Meet Startup @TW

Exclusive Interview with AR startup WayRay’s founder: equipping the cars of the future

With a fresh investment from Alibaba, augmented reality (AR) GPS and wearable company WayRay is set to make great strides within the car industry.

At RISE 2017 in Hong Kong, BNext/Meet had the chance to sit down with the startup’s founder Vitaly Ponomarev for an exclusive interview.

During the interview, Ponomarev expressed his views on Taiwan and his partnership with the island nation. What’s more, he also shared insights on the big four of the car industry, namely Germany, Japan, the USA, and newcomer China.

Q: Could you tell us about your initial reasons for choosing this industry?

A: I actually had a car accident in 2009, the reason being that I was checking my GPS. Luckily it was not a serious collision, no one was hurt.

At that time, “Google Glass” hadn't been invented, but I was thinking that maybe there could be a digital platform to apply 3Don AR and attach it with hardware, thereby allowing people to have access to virtual content.

This is the main reason for why I was eager to create this platform.

Q: How can AR be applied to the typically conservative car industry?

In my opinion, AR will emerge as a crucial aspect of the car industry, as it provides a means to let drivers focus on the route while they are driving, all the while giving them a chance to obtain the info they need.

Obviously, in reality we still need bigger budgets to solve many problems. For instance, how can we ensure that the images are retaining their distance to the windshield in order to let the virtual content harmonize with the real scene?

Many big car companies have tried to do that, but most have failed. There are some obstacles that hinder these developments, such as the size of the projection in relation to the size of the devices.

The solution that WayRay provides is that our devices are smaller than usual. What’s more, we can adjust the distance of the visual content based on the speed of car.

Q: You mentioned earlier that your background is in business management. How difficult is it to lead a tech company when you are not from this field?

A: I am good at math and physics, both of which have been my passions since I was a kid. In fact, I wanted to study something related to technology when I was about to enter my dream university, the “Russian MIT.” Although I did pass the entrance exam, my family couldn't afford the tuition fees. That’s why I chose to do part-time jobs to support my own finances and keep studying.

I have retained my interest in technology and turned it into a lifestyle. I soon became a website designer in my first business venture.

Since I am always curious about new technologies, I had an advantage at finding good team members to work with. In fact, we have been putting the utmost efforts in our search for experienced experts.

At WayRay, our team has many talented people from different backgrounds. We even have specialists from the aviation and military industry, which makes for a rather cool experience.

Q: Can you update us briefly about your product?

A: Of course! Our current product is named “Element.” The core idea of Element is that it is a “Wearable product for cars.” It’s in the beta stage right now, but basically ready to enter the American and Chinese market.

Our other product is named “Navion” and will enter the beta stage this December. We anticipate market entry for the next year.

Q: What are WayRay’s plans for the future?

We want to work on embedded systems for cars, a project we estimate to commence next year. For this project, we will cooperate with car companies, with an unofficial launch ETA set for Q2 of 2020. The goal is to provide AR systems for cars, including autonomous ones.

Actually, while normal cars will get an improved GPS system, autonomous vehicles are the much more interesting segment, something we call “Google on the wheel.”

We chose the Chinese market for our public entry because of the scale of its market. Moreover, the competitive nature of the Chinese car industry makes it the perfect environment for innovative products.

Q: Can you share with us your views on the car industries in Germany, Japan, and the USA. Is WayRay in a good position to cooperate, or will you compete with them?

A: Germany, without any doubt, maintains the leadership position within the car industry. We have learnt a lot from their carmakers.

When it comes to Japan, I think that the Japanese car industry is almost at the same level as Germany. However, the Japanese are less likely to engage in innovative experiments since their character is more conservative.

The USA has a good car industry, but I think that Germans still excel in regard to quality. One advantage of American manufacturers are their close links to Silicon Valley, however.

I believe America will be a forerunner when it comes to advanced Transportation as a Service companies, a field in which they already shine with Uber and Lift.

Personally, however, I am convinced that sooner or later China will outshine all others, especially in the autonomous car sector. As I mentioned earlier, the fierce competition forces them to innovate at an increasingly high speed.

Aiming to distinguish themselves from renowned European car brands, Chinese carmakers have been actively searching for innovative means to outshine established brands. We give them a chance to shine!

Q: Finally, what are your impressions of Taiwan?

A: We have a really good connection to Foxconn. I have been to Taiwan last December for a meeting with Foxconn’s Terry Gou and his colleagues. There we discussed possible cooperation, albeit without reaching any conclusive arrangements.

Even though our cooperation did not come about, I still appreciate Foxconn’s support for innovation and startups.

I really like Taiwan, as it has a long history in manufacturing and semiconductors. We are regularly buying components from Taiwan, since the quality is really good.

Myself, I actually regret that I did not have the chance to see much of the island during my business trips. I sincerely hope I can have more chances to visit again in the future!

Feliciana Hsu
English journalist and PR for Global Affairs

Feliciana gained her MSc of Media Power and Public Affairs from Royal Holloway, University of London.

After graduating from London, she started her career of being journalist at Business Next Media and Meet Startup @TW Website, and specializes in interviewing about innovation and technology.

Within her career, she has interviewed various experts in their field, including Fleur Pellerin, former French Minister of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and Sir Christopher Pissarides, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economic in 2010.