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Apple Keeps Acquiring AR Technology as It Reportedly Preps Headsets

Apple's acquisition of Israeli startup Camerai, which was reported on Thursday, is just one of many AR/VR-related purchases it has made over the last few years.

Apple  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report has been a pretty aggressive buyer of startups possessing technology that could aid its reported AR and VR headset efforts.

On Thursday, Israel’s Calcalist reported that Apple bought Camerai, an Israeli computer vision startup, for “several tens of millions of dollars” a year and a half ago. With Apple generally preferring not to announce its acquisitions of startups, the deal hadn’t been previously reported.

Camerai, which was once known as Tipit, had built a software development kit (SDK) that let developers add AR content to their apps without having to write code. TechCrunch notes Camerai’s platform was able to (among other things) “detect different objects in the picture, and outline them with precision to alter them cosmetically,” as well as “detect and draw body joints in real time overlaid on a picture of a human.”

In the near-term, Camerai’s technology could be baked into Apple’s widely-adopted ARKit SDK for creating iPhone and iPad apps containing AR features. Going forward, ARKit’s capabilities on some Apple hardware will be enhanced by access to a LiDAR scanner -- they’re baked into the latest iPad Pros, and are widely expected to go into Apple’s next flagship iPhones -- that can quickly analyze an entire scene, rather just an object within a scene.

And long-term, it’s quite possible that the technology will be used by apps running on the AR and/or VR headsets that Apple has been widely reported to be working on.

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Last fall, The Information reported that Apple wants to launch a headset containing “a hybrid of AR and VR capabilities” in 2022, and “a sleeker pair of AR glasses” in 2023. Around the same time, Bloomberg reported that Apple plans to launch “a combined VR and AR headset with a focus on gaming, watching video and virtual meetings” in either 2021 or 2022, and “a lightweight pair of AR glasses as early as 2023.”

Bloomberg also reported that Apple has a team of about 1,000 engineers working on its AR/VR headset efforts. And more recently, The Information reported that top iPhone contract manufacturer Foxconn has been tapped to supply lenses for Apple’s AR headset.

Along with Camerai, Apple has acquired a slew of other startups over the last few years that could help it develop AR/VR headsets and/or software and services meant to run on them. These include AR lens developer Akonia Holographics, AR headset startup Vrvana, AR software developer Metaio, eye-tracking tech developer SensoMotoric Instruments, motion-capture tech developer IKinema and (most recently) NextVR, a producer of live VR events.

And considering how it long it took for the Camerai acquisition to become public knowledge, it’s quite possible that Apple has made some other AR/VR startup acquisitions that we’re still not aware of.

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