Alibaba Expands Into Augmented Reality, IoT Cars

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Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s (BABA) expansion into new markets is taking it into many different areas including augmented reality and cars. With the Chinese ecommerce giant rolling out its first internet-enabled car with SAIC Motor Corp. in July, it’s now making an investment in a startup that makes AR navigation systems for vehicles.

According to a report in TechCrunch, Alibaba was the lead investor in a Series B round of funding that yielded WayRay $18 million in venture capital. WayRay makes an AR navigation dashboard dubbed the Navion that provides directions and information in front of the driver. WayRay is aiming to launch a consumer version of the technology this year. “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,” said Ethan Xie, Alibaba’s senior investment director, in a statement to TechCrunch.

Banma JV Will Also Get WayRay Tech

The startup is also partnering with Banma Technologies, which is a joint venture between Alibaba and SACI, to develop an AR navigation system that includes entertainment for a vehicle that will come out in 2018. According to TechCrunch, WayRay boasts it will be the “world’s first vehicle in-production with a holographic AR head-up display.” The new navigation system will display directions and traffic data, warnings and other route information on the driver’s view of the road as if it was actually there. TechCrunch reported the appearance of the information will be impacted by how fast the car is going or the angle it rotates at turns.

In July, Alibaba announced the new internet-connected car that was rolled out for the China market as it looks to expand into the burgeoning market for connected devices otherwise known as the Internet of Things. (See also: Alibaba Inks Deal With Alibaba Pictures Group.)

The OS Car RX5 sport utility vehicle enables drivers to perform certain functions such as booking and purchasing parking spaces, pay for gas and even get coffee via its mobile payment system, Alipay, all while behind the wheel. Owners of the car are given an “Internet ID” that enables the operating system to recognize the user and make recommendations for the type of music, the temperature in the car or provide nearby restaurant info based on previous trips. For Alibaba, all of the efforts are designed to expand beyond the ecommerce market in China, which is getting saturated. Earlier this month, Alibaba took another step to diversify beyond ecommerce in China. Setting its sights on India, Alibaba raised its stake in Paytm E-Commerce Pvt., the Indian ecommerce arm of the payment company.