Apple buys German eye tracking firm SensoMotoric Instruments

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in iPhone
Apple has entered into an agreement to purchase German company SensoMotoric Instruments -- a company noted for hardware and software for eye tracking sensors, useful for augmented reality.




Citing sources familiar with the matter, MacRumors on Monday reported that Apple has acquired eye tracking hardware manufacturer SensoMotoric Instruments. The company's hardware is currently used in for augmented reality applications, early autism detection in children, brain mapping and neurology, vision science, psychology, physical training, and more.

Apple confirmed the acquisition to Axios by offering its standard statement, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

The current technology developed by SensoMotoric Instruments records and tracks a wearer's gaze in real-time, 120 times per second. The technology potentially reduces input lag, cutting down on motion sickness when the perception of movement doesn't match a shift in perspective.

SensoMotoric Instruments has its headquarters in Teltow, Germany, with a satellite office in Boston, Mass. The terms of the deal, and the status of the company's existing employees, is unknown at this time. Neither Apple nor SensoMotoric responded to AppleInsider's requests for comment.

Apple's Vice President of Corporate Law representing Delaware's Vineyard Capital Corporation, granted power of attorney to a German law firm to represent the presumed shell company. The shell company then purchased SensoMotoric Instruments on June 16.

The technology will likely not find its way into the "iPhone 8," but Apple is rumored to be working on a set of Smart Glasses. Publicly, the company only recently moved into the sector with iOS 11's ARKit.

Apple Vice President Craig Federighi announced at WWDC that ARKit is coming to iOS 11, expected to launch in the fall. Federighi noted that Apple's integration with iOS and iPhone hardware allowed for the technology, that was being previewed at the time to Lego, Ikea, and other companies.

ARKit will be limited to the iPhone 6s and newer, and the iPad Pro and more recent.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    glynhglynh Posts: 129member
    "Apple confirmed the acquisition to Axios by offering its standard statement, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." And that's confirming an acquisition? Pretty vague confirmation if you ask me...
    edited June 2017
  • Reply 2 of 16
    sergiozsergioz Posts: 219member
    this company looks interesting!
  • Reply 3 of 16
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,960member
    sounds like this eye tracking will be seriously implemented in iPhone 8.

  • Reply 4 of 16
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 323member
    The technology will likely not find its way into the "iPhone 8," but Apple is rumored to be working on a set of Smart Glasses. Publicly, the company only recently moved into the sector with iOS 11's ARKit.
    fallenjt said:
    sounds like this eye tracking will be seriously implemented in iPhone 8.

    Really? The quote from AppleInsider seems to think otherwise.
    jbdragonlolliver
  • Reply 5 of 16
    kamiltonkamilton Posts: 259member
    Too late to build this in, but the future is long.
  • Reply 6 of 16
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Apple has a hell of a lot of IP now invested in AR without a product.... That means the product is coming.
    slprescottanton zuykovlolliver
  • Reply 7 of 16
    Tangent ahead:

    Reading about this reminds me how much I miss the "eye control" feature of my old Canon Elan IIe.  It recognized what zone of the frame you were looking at, and used that zone to make settings decisions.  It would also stop down if you looked in a particular off-frame direction.

    I've never learned why Canon abandoned this.
  • Reply 8 of 16
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,667member
    foggyhill said:
    Apple has a hell of a lot of IP now invested in AR without a product.... That means the product is coming.
    The big product is ARKit!    Everything else, shipping or not, leverages off that.
    lolliver
  • Reply 9 of 16
    slprescottslprescott Posts: 749member
    glynh said:
    "Apple confirmed the acquisition to Axios by offering its standard statement, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." And that's confirming an acquisition? Pretty vague confirmation if you ask me...
    This is the statement that Apple always makes to confirm an acquisition -- in its own way.  Apple Insider has reported this for years.
    lolliver
  • Reply 10 of 16
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,494member
    wizard69 said:
    foggyhill said:
    Apple has a hell of a lot of IP now invested in AR without a product.... That means the product is coming.
    The big product is ARKit!    Everything else, shipping or not, leverages off that.
    Yes, and stereo vision in a wearable display, with eye tracking to select precisely objects in a scene (or in a document) in real time, will drive software like no software has ever been driven before. 

