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Nreal, a maker of augmented reality glasses, has raised $60 million in a funding round led by China’s ecommerce giant Alibaba.
Beijing-based Nreal is one of the few companies still standing from the early wave of AR glasses makers. And last year it unveiled the second-generation Nreal Air glasses with big improvements.
The Series C+ funding will be used to increase investment in R&D, accelerate the company’s global business expansion to new markets this year — including China — and strengthen Nreal’s existing partnerships with developers and partners to deliver a wider range of content and experiences to users.
The goal of the Beijing-based company is to keep moving fast on the leading edge of the technology and create multiple generations of products so that it can be ready with the right one when the AR market takes off. The company is pitching the device as a “portable movie theater.”
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Nreal wants to lead the AR glasses movement with lightweight glasses. Nreal has established partnerships with more than 10 world-renowned carriers and brought its product to six countries to date.
Xu said that advancements in AR technology have accelerated exponentially since Nreal Light was first unveiled. And that makes smaller and more compact augmented reality technology available. The company has also designed the new glasses for specific applications, such as streaming TV shows and playing mobile games.
The aim is to create an immersive experience in a form factor indistinguishable from daily worn sunglasses. Nreal hasn’t disclosed the exact tech details, but he said the Nreal Air boasts the best display on the market available for any AR device, as it is capable of projecting up to a (simulated) 201-inch virtual display, when viewed at a distance of six meters, which is well suited for watching multimedia content.
The glasses will still be tethered to your smartphone, just like the Nreal Light. But the glasses are about a third lighter and are more comfortable to wear than many previous AR glasses, Xu said.
The device has a micro-OLED display. Nreal Air’s display has a high density of colors, with as many as 49 pixels per degree (PPD). This ensures that fine details are clearly visible and enhances the realism of the content, Xu said. And it has a refresh rate of up to 90Hz, and the features don’t drain the phone’s battery.
As one of the survivors, Nreal has been able to raise more than $245 million to date, including $200 million in the past year. The first glasses debuted in South Korea, Japan, and Europe. Xu said the company has more than 250 employees. Xu said he believes the headquarters in China is an advantage.
Alibaba’s investment in Nreal follows previous strategic investments from leading brands and institutions including NIO, Kuaishou, and iQIYI, as more firms make the leap from exploring to developing AR-based integrations within their existing businesses.
Other key investors backing Nreal from previous rounds include Yunfeng Capital, Sequoia China, Hillhouse, NIO Capital, Aplus, CICC Capital, Shunwei Capital, CPE, China Growth Capital, among other world-renowned investors.
Nreal’s latest milestones
Key to Nreal’s localized sales strategy are its carrier partners, enabling Nreal to regionally sell its line of AR glasses including Nreal Light and Nreal Air.
Most recently, Nreal Light began retailing in the United States in Verizon stores nationwide, before selling out within the first day. And to drive interest among consumers in February, Nreal launched Nreal’s brand new line of ultra-thin AR glasses, Nreal Air through an online and offline retail partnership with NTT DOCOMO and KDDI, two leading telecom operators in Japan.
In December, Nreal and NIO announced the electric vehicle industry’s first AR glasses tailored for EVs will integrate with NIO’s PanoCinema, a panoramic and immersive “digital cockpit.” The new AR glasses for EV are slated to enter the market in 2022.
Nreal also announced a partnership with streaming service Cinedigm. The partnership offers original content and channels, available on the Nreal Light AR glasses. Audiences can enjoy watching their shows on one virtual HD screen, while multitasking on up to two adjacent virtual screens, all at once.
Nreal updated its software development kit (SDK), enabling content providers to stream DRM video content on Nreal’s AR glasses. In addition, Nreal partnered with Accedo to introduce the first interactive AR design reference for interactive AR games or video viewing experiences.
Founded in 2017, Nreal has nearly 400 employees.
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