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Apple Buys German Eye-Tracking Tech Firm With AR, VR Applications

Apple has acquired SensoMotoric Instruments, a German eye-tracking technology firm, bolstering its development of augmented and virtual reality products, according to reports.

The deal was first reported by MacRumors, which dug up documentation indicating that Apple bought SMI through a holding company. Apple didn’t explicitly confirm the acquisition, responding with its standard statement that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Apple’s AR and VR ambitions were on full display at its WWDC conference earlier this month, with demos of both technologies during the opening keynote. The tech giant’s iOS 11 operating system, currently available as a developer preview with a fall launch, will become “the biggest AR platform in the world,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, said in announcing the update.

The iOS 11 release includes a set of tools called ARKit for creating “high-quality AR experiences” for iPhones and iPads. “ARKit allows developers to tap into the latest computer vision technologies to build detailed and compelling virtual content on top of real-world scenes for interactive gaming, immersive shopping experiences, industrial design and more,” Apple said in the WWDC announcement for iOS 11.

SMI was founded in 1991 as a spinoff from the Free University of Berlin. The privately held company sells its technology into multiple commercial and academic segments, and says more than 6,000 of its systems have been installed worldwide.

In addition to VR and AR applications, the company’s eye-tracking system has been used for clinical research, cognitive and physical training, vision science and ophthalmology, and market research, according to its website.

For VR and AR applications, SMI’s eye-tracking system works with engines including Unity, Unreal and WorldViz’s Vizard. The company is based near Berlin in Teltow, Germany, and has offices in Boston and San Francisco.

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