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Apple May Have Just Bought Eye-Tracking Firm SMI

Apple May Have Just Bought Eye-Tracking Firm SMI

Back at the start of the month Apple got serious about VR, revealing its latest iMac Pros would support SteamVR. Now new rumors surrounding the company suggest it’s also looking into one of VR’s most requested features – eye-tracking.

Mac Rumors has gathered a pretty substantial amount of evidence that suggests the company has just acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), a computer vision company that VR enthusiasts will likely be familiar with. Apple’s vice president of corporate law Gene Levoff recently granted power of attorney to German law firm Hiking Kühn Lüer Wojtek to represent what looks like an Apple shell company in all business related to the acquisition of SMI, for example.

SMI offers a range of different eye-tracking solutions, having worked on the concept since the early 90’s. The resurrection of VR headsets breathed new life into its work, however.

Back at GDC this year we reported that SMI had partnered with Valve to integrate its eye-tracking tech into the OpenVR SDK. The concept is critical for future VR headsets; not only will it allow for more realistic virtual avatars of our own selves, but it will also enable foveated rendering, a technique that only fully renders the area of a virtual world the user is directly looking at, hugely reducing the processing power needed for experiences.

If true, we do wonder what use Apple has for SMI tech. Rumors that the company is making its own VR headset — possibly using the iPhone — are just that, and publicly it’s shown a much greater interested in augmented reality than it has VR. At its press showcase earlier this month the company demonstrated its new AR platform for iOS devices that projects virtual objects into the real world through the device’s display.

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