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The Beijing-based firm is amongst the few remaining businesses from the early wave of AR eyewear manufacturers.
Augmented reality glasses maker Nreal has secured $60 million in a funding round led by e-commerce giant Alibaba. The Chinese start-up firm announced on Wednesday that the latest funds will be channeled to research enhancement and development as well as expedite expansion into new regions this year, notably China. Nreal has only sold its products in a few markets so far, including South Korea, Japan, Spain, and the United States.
Nreal also revealed that the latest cash injection would be used to deepen the existing partnerships with developers and partners “to deliver a wider range of content and experiences” to users.
Augmented reality technology imposes digital images over the real world. Users can access AR apps such as games and movies by wearing one of Nreal’s two eyewear products, the Light or the Air. The Beijing-based firm is amongst the few remaining businesses from the early wave of AR eyewear manufacturers. The company also launched the second-generation Nreal Air glasses with significant advancements last year.
According to Nreal, its goal is to accelerate on the leading edge of the technology by developing multiple generations of products to settle on the ‘right one’ the AR market takes off. The company is pitching the device as a “portable movie theater.”
The Beijing-based start-up has also designed the new glasses for specific applications, including streaming TV shows and playing mobile games.
Chi Xu, the founder of the company, told reporters that, since the debut of Nreal Light, AR technology has advanced tremendously and as a result, augmented reality technology can be made smaller and more compact.
Xu added that the company seeks to produce an immersive experience in a form factor that is unrecognizably different from everyday sunglasses. Although Nreal hasn’t revealed all of the technical details, the company claims that the Nreal Air has the best display of any AR gadget on the market, capable of projecting up to a (simulated) 201-inch virtual display when viewed from a distance of six meters, which is ideal for watching multimedia content.
Alibaba’s latest investment has been dubbed as an attempt to get in on the metaverse action. The company has already announced plans to launch augmented reality glasses this year for virtual meetings.
Nreal was founded in 2017 by Magic Leap veteran Chi Xu and has through the years attracted several notable investors. Amongst its partners includes Chinese electric vehicle upstart Nio, Kuaishou, a short video app and rival to TikTok in China, and Baidu-backed video streaming platform iQIYI.
Nreal announced a $100 million funding round back in September last year and named Nio Capital, the investment arm of electric carmaker Nio, and venture capital firm Sequoia Capital China, amongst its investors. Although the company did not disclose a valuation after Alibaba’s investment, several reports valued it at $700 million.