Baidu Ventures invests in hologram start-up 8i

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Baidu Ventures, the AI investment arm of the Chinese search giant, has joined a $27m series B funding round for US and New Zealand-based 8i, which creates holographic images for VR and AR applications.

The company, which is set to roll out its Holo app later this year, has developed technology that transforms high-definition videos of people, shot with multiple cameras, into photo-realistic 3D holograms.

These holograms, expected to be of celebrities, musicians and popular characters, can then be placed into real world environments using VR headsets or mobiles phones.

Speaking to CNBC, Baidu Ventures partner Daisy Cai explained: “It makes 3D models of people that you can view through your VR headsets or you can also play or interact with on your AR application on your smartphone.”

Baidu is joining a funding round led by Founders Fund, Samsung, Time Warner Investments and Verizon Ventures, among others. It marks Baidu Ventures’ first investment since the $200m fund was set up in September 2016 to focus on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality projects.

Last August, Baidu launched AR platform DuSee, a few months ahead of Google’s rollout of its Tango AR platform. Baidu’s advertising clients such as L’Oreal are using the platform to create ad campaigns that enable users to interact with computer-generated visuals via their smartphones.

Video streaming platform iQiyi, which is owned by Baidu, also has ambitions in VR production and distribution. In May 2016, the company unveiled plans to build out a VR platform, as well as co-produce VR movie, Iron Fists Of The Despicable.

In 2016, China-based investors poured $1.2bn into VR and AR companies and projects, according to CB Insights.

Some of the biggest deals include Alibaba’s participation in series C funding of $794m for VR company Magic Leap and an $80m funding round for NextVR, involving CMC Holdings, NetEase and CITIC GuoAn. Last August, China-backed STX Entertainment acquired VR content producer Surreal.