Apple has reportedly acquired SensoMotoric Instruments, a German firm specializing in computer vision and eye tracking technologies.
A report Monday by MacRumors linked a corporate restructuring and buyout of SensoMotoric to an Apple shell company. This was timed with an update to SensoMotoric’s website which removed dozens of pages of product information, job application resources, key personnel bios, and contact information. The MacRumors report was later corroborated when Apple gave its usual statement on acquisitions to Axios:
Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.
Apple has already made a public commitment to augmented reality, and an acquisition of SensoMotoric, which has been working on eye tracking technology since 1991, makes sense. The company has developed software and hardware for eye tracking applications in a number of fields, including scientific research, medical testing for those with visual impairments or autism, athletics, and driving. SensoMotoric has also contributed its technology to other products, such as the Oculus Rift VR headset.
Eye tracking is important in augmented reality as it helps create believable and accurate digital projections in the physical world, especially when used close to the eyes, such as in glasses. SensoMotoric’s technology works by scanning and tracking the wearer’s eye movement at a rate of up to 120 times per second, which can reduce the perceivable lag and thereby motion sickness that some users experience when AR objects don’t track in-sync with the world.
SensoMotoric’s technology and expertise is poised to have an immediate impact on Apple’s current AR plans for the iPhone and iPad, but it could also assist Apple with more ambitious long-term goals. In addition to AR on mobile iOS devices, Apple has been long rumored to be working on its own AR glasses design. Like the Apple Watch, the rumored “Apple Glasses” would pair with a user’s iPhone to provide personalized visual information and feedback. Apple CEO Tim Cook has made multiple public statements regarding his interest in AR, calling the technology a “big idea” that has the potential to “amplify” human interactions.