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Baidu

Virtual reality tech start-up 8i raises US$27m Series B funding from investors including Baidu

Online search giant’s Baidu Ventures is focused on early stage investments in the artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality markets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 9:19am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 10:38pm

Chinese online search giant Baidu’s newly formed venture capital arm, Baidu Ventures, has made its first investment as part of the US$27 million Series B fundraising round of 8i, a specialist in augmented and virtual reality technologies.

Nasdaq-listed Baidu said on Tuesday that it will also cooperate with United States-based 8i on future product development.

The latest investment round of 8i was led by Time Warner Investments. Other participants include Verizon Ventures, Hearst Ventures, One Ventures and German businessman Carsten Maschmeyer’s Seed & Speed Ventures.

That has brought the total funding raised by 8i to US$41 million. Its early investors include Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, Samsung Venture Investment and San Francisco-based Founders Fund, a venture capital firm backed by PayPal co-founder and outspoken Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel.

Established in September, Baidu Ventures is focused on early stage investments in the artificial intelligence, AR and VR markets with an initial US$200 million fund.

Baidu’s involvement with 8i has come amid the start-up company’s preparations to launch its Holo mobile app this year, which would bring its 3D imaging technology to smartphones.

“AI is at the core of AR technology,” Baidu Ventures partner Daisy Cai said in a statement. “At Baidu, we believe AR technology will have applications across a wide range of industries. 8i’s advanced technology, research and development, and management are all top-notch.”

AI is at the core of AR technology. At Baidu, we believe AR technology will have applications across a wide range of industries. 8i’s advanced technology, research and development, and management are all top-notch
Daisy Cai , Baidu Ventures partner

Founded by Linc Gasking and Eugene d’Eon in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2014, 8i has since expanded its operations in Los Angeles, California, where its second headquarters and production studio are set up.

The company’s proprietary 3D human imaging technology transforms high-definition video from multiple cameras into what it described as “fully volumetric recording of a human that viewers can walk around in virtual reality and augmented reality, or interact with on the web”.

Through its holographic software called Holo, 8i said it aims to create “low-cost, high-definition 3D human imaging for large-scale applications”.

It has developed a series of core algorithms for functions including image capture, stitching and patching, and compression, which are adaptable across all AR and VR platforms. Holo technology has supported major companies, including L’oreal and Time, in the areas of training and advertisement, it said.

The 8i team includes experienced recruits from Weta Digital, Pixar, Hong Kong-listed Digital Domain,YouTube, Nvidia, PayPal, Microsoft Research, Sony Computer Entertainment, Industrial Light & Magic and Valve Corp.

Baidu Ventures chief executive Liu Wei said: “We look forward to exploring the grand artificial intelligence era with all the parties involved, including entrepreneurs, investors, corporate partners.”

HSBC analysts Tsang Chi and Wang Qin described Baidu in a report last month as “the artificial intelligence leader in China”, with core competencies in image and voice recognition.

Apart from powering online search results, AI is also being used by Baidu in its advertising optimisation, newsfeed, takeout delivery business and autonomous driving initiative.