Make Way for WayRay

PHOTO by Mikhail Goldenkov / Secretmag.ru
WayRay, Swiss-based Russian startup and the developer of an innovative navigation system, receives $18-million investment

During the latest financing round, the company attracted $3 million from unnamed investors while Alibaba provided $15 million. Vitaly Ponomayrov, the CEO of WayRay, confirmed that the amount was accurate, he did not disclose the specifics of the deal.

Founded in Russia and now based in Switzerland, the developer of an augmented-reality navigational system has attracted over $28 million in funding since 2012. It should be noted that the startup is not currently selling its products and thus has zero revenue. Read the full story of Ponomaryov’s startup and this milestone deal in SECRETMAG’s publication, “WayRay’s Silk Road.”

WayRay is currently developing two products: the Navion navigational system and the Element, a device that analyses one’s driving habits. Navion is expected to be finished by the end of the year and Element is scheduled for US retail launch this spring. Ponomaryov also said that his company plans to sign contracts with “leading global car manufacturers” this year.

Wayray
WayRay's interface resembles a video game: aside from the actual route that is 'projected' right on the street, the navigation system can also display one's speed, time and safety level, and it can even give tips on interesting places to visit nearby

The $18 million from the latest investment round will be dedicated to the launch of WayRay products and the development of a new automotive infotainment system that utilises augmented reality. The latter is a collaboration between WayRay and China’s Banma Technologies, a joint venture of the Alibaba Group and Chinese automotive company SAIC Motor. The “world’s first car outfitted with a holographic head-up display” is slated for production in 2018.

Navion, a device no larger than a book, is hidden in the dashboard and projects images on a transparent screen. The driver can control the navigational system with his voice and gestures or through an app.

Navion has a viewing angle of up to ten degrees while existing models offer only five degrees. Ponomaryov assured that this cannot be beaten by any existing civilian automotive head-up display. The only thing that’s better is the human eye itself, with a 100° viewing angle for both eyes.

The WayRay navigator in action
VIDEO by vc.ru / YouTube

Navion’s main selling point is “natural navigation.” The prototype draws green dynamic pointers on the road that change shape to correspond to the terrain. “We can position virtual elements in the real world very precisely based on the car’s velocity and turning angle in real time,” Ponomaryov said. “It’s as if the virtual world is contained within the real one.”

Over the last few years, the Alibaba Group has invested billions of dollars in tech startups all over the globe. For instance, it invested over $5 billion in the Chinese taxi app Didi, which acquired Uber last year; $1 billion went towards Indian payment system Paytm; and $795 million was invested in the US-based Magic Leap, a startup that promises an augmented reality revolution.