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Apple acquired the Vrvana Augmented Reality Headphone Boot for $ 30M

While Apple is preparing to ship an augmented reality headset in 2020, it has acquired a start-up from Montreal, Canada, which could To help. TechCrunch has learned that Apple has acquired Vrvana, headphone maker Totem – which has had rave reviews but never shipped. The deal was about $ 30 million, two sources at TechCrunch.

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

The case is important because, although we have seen rumors and rumors about Apple's interest in AR material, the company has been very strict and is generally very secretive about completely new and future products. This acquisition is perhaps the clearest indicator of what the company hopes to develop.

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

It is not known what Vrvana's existing products, product roadmap or current affairs – it worked with Valve, Tesla, Audi and others under NDA – will make their way to Apple.

The only product that Vrvana shows on its website is the unpublished Totem headset, an "extended reality" device utilizing key technologies in both AR and virtual reality to allow both experiments on a single headset.

Screenshot of one of the promotional videos of Vrvana for the Totem.

The attached device had a similar form factor to many of today's VR headsets, but it relied solely on several front-facing cameras to reproduce the outside world on its OLED screens inside. helmet. The camera system has enabled 6DoF tracking, a technology that allows the camera to track its position in 3D space, while also using infrared cameras to track a user's hands.

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The camera-based Vrvana AR approach differs from that of competitors like Microsoft, which uses transparent projection screens for its HoloLens helmet. The Totem has a number of advantages over these systems, not least because it is able to overlay true and opaque color animations over the real world rather than ghosting other helmets. which absolutely can not display the black color. This allows the headset to do what it calls seamless blend transitions between VR and AR environments.

A major disadvantage in these types of systems, apart from the large aesthetics, is that there is often a noticeable lag between the cameras capturing the outside world and the speed at which they are displayed in helmet. Vrvana's CEO, Bertrand Nepveu, detailed this problem at a conference this summer where he shared that the startup had functional prototypes that reduced this latency to 3 milliseconds.

An animation illustrating how the totem transits smoothly between AR and VR modes.

There are mainstream applications for this type of "extended reality" technology – for example, in games and other entertainment – but one of the main goals of Vrvana was the use in business.

"Totem position tracking and reverse positional tracking allow your workforce to manipulate virtual objects with their hands wherever they want," the company said in a statement. promotional materials on the helmet.

This is remarkable if we consider the goal of Apple – both as such and in partnership with other IT vendors such as IBM, Cisco and SAP – to woo different business sectors. In August, CEO Tim Cook identified the company as one of his primary goals in AR, and in his latest findings, the company recorded double-digit growth in the region. The company made its last sales in 2015, when Cook described it as a $ 25 billion company.

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But scaling remains one of the hardest things to do for startups – especially hardware startups – and this is even more the case for startups working on emerging technologies that have not yet entered the market.

Founded in 2005, Vrvana had not disclosed much of its funding. A source tells TechCrunch that the company raised less than $ 2 million, a modest figure in the hardware world. Investors according to PitchBook included Real Ventures (whose partner Jean-Sebastian Cournoyer is also involved with, an ambitious start-up and incubator of AI in Montreal), the Canadian technology accelerator, and the French company. Angel Richard Adler, also active in other RV startups. .

Up to now, Apple has been pretty critical of the state of the VR and AR hardware on the market today, and it has played down its own hand in the game.

"Today, I can tell you that the technology itself does not exist to do it qualitatively.The display technology required, as well as to put enough of things around your face – there are huge challenges with that, "Cook told The Independent in response to a question about building a helmet. "The field of vision, the quality of the display itself, it's not there yet … We do not give priority to a rat, we want to be the best, and give people a lot of experience, but now everything you see on the market would not be something we would be happy with, nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied. "

This is not to say that Apple has not been excited about the augmented reality space. But to date, this interest has been largely manifested through software – including the company's iOS based ARKit SDK – and increasingly sophisticated camera bays on the iPhone. rather than by a dedicated device, although there are many patents from Apple. has a.

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Apple has also made other acquisitions that highlight its interest in developing the technology that powers the hardware. In June, Apple acquired SMI, a company specializing in eye tracking that worked on solutions for VR and AR helmets. Flyby Media, Metaio, Emotient and Faceshift have also been the subject of other acquisitions related to AR and virtual reality.