    This will make the first 40 years of mouse and finger selection seem very primitive indeed.
    edited June 2017
  • Reply 11 of 16
    applesauce007applesauce007 Posts: 1,577member
    This eye tracking technology can be adapted for so many things.

    -Virtual and Augmented reality
    -Store shelves, websites, museums  applications using remote eye tracking
    -Machine learning for self driving cars
    -Medical Applications
    -Sporting applications





    edited June 2017 SpamSandwich
  • Reply 12 of 16
    irelandireland Posts: 17,521member
    Machine learning for self driving cars
    This seems like one application Apple may be interested in. As for wearable glasses in general: they are mega-dorky, mega-niche. Don’t think that’d be a reason for this acquisition.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 13 of 16
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    ireland said:
    Machine learning for self driving cars
    This seems like one application Apple may be interested in. As for wearable glasses in general: they are mega-dorky, mega-niche. Don’t think that’d be a reason for this acquisition.
    Glasses that look like normal glasses are not mega dorky, if AR glasses looked like that they'd sell in big volume. The main problem then would be styling (even more so than with the watch).
  • Reply 14 of 16
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,868member
    glynh said:
    "Apple confirmed the acquisition to Axios by offering its standard statement, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." And that's confirming an acquisition? Pretty vague confirmation if you ask me...
    Standard response since forever from Apple.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 15 of 16
    fallenjt said:
    sounds like this eye tracking will be seriously implemented in iPhone 8.

    Not likely. Whatever Apple's plans are here, they are long term.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 16 of 16
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,195moderator
    wizard69 said:
    foggyhill said:
    Apple has a hell of a lot of IP now invested in AR without a product.... That means the product is coming.
    The big product is ARKit!    Everything else, shipping or not, leverages off that.
    ARKit's tracking is really accurate given the few sensors it has to work with (camera, gyro, accelerometer), it can handle tracking beyond the image frame so even when objects are out of view, it maintains the positioning:



    The following camera looks left at ~0:20 and the character stays perfectly in place moving back into frame:



    It's a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit seeing cartoon characters in real life like that.

    The following test measured object drift after leaving the room (a depth sensor would have prevented the object being placed in front of the wall):



    The more sources of data they can use for tracking, the better. Eye tracking is useful for AR/VR but even simple things like checking if you are looking at your phone in order to determine if Raise to Wake should activate or not would prevent unintended screen activation. It can have some applications for HealthKit too.
    ireland said:
    Machine learning for self driving cars
    This seems like one application Apple may be interested in. As for wearable glasses in general: they are mega-dorky, mega-niche. Don’t think that’d be a reason for this acquisition.
    The iPhone used to look like this during testing, the touch panel on the left just dealt with input:

    iphone prototype power mac software

    They need all sorts of extra hardware in prototypes in order to debug it properly. Glasses would need some sensors in them, accelerometer, gyro, camera to tell what is being looked at but the data processing can be done on an iOS device, either wirelessly or via a tether.

    The following shows the view through the Microsoft HoloLens:



    Image result for hololens

    The unit is far too bulky but the capability is good. The internals look like this:

    https://www.theverge.com/2016/4/6/11376442/microsoft-hololens-holograms-parts-teardown-photos-hands-on

    Image result for hololens teardown

    The battery packs at the sides take up a lot of space and the visor is bulky. Even if Apple built the same thing as that, they could build it much less bulky. It would probably be best to begin with to have a clip-on device that housed all the battery and processing instead of putting that weight on the head. The glasses should be as small and lightweight as possible, almost indistinguishable from normal glasses. Having a cable hanging down the back like a TV presenter mic pack would be ok.
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