it, the Navdy Head Up Display was one of the more interesting new products announced in 2014. It promised augmented reality for any vehicle, adding gesture control, navigation, phone calls, and a host of other features to its Kickstarter backers, for only $299.
More remarkable still, Navdy would provide all of these features from atop your vehicle dashboard—humming along at temperature extremes that can bake cookies or make instant slushies. To do that, it packed a full Android processor; Bluetooth and GPS antennas; and even a tiny projector into a beautiful, seamless-looking housing.
After a year and a half of delays, Navdy officially launched in late 2016, to largely positive reviews. However, it was not fated to last. By the end of 2017, Navdy publicly announced its liquidation and notified users that their devices would soon stop working.
So, what happened? We were curious to see what the Navdy HUD could tell us about the meteoric rise and fall of the company and whether there are any takeaways here that could improve our designs.
Here are the features of interest we’re drilling into for this teardown:
1. Clever design for injection molding - We found some really elegent design for injection molding, with some great lessons.
2. Heat sinking - Tearing down this product was basically a tour of different heat sink technologies. There are 5 different heat sinks on the Navdy, all optimized for different things.
3. Attention to detail - It’s clear that the Navdy team put a lot of thought and heart into creating every part of this system, including small features like the thumbwheel.
From an engineering and design perspective, the Navdy HUD is a great product. It’s innovative, well-designed, and looks, as one reviewer put it, “Like your phone and a fighter jet had a baby.”
The injection molding design on this product is excellent. The team at Navdy did a great job with a challenging set of exterior surfaces by breaking large, complex parts into smaller, simpler parts. While this strategy can certainly be taken too far, the Navdy strikes a good balance between assembly cost and tooling cost. To top it all off, they did a great job hiding the resulting parting lines at corners, so the final product looked seamless. This is definitely a product we’ll look back to for injection molding inspiration.
We can also learn a lot about heat sinking from the Navdy HUD. Putting a running projector on a vehicle dashboard is a recipe for heat-related issues, but this product pulls it off nicely. With a fan for active cooling, temperature sensors to close the control loop, and a variety of different heat sinks, the Navdy is a great example of the application of different heat sink technologies.
Despite all of that, the company went under just a year after launching their first product. What happened?
One answer might lie in the meticulous attention to detail. Navdy spent a lot of time and money developing this product and may have bitten off more risk than they could handle on their first launch. Bringing a new product to market in a new category is already very challenging. Adding on a difficult heat management problem; a sleek, minimal set of exterior surfaces; and an uncompromising focus on detail would have further increased time and cost and might have just been too much to handle all at once.
There’s evidence that the Navdy team encountered more difficulties than they anticipated. Between the prototype they showed in 2014 and the units customers received in 2016, they cut features, like a microphone and aux output, and changed the exterior surfaces. The price rose from a projected $500 to $799 at launch but was dropped to $599, then $499, and eventually $399, perhaps indicating slow sales.
Did the team’s willingness to take on risk and attention to detail price them out of their market? It’s hard to say. Other factors, like supply chain, manufacturer agreements, and business strategy all play a part in setting prices. But one thing to consider as we design our products is whether (and when) we have to sacrifice product quality for the good of the business. Sometimes, getting the device into users’ hands (and proving to investors that there is a market) is more important than delivering a perfect product. If Navdy delivered a larger, cheaper, or boxier product with simpler heat sinking, would they have gotten a chance to launch a second version? It’s impossible to know. But it’s always a good time for us to consider how our work impacts both the user and the business as a whole. Maybe have another cup of coffee before the next All Hands and see what you discover.
Telind is the Lead Product Design Engineer at Orion Labs. If you’re looking for a job, Orion is hiring! Come check us out.
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