Alibaba leads $18m Series B in Swiss auto AR startup WayRay

Visual from WayRay Facebook page.

Chinese internet giant Alibaba has led an $18-million Series B investments in WayRay, a Swiss developer of augmented reality (AR)-enabled car navigation systems.

The transaction also sees WayRay partnering Alibaba-backed Banma Technologies, an Internet-connected car manufacturer.

The Swiss firm has reportedly invested $10 million to develop patented technology for transparent holographic displays, and its partnership with Banma is aimed at developing a new AR car infotainment system. The company maintains an R&D centre in Moscow and is currently establishing its first Chinese office in Shanghai.

This new systems – which combine AR navigation, driving assistant notifications, a virtual dashboard and additional features – will be incorporated into one of Banma’s 2018 car models.

This will result in the production of the world’s first production model with a holographic AR heads-up display. This is expected to enhance safety features.

Vitaly Ponomarev, founder and chief executive of WayRay, said, “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.”

Ponomarev adds, “In 2017, we aim to release a consumer version of Navion, our AR navigation system, and to sign contracts with major global car manufacturers to implement our ground-breaking infotainment system.”

This latest investment is a reflection of Alibaba’s push into AR and VR systems, with many analysts and industry observers believing that e-commerce majors are likely to integrate AR in their service offerings.

Earlier this year, Alibaba conducted a $6 million venture investment in Israeli AR startup Lumus. In 2016, it led a $793.5-million investment in US-based Magic Leap.

Ethan Xie, senior investment director of the Alibaba Group, commented in a joint statement: “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.”

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