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WayRay Creates Holographic Navigation: Alibaba Invests $18 Million

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【Summary】WayRay hopes to be a pioneer of holographic AR displays for the automotive industry, and specializes in holographic optical elements that enable an augmented reality (AR) projection system that is significantly more compact than traditional mirror and lens based projection technology.

Original Eric Walz    May 22, 2017 4:43 PM PT
WayRay Creates Holographic Navigation: Alibaba Invests $18 Million

By Eric Walz

WayRay has received much attention recently. The Swiss based company developed the first ever holographic navigation system for cars, which the company calls the Navion, an augmented reality navigation system that allows the driver to see navigation information laid out on the road ahead via holographic projections.

WayRay hopes to be a pioneer of holographic AR displays for the automotive industry, and specializes in holographic optical elements that enable an augmented reality (AR) projection system that is significantly more compact than traditional mirror and lens based projection technology. This allows for high-resolution projection in direct line of sight of the driver, specifically for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) applications such as augmented navigation.

The Navion

The WayRay Navion creates an augmented reality (AR), where a virtual route is holographically projected into the regular focal range of the driver. The driver sees the navigation signs laid out directly on the road ahead of the moving vehicle, so his/her eyes remain safely focused on the road at all times. The company refers to this concept "natural navigation" and believes it will change the way people drive.

The compact device is powered by a quad-core 1.5 GHz processor. It is placed on the car's dashboard and projects holographic navigation information onto the road ahead. In contrast to other AR devices currently on the market, there is no additional eyewear or headwear needed to see the image. Navion's innovative interface provides the driver with clear route indicators even in bright sunlight.

Since WayRay's primary goal is to make the driving experience safer, Navion responds to simple hand gestures and voice control. For extra safety, certain features are available for use only when the car is stopped or moving at a very low speed.

The company first developed the WayRay Element, a smart "wearable" car tracker to be released soon that collects data from a vehicle's OBD 2 port and transforms it into insightful statistics about the driver using the app. The Element works in conjunction with the WayRay's Navion.

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RayWay's Element which provides real-time driving statistics

Alibaba Invests in WayRay

After launching its first car last year, Alibaba is investing further into the automobile industry. The Chinese Internet and e-commerce company is the lead investor in WayRay's $18 million Series B round, the startup announced in March of 2017.

According to its funding announcement, WayRay has already spent $10 million of its own capital, as well as Angel and Series A venture capital, to create a patented technology for transparent holographic displays The company plans to launch a consumer version of its 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 (AR) 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."

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."

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Alibaba made its debut in the car industry last summer, when the RX5, a smart car it developed with SAIC. 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.

WayRay Also Partners With Harman

In January of 2017, WayRay announced a strategic collaboration with Harman, the car audio giant that was acquired by Samsung in March.

Harman recently announced a new Digital Cockpit platform capable of driving multiple functional domains within the car, including the center displays and infotainment, instrumentation cluster, advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), audio and sound management, lighting, e-mirrors, navigation, drive assist, and even an intelligent personal assistant.

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"Harman's collaboration with WayRay further solidifies our commitment to deliver seamless, integrated, connected, and safer driving experiences," Phil Eyler, president of Harman Connected Car, said in a statement. "As the leader in the connected car space, Harman is committed to driving innovation across the industry to deliver on the needs of both drivers and passengers."

WayRay was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Switzerland. The company has offices in Moscow, San Francisco, and China.

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