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Future tech

Alibaba invests in Swiss augmented reality navigation system maker WayRay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 11:55pm

Alibaba Group Holding has led an US$18 million funding round in a Swiss developer of augmented reality (AR)-enabled car navigation systems, as the e-commerce conglomerate continues to bet big on the wider adoption of the technology that can seamlessly mix rich digital graphics with the physical world.

The Switzerland-based start-up WayRay said on Tuesday it had closed the US$18 million Series B financing led by Alibaba, after spending US$10 million to create a patented technology for transparent holographic displays.

Apart from the new funding round, WayRay also announced it had entered a partnership deal with China’s Banma Technologies, an Alibaba-backed internet-connected car maker, to develop a new AR car infotainment system.

The new system, which is expected to be a combination of AR navigation, driving assistant notifications, a virtual dashboard and more features, will be built into one of Banma’s 2018 car models, which is hoping to be the world’s first vehicle in production with a holographic AR head-up display.

Rather than distracting drivers with a traditional navigation system, the AR head-up display is expected to improve safety as the navigation information, warnings and traffic data are placed right on the windscreen.

We will continue to pay attention to the development of leading-edge technology like augmented reality and its application to various industries, like WayRay’s AR navigation system in the auto sector
Ethan Xie, senior investment director, Alibaba Group

“At the moment, WayRay is the world’s only developer that integrates AR systems into cars. It gives us an advantage over traditional head-up displays and provides the opportunity to collaborate with the largest global car brands,” said Vitaly Ponomarev, founder and chief executive of WayRay, adding the company aims to sign contracts with major global car manufacturers in 2017 to implement its ground-breaking infotainment system.

The investment in WayRay is Alibaba’s latest move in virtual reality and augmented reality. The e-commerce giant has already offered its shoppers an end-to-end virtual-reality shopping experience, in which the entire transaction, from browsing to order to payment, is completed within a VR environment.

Alibaba led a US$793.5 million funding round in early 2016 in the United States-based Magic Leap for the development of a secretive reality simulation product.

In late 2016, it invested in Israeli company Infinity Augmented Reality, which is developing augmented reality systems for medicine, training and games.

Ethan Xie, senior investment director of the Hangzhou-based Alibaba Group, said the unlimited potential of augmented reality in the real world makes it an exciting and promising industry.

“We will continue to pay attention to the development of leading-edge technology like augmented reality and its application to various industries, like WayRay’s AR navigation system in the auto sector,” he said in the joint statement.

Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.