Alibaba brings $ 60 million into increased eyewear maker Nreal

An attendee tries on a pair of Nreal mixed reality glasses at the MWC Shanghai exhibition in Shanghai, China on Tuesday, February 23, 2021.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Alibaba has spearheaded a $ 60 million investment round in augmented reality eyewear maker Nreal, the start-up said Wednesday as Chinese tech giants look for ways to get into the metaverse theme.

Augmented reality technology imposes digital images on the real world. Users can wear the two Nreal products, Light or Air, to access AR applications such as games or movies.

AR is seen as a key technology for the so-called metaverse, the latest buzzword in Internet technology. While there is no concrete definition, the metaverse largely refers to virtual worlds in which people could work and play. AR is a way to access it.

Chinese tech giants from Tencent to Alibaba are trying to get into the act of the metaverse.

Nreal said the $ 60 million round will be used to increase R&D investment and accelerate expansion into new markets this year, including China. So far, Nreal has sold its products in a handful of markets including South Korea, Japan, Spain and the United States.

The Beijing-based start-up has attracted many high-profile investors. In September, Nreal revealed a $ 100 million funding round and counts Nio Capital, the investment arm of electric car maker Nio, and venture capital firm Sequoia Capital China among its backers. Nreal did not disclose a valuation after Alibaba’s investment, but the previous September round valued the company at $ 700 million, CNBC reported.

Chinese short video platform Kuaishou and iQiyi streaming service are also investors in Nreal.

Alibaba’s investment in Nreal could suggest a collaboration between the two, given the start-up’s work with other investors. For example, Nreal and Nio last year announced bespoke AR glasses for electric vehicles.

Alibaba has already announced plans to launch augmented reality glasses for virtual meetings this year.

Nreal also said the new cash injection would be used to strengthen existing partnerships with developers and partners “to deliver a wider range of content and experiences” to users.

Alibaba’s investment in Nreal comes at a time when regulators in China continue to scrutinize the business practices of the country’s tech giants. Internet companies have been more cautious about investing in other companies. Tencent meanwhile has lost stakes in e-commerce company JD.com and Singapore-based technology company Sea.