After launching its first car last year, Alibaba is digging deeper into the automobile industry. The Chinese Internet and e-commerce giant is the lead investor in smart car tech developer WayRay’s $18 million Series B round, the startup announced.
Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland – WayRay makes holographic navigation systems. The technology offers wide viewing angles while requiring less space for hardware and control systems, the company says. According to its funding announcement, WayRay has already spent $10 million of its own capital, as well as previous venture funding, on the technology that underpins Navion, an augmented-reality dashboard that overlays directions and other information onto a driver’s view of the road. The company plans to launch a consumer version of Navion in 2017.
In a prepared statement, Alibaba Group’s senior investment director, Ethan Xie, said, “We believe there is huge potential in 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. The potential of augmented reality makes it an exciting and promising area.”
Alibaba made its debut in the car industry last summer, when the RX5, a smart car it developed with SAIC (one of China’s “big four” state-owned auto manufacturers — opened for pre-orders. The RX5 uses Alibaba’s Yun operating system and the company hopes to make the vehicle part of an Internet-of-Things ecosystem that will include its other smart hardware and Internet services like Alipay.
But Alibaba’s smart cars are already up against rivals from other big Chinese tech companies like LeEco, which bills its electric car LeSee as “the first mobility ecosystem on wheels,” and Baidu, which is developing smart car technology and autonomous vehicles with BAIC, another of China’s big four state-owned automakers.
WayRay also said that it will partner with Banma Technologies — a joint venture between Alibaba Group and SAIC — to create an augmented-reality navigation and entertainment system for a car that will be launched by Banma in 2018. WayRay claims that this is “the world’s first vehicle in-production with a holographic AR head-up display.”
“At the moment, WayRay is the world’s only developer that integrates augmented reality systems into cars. This gives us an advantage over traditional HUDs and provides the opportunity to collaborate with the largest global car brands,” stated company founder and CEO Vitaly Ponomarev.
In a previous round of funding which took place in November 2015, Sistema, a Russian conglomerate, and Tsertum Invest, a discrete Russian investment and construction firm, put an undisclosed amount in the company. Sistema did not take part in the latest round led by Alibaba.