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Apple acquired augmented reality headset startup Vrvana for $30M

Apple acquired augmented reality headset startup Vrvana for $30M
From TechCrunch - November 21, 2017

As Applereportedlyramps up work to ship an augmented reality headset in 2020, it has acquired a startup from Montreal, Canada that could help it get there. TechCrunch has learned that Apple has acquiredVrvana, maker of the Totem headsetwhich had rave reviews but never shipped. The deal was for around $30 million, two sources tell TechCrunch.

We contacted Apple, and the company declined to comment, but also did not deny the story. Vrvana did not reply to our request for comment. Sources close to the deal have confirmed the acquisition to us.

The deal is significant because while we have seen reports and rumors about Apples interest in AR hardware, the company has been very tight-lipped and generally is very secretive about completely new, future products. This acquisition is perhaps the clearest indicator yet of what the company is hoping to develop.

A number of the startups employees have joined Apple in California. The Vrvana site is currently still up, but it stopped updating social accounts and news in August of this year.

Its not clear what of Vrvanas existing products, product roadmap or current businessit worked with Valve, Tesla, Audi and others under NDAwill be making its way to Apple.

The only product that Vrvana shows off on its site is the unreleased Totem headset, an extended reality device utilizing key technologies from both AR and virtual reality to allow for both experiences on a single headset.

The tethered device had a form factor similar to many of todays VR headsets, but uniquely relied on several forward-facing pass-through cameras to replicate the outside world on its OLED displays inside the headset. The system of cameras enabled 6DoF tracking, a technology which allows the device to track its position in 3D space, while also using infrared cameras to track a users hands.

Vrvanas camera-based AR approach differs from competitors like Microsoft, which is utilizing transparent, projection-based displays for its HoloLens headset. The Totem holds a number of advantages over these systems, most notably in that it is able to overlay fully opaque, true-color animations on top of the real world rather than the ghost-like projections of other headsets which critically cannot display the color black. This allows the headset to do what it calls seamless blend transitions between VR and AR environments.

A key disadvantage in these types of systems, aside from bulky aesthetics, is that there is often noticeable lag between the cameras capturing the outside world and how quickly it is displayed in-headset. Vrvana CEOBertrand Nepveu detailed this problem in a talk this summer where he shared that the startup had working prototypes that brought this latency down to 3 milliseconds.

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