While there has been speculation for a while that Apple is interested in augmented reality (AR) hardware for some time,this acquisition is perhaps the clearest indicator yet of future Apple products to come.
According to TechCrunch, a number of Vrvana’s employees have joined Apple in California already, but its unclear which of the startup’s existing products, product roadmap, or current business will make its way to Apple. The company has previously worked with Audi, Tesla, and Valve, all under non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Founded in 2005, Vrvana develops virtual reality headsets for the gaming community. The company received investments from Real Ventures, the Canadian Technology Accelerator, and angel Richard Adler.
The Totem headset is a full-featured 3D VR headset with hand tracking and inside-out positional tracking, allowing users to manipulate virtual objects with precision. According to Vrvana’s website, which is still live despite social media accounts stopping in August, claims the Totem’s patent pending hardware accelerated chroma keying (green screen) “drastically eliminates the need for external tracking or projection equipment, simplifying setup and giving users freedom to move and accomplish more.”
The Totem uniquely relies on several forward-facing pass-through cameras to replicate the outside world on its OLED displays inside the headset. The cameras enable 6DoF tracking as well, a technology that allows the device to track its position in 3D space, using infrared cameras to track a user’s hands.
What distinguishes Vrvana’s headset from competitors is its camera-based AR approach. For example, Totem’s ability to produce truly opaque blacks and seamlessly blend the real world with the virtual enables the creation of “unique mixed reality experiences so credible your customers will actually believe that they are in the action” (according to the company’s website). Other headsets cannot display the color black. Totem’s ability to do so allows the headset to do what it calls “seamless blend” transitions between VR and AR environments.
However, Totem can be disadvantaged by bulky aesthetics as well as the presence of often noticeable lag between the cameras capturing the outside world and how quickly it is displayed in-headset. Vrvana CEO Bertrand Nepveu discussed the problem at a talk from the Tools & Products Track in Sanata Clara, California this summer, where he claimed the startup had working prototypes that brought that latency down to 3 milliseconds.
Vrvana’s branding hints that a key focus for the Totem is an enterprise approach, not just gaming. In describing the hand tracking abilities of the headset, the website reads: “Totem’s hand tracking and inside-out positional tracking empowers your workforce to manipulate virtual objects with their hands wherever they please.” And the applications for different enterprise verticals, for Apple itself and in partnership with other IT providers like IBM, Cisco and SAP, may be exactly what attracted Apple to this particular AR company.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called enterprise the company’s one key focus for its AR ambitions back in August. The company’s last earnings report double-digit growth in the area. The last time Apple broke out its enterprise sales in 2015, cook called it a $25 million business.
According to Tech Crunch, Apple has made other recent acquisitions that seem to support its interest in developing the technology that powers the hardware. In June, Apple acquired SMI, an eye-tracking firm that was working on solutions for VR and AR headsets. Other AR and VR-related acquisitions have included Flyby Media, metaio, Emotient, and Faceshift.
We’ll just have to wait and see whether a Montreal-grown company will hold part of the key to Apple’s next big release.
Photo by Ness-Photography