Alibaba backs AR navigation startup WayRay in $18m round

WayRay has raised $18 million in a Series B round led by Alibaba, and partnered with Alibaba-backed connected car maker Banma Technologies to build new AR navigation and infotainment systems.

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Image: WayRay

Augmented reality (AR) navigation startup WayRay has raised $18 million in a Series B round led by China's Alibaba Group.

The latest round brings the total amount raised by the Swiss startup to $30 million.

WayRay, which develops holographic AR navigational solutions for connected cars, has also entered into a partnership deal with China's Banma Technologies, an Alibaba and SAIC Motors-backed internet-connected car maker, to develop a new system combining AR navigation, driving assistant notifications, and a virtual dashboard.

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Rather than distracting drivers with a traditional navigation system, WayRay claims its AR heads-up displays improve safety as the navigation information, warnings, and traffic data are placed right on the windscreen.

It's expected that WayRay's AR navigation and infotainment system, called Navion, will be built into one of Banma's 2018 car models.

Later this year, WayRay also plans to release the consumer version of Navion and secure contracts with global car manufacturers to install its system into their cars.

WayRay isn't Alibaba's first investment in virtual reality and augmented reality. At its 11:11 shopping festival in November last year, the ecommerce giant introduced its shoppers to Buy+, a virtual-reality shopping experience.

In early 2016, Alibaba also led a $793.5 million funding round in Florida-based AR firm Magic Leap to accelerate the availability of its "Mixed Reality Lightfield experience".

Later that year, Alibaba invested $15 million into Israeli company Infinity AR, which claims it can turn any device into a content augmentation platform.

Ethan Xie, senior investment director at Alibaba, said the potential of augmented reality in the real world makes it a 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," Xie said in a statement.

The news of Alibaba's investment into WayRay also comes after Intel acquired autonomous car technology provider Mobileye for $15.3 billion.

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