Alibaba pours millions into AR glasses maker Nreal as it bets on metaverse

Alibaba pours millions into AR glasses maker Nreal as it bets on metaverse. (Photo by AFP) / China OUT

Alibaba pours millions into AR glasses maker Nreal as it bets on metaverse

  • AR, VR and XR are dubbed by many as the primary ways for people to access metaverse platforms in the future.
  • Alibaba leading a US$60 million funding round into Chinese AR start-up Nreal is seen as the e-commerce giant’s move deeper into the metaverse space.
  • In 2020, Alibaba’s workplace messaging app DingTalk collaborated with Nreal and released a pair of AR glasses.

In October last year, Alibaba’s head of Extended Realtiy (XR), Tan Ping defined the metaverse as “the internet on VR and AR glasses”. He reckons that virtual reality and augmented reality will be the computing platform of the next generation. Tan was basically summarizing the direction Alibaba has been heading towards–the metaverse.

After Alibaba’s workplace messaging app DingTalk released a pair of AR glasses in collaboration with Beijing-based AR glasses maker NReal in 2020, the company is now leading a US$ 60 million investment round in the same company. The move came as major internet companies continue to elbow their way into the metaverse realm.

To recall, when DingTalk and NReal released a pair of AR glasses two years ago, they featured the DingTalk app, which enabled a “3D virtual meeting room”, allowing users to make conference calls with a headset. This time however, Alibaba made no mention of the details of its Nreal investment. 

“We aim to support entrepreneurship and encourage technology innovation,” an Alibaba representative told South China Morning Post. Nreal on the other hand said in a statement that it aims to work on product innovation “instead of chasing hot trends”.

“We think that metaverse won’t exist in a way that’s detached from reality, but will be the combination of the real world and the virtual world. AR glasses will be the best point of entry to that, and could be the final piece of screen that humans ever need,” NReal noted.

To be fair, Chinese tech giants have been scrambling to stake their positions in the metaverse space ever since Meta announced their venture. In fact, just one day after Facebook announced its corporate name change to Meta, Chinese search engine Baidu applied to trademark the name “metaapp,” while Chinese gaming giant NetEase filed dozens of trademark applications related to the buzzword. 

Even Alibaba registered several trademarks, including “Ali Metaverse”. Other ventures include TikTok maker ByteDance acquiring Chinese VR hardware maker Pico for an undisclosed amount last August. Tencent Holdings, the world’s largest video game company, has also indicated an interest in the metaverse. 

The company is reportedly pursuing an acquisition of gaming smartphone maker Black Shark, currently owned by Xiaomi, to obtain its hardware capabilities. Overall, Alibaba has invested at least US$1 billion in AR and vr start-ups in recent years, Nikkei Asia reported.