Posted on July 11, 2017 by staff

Ultrahaptics’ virtual buttons are future of in-car control


Imagine being able to choose music or alter the climate control as you drive with simple swipes of your hand.

It could be a reality sooner than you think.

The technology making Bristol-based Ultrahaptics one of the world’s hottest tech companies first appeared in 2009. Computer science student Tom Carter’s work became the longest-running PhD at the University of Bristol until it was finally finished, after seven years, in November 2016.

He is now CTO at Ultrahaptics. The company’s CEO Steve Cliffe admits the co-founder was “distracted somewhat”.

Particularly popular with car-makers, the technology uses ultrasound to project sensations onto a hand – effectively creating buttons out of thin air.

Cliffe, who met Carter in Bristol’s Engine Shed, explained to BusinessCloud: “We’ve probably got the majority of car-makers on our customer list as well as the tier ones that supply them.

“You hold your hand out, the button comes to your hand. You don’t have to look and find it, it just comes to you. And that has fuelled our growth and fuelled the cash.

“When you reach out to touch a steering wheel, or touch a dashboard where the button is, you’ll feel it – even though it doesn’t exist.”

It can be difficult for firms in the South West to find investment, certainly when compared with those based in London.

But Ultrahaptics has had little trouble sourcing cash.

“Once we’d raised the seed round which was about $1m, I quit my job as corporate business and development officer for Plesi and we started to build the customer base,” Cliffe continued.

“This was much more exciting. The seed money came from IP Group which is a FTSE 250 business specialising in investing in university spin-outs. But we went out to raise somewhere between £5-8m and actually got offered £25m.

“We were oversubscribed by a factor of five and took in £10.1m, which was slightly more than we wanted to, but the valuation went up so we were pleased.

“It meant we could get on with what we were supposed to be doing rather than worrying about the money.”

A further funding round recently yielded an additional £17.9m investment in Ultrahaptics.

The firm intends to use the cash to support global expansion and its entry into virtual and augmented reality markets.