Alibaba’s interest in cars speeds up with WayRay investment

16 Mar 2017

WayRay develops holographic dashboard displays. Image: WayRay

Alibaba is the lead investor in an $18m Series B funding round for smart car technology developer WayRay, continuing the former’s connected car road plan.

Connected vehicles is an area that seemingly every tech company is trying to get in on. In a week that saw Intel snap up Israeli car technology company Mobileye for $15.3bn, Alibaba, no stranger to this industry, dug its nails into WayRay.

Leading an $18bn funding round into the company, which develops holographic technology for car dashboards, this was the latest in a long line of connected vehicle investment from the Chinese e-commerce giant.

That long line is connected, too.

For example, one of Alibaba’s earliest forays into this space came two years ago, when it joined up with Chinese automaker SAIC to invest around €150m into the development of internet-enabled cars.

And now WayRay has revealed that, to complement the funding, it has partnered with Banma Technologies, a start-up funded by that original deal with Alibaba and SAIC.

WayRay will now produce Navion, an augmented reality (AR) heads-up display (HUD) for drivers that will be built into one of SAIC Motors’ 2018 models. This is a technological first, according to the company.

WayRay develops holographic dashboard displays. Image: WayRay

WayRay develops holographic dashboard displays. Image: WayRay

“At the moment, WayRay is the world’s only developer that integrates augmented reality systems into cars,” said Vitaly Ponomarev, company founder and CEO.

“It gives us an advantage over traditional HUDs and provides the opportunity to collaborate with the largest global car brands.

“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 groundbreaking infotainment system,” Ponomarev said.

Alibaba was joined in the latest funding round by some existing investors, with WayRay now sporting a total of $30m raised to date.

When buying Mobileye this week, Intel claimed that the autonomous vehicle market – which is where the car market in general is heading – will be worth $70bn by 2030. Other estimates are up to 50pc greater.

Alibaba, in this latest movement, seems to agree that the currently nascent industry is set to soar.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic