Just weeks after announcing the availability of its new Augmented Reality-focused ARKit, Apple has announced that it has acquired Germany-based SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) for an undisclosed sum of money, according to a report by MacRumors. Founded in 1991, SMI has done some incredible work in the research and development of advanced eye-tracking applications in AR/VR tech. The firm has conducted a ton of research utilizing its proprietary eyeglass hardware to help develop consumer focused eye-tracking platforms for virtual reality applications.
These efforts resulted, late last year, in SMI’s creation of a development kit designed exclusively for the $799 HTC Vive VR headset. However the firm has championed other new technologies and techniques in recent years, like “foveated rendering,” which allows eye-tracking equipment to track the location of a user’s gaze in order to render higher-resolution images only to that focal area of the display. According to SMI and a number of leading experts in the AR/VR field, foveated rendering is “an essential step” to bringing ultra-high resolution displays to AR/VR headsets. Moreover, since the technology is designed to enhance resolution only in the area where a user’s gaze is detected, the other portions of the display are blurred, which in turn reduces demand for power on the headset’s CPU and components.
The deal remains largely under wraps at this time, and Apple isn’t known for publicly divulging major details about its acquisitions or imminent plans. To that end, when reached for further comment on the SMI deal, an Apple spokesperson reiterated the classic “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans” line.
So while we don’t have many details to share about what Apple plans to do with its newly-acquired eye-tracking technology, plenty of signs suggest that we could see an Apple-branded AR/VR headset be released — and perhaps even as early as later this year. Back in February, iDrop News reported that Apple was rumored to be working on a device called the iGlass, which, much akin to the unsuccessful Google Glass before it, would act as a lens through which users will be able to explore their imminent world in augmented reality. No word on when, or even if, this iGlass headset will debut — but Apple is most certainly at work on some kind of AR/VR hardware products, so we’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with.
In the meantime, Apple’s ARKit will provide developers with a solid platform from which they can get a head start on creating apps designed to take advantage of immersive AR/VR capabilities rumored the the iPhone 8 and beyond.