Discover the Rising Stars №003: Interview with FUTURUS Founder Xu Junfeng

Alibaba Cloud Innovation Center has introduced a new column, Discover the Rising Stars, to shed light on the backgrounds of entrepreneurs and company innovations. Through interviews, live streams, and other media approaches, we will deliver valuable news stories from multiple perspectives and dimensions, to offer you the real voices of entrepreneurs and to witness the power of technological innovations.

Using light field display technology to achieve a perfect blend of “virtual” and “reality”, and using “human machine interaction” to greatly enlarge the “third space” and create the kind of personalized experience that users look for in new lifestyle environments: the fifth “Discover the Rising Stars” interviews 2021 CACSC & BMW Group “Internet of Vehicles” Global Finals Runner-Up FUTURUS founder Xu Junfeng to talk about the cutting edge of in-car human machine interaction.

The Only “Dark Technology” Company in China

Xu Junfeng graduated from Nanjing University’s Intensive Instruction Program with a focus in math and physics. After graduation he worked for several foreign Fortune 500 companies doing research and operations management. In 2008, he began studying LED projection and 3D display technology at home as a hobby.

Building on his interest in optics technology, in 2015 he started his own company, and in August 2016 changed the name to “FUTURUS (Beijing) Dark Technology Co., Ltd.” Xu jokes that “We are the only company in the country registered as a ‘dark technology’ company”. But it turns out this name is a very appropriate reflection of FUTURUS and its products.

Different Products for Different Use Scenarios

Early on FUTURUS created an aftermarket voice-activated HUD called “BaiLuDa” that could search road conditions and directions, send messages, and control audio playback. It sold not that well, but more importantly it generated a lot of interest from car manufacturers asking if FUTURUS could design a built-in HUD. After thoroughly studying the market, Xu found that new cars outfitted with the latest technology often lacked a suitable human-machine interface or HUD and corresponding input technology. So FUTURUS began developing more HUD products.

HUDs use light reflected off the windshield to project information outside of the vehicle, seemingly 2 to 4 meters in front of the driver. The technology has a very high-tech feel, but is also very safe and practical. FUTURUS has developed different products for different types of vehicles.

Standard HUDs offer high performance at a low cost and have a short development cycle; intelligent HUDs have bigger displays and are more suitable for today’s smart cars.

The stars in FUTURUS’ product lineup are its Light Field Augmented Reality HUD and full environment display technology. Using light field display technology, FUTURUS developed a true light field AR HUD that projects virtual images onto the exterior environment (e.g. roads, buildings, signs, even adverts) and seamlessly integrates the virtual with the real world. Full environment display technology allows the entire surface area of the windshield to be used, not only for standard automotive applications but also video-calls, work and entertainment. These two technologies are currently cutting-edge globally.

In addition to automotive products, FUTURUS is developing optics for other areas as well. 3D hologram technology for example allows 3D images to be created on a tabletop, and even allows remote meeting participants to be projected in front of an audience. This technology has many potential applications in smart cities, smart parks and smart traffic, and is going into mass production this year.

“Disruptive” Technology

“The technology we are developing seems very science fiction, very ‘disruptive’, as if it won’t be widely available for a long time. But actually, our business strategies and technologies have all been thoroughly thought through, and even though they look very cutting edge, they will actually be widely available within 3 to 5 years. They’re all things with high entry thresholds and high industry ceilings. We’re at a very important time in human history, especially for intelligent automobiles, and there are big changes coming that will completely transform the industry. Our smart products are riding this wave and will hopefully prove very useful.” Xu Junfeng says.

The global pandemic and the volatile international situation have lead to unprecedented changes in China, and these changes present both “dangers” and “opportunities” for companies, including those in the intelligent vehicle industry. At present, many upstream companies and “toB” companies serving automobile manufacturers are uncertain and anxious about the future of the industry. Xu Junfeng thinks that the answer is simple: most of the time “customer value” and “user value” are the same, but during certain times of rapid change, many customers are uncertain about what user value will look like in the near future. So if we can ascertain clearly what users need and provide our customers with advice and corresponding products and technical solutions, then these problems can be solved. Ultimately, users are the ones who pay the bill.

High Speed Growth: A Mixed Blessing

Xu believes that China’s innovation infrastructure is weaker than that of developed countries, with many companies focused on developing foreign-owned and import substitute technologies. Very few Chinese people are developing “uncharted territory”. The government has regulated foreign-owned technology, but China’s venture capital has been slow moving. In China’s huge market, mobile networks have been profitable, so investment has been focused on internet (high risk, high profits) and traditional industry (low risk, relatively high profits), with very little venture capital going towards cutting edge hardware. So finding financial backing was difficult at first. Fortunately FUTURUS’ perseverance has paid off, and in the near future it will be revolutionizing the auto industry. FUTURUS has also secured several hundred million RMB worth of investment, and has numerous other potential investors, so financing has become much easier.”

CACSC Runner-Up in the Spotlight

FUTURUS has partnered with BMW and in 2020 moved into the Alibaba Cloud Innovation Center — BMW Startup Garage Joint Innovation Base (Shanghai Jinqiao). The company also participated in the 2021 CACSC & BMW Group “Internet of Vehicles” Global Finals, where it finished second. “The CACSC Finals is like a ‘Maker Olympics’. During the competition we attracted lots of attention from investors and made lots of new friends in the industry. We hope to work together with them to move the industry forward. We also want to say to entrepreneurs, that before you start a company, you need to really do your research, so that you’re not just drifting with the prevailing currents. We’re witnessing unprecedented changes, it’s a turning point for technology. We must see clearly and think deeply about the future, and not just do what everyone else is doing. We want to be among the minority that gets it right.” says Xu.

In the near future, our social and economic development will be switching over to a completely new operating system. And the language used to develop this new operating system will rely on technology, the internet of things, and culture. FUTURUS is in touch with these changes, and as it matures it is also stimulating technological growth. The future is here, and it’s full of opportunities for FUTURUS.

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