In a move that is sure to stoke rumors about Apple’s future work in augmented and virtual reality technologies, Apple has acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), a eye-tracking firm, MacRumors reports.
The German company, which was founded in 1991, has done significant work in eye-tracking research with proprietary eyeglass hardware while also working on consumer-focused applications like eye-tracking for VR. Last year, the company announced that it had created an eye-tracking development kit for the HTC Vive VR headset.
We reached out to Apple for confirmation of the acquisition and they gave us their classic line, “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
We don’t know any details about the deal, but we’re keeping an eye out.
SMI was reportedly acquired through a shell corporation called Vineyard Capital Corporation, but documents discovered by MacRumors show that the acquisition was signed by Gene Levoff, Apple’s vice president of corporate law.
One of the primary VR and AR-based use cases for the technology is called foveated rendering which tracks the locations of the user’s gaze and renders the focal area at full resolution while blurring out the rest, lessening the processing load significantly. The technology is seen as essential by many experts to bring ultra high-resolution screens to VR and AR headsets.
Eye-tracking technology also has a number of use cases for headset-based AR and VR input. In October, Google acquired Eyefluence, an eye-tracking startup that uses eye movements to make interface selections.
Last month, Apple introduced ARKit, a set of APIs for developers interested in building augmented reality experiences. The company also brought VR support to the company’s highest-end desktop, the iMac Pro.