A report from MacRumors provides compelling evidence that Apple has quietly acquired SMI, also known as SensoMotoric Instruments, a company specializing in eye-tracking technology.

German-based SMI has specialized in eye-tracking since its founding in 1991. The company has in recent years turned its expertise toward AR and VR, where eye-tracking data can be used for a wide range of useful things from foveated rendering to avatar eye-mapping. The company has demonstrated its eye-tracking solution in the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, and other head-mounted displays.

SMI’s eye-tracking tech built into a Rift DK2 | Photo by Road to VR

MacRumors reports that the company was quietly acquired by Apple sometime between May 2nd and July 26th, 2017. The publication uncovered documents signed by Gene Levoff, Apple’s vice president of corporate law—representing a company called Vineyard Capital Corporation—which signed over power of attorney to German law firm Hiking Kühn Lüer Wojtek to handle the acquisition of SMI by Vineyard Capital Corporation.

Along with Levoff’s signature, the documents being notarized in Cupertino (the location of Apple’s HQ), and corroboration from an anonymous Apple employee, MacRumors concludes that Vineyard Capital Corporation is a shell company that Apple used to hide the acquisition (not an uncommon business tactic).

Not so coincidentally it seems, SMI’s website was recently gutted, now offering no contact information for the company, a complete removal of all information pertaining to product offerings, and a scrubbing of the few pages that remain, including the removal of information about SMI’s management team.

The company’s eye-tracking products and research are not limited only to VR and AR. In SMI has also offered eye-trackers for desktop applications as well as measurement-only head-worn devices for data collection and analysis. Unless Apple plans to integrate eye-tracking technology into its computers or smartphones—an eye-tracking use-case which has seen little to no consumer adoption—the operative use of the company’s tech seems to be aimed at AR or VR.

Apple AR/VR Product to Debut in 2017, Predicts Sony's Head of Worldwide Studios

Earlier this month, Apple for the first time showed a major embrace of VR, revealing that the company had worked with Valve for nearly a year to bring SteamVR to MacOS, and that a number of forthcoming computers would be the first from Apple to be ‘VR Ready‘. Those announcements come alongside longstanding rumors that Apple is developing its own AR headset, an area which the company recently delved deeper into with the reveal of ‘ARKit’, a new augmented reality toolset for building AR apps on iOS devices.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • trekkie

    Interesting days ahead !!!!

  • Me

    Wow, so last keynote’s VR focus was definitely not just a PR stunt, and there seems to be a real commitment to VR from Apple. I didn’t saw that coming, it’s a pleasant surprise.

    • hyperskyper

      The only thing Apple is committed to is making money. This will be bad for the VR/AR industry…

      • Me

        How so ? Peripherals used both on PC and Mac have usually some good sales figures as considered widely accepted and correctly supported which has some nice appeal to the customer. Apart from that, I’m curious how many businesses aren’t commited to making money. Probably those who fail…

      • Get Schwifty!

        All companies are committed to making money – if you honestly think any company is seriously engaged in an endeavor to “make change” of some kind you need to get out more in the world. Despite all the platitudes that make up marketing, companies ultimately exist to make money, nothing more.

        Apple is doing what it always does; take an idea that is half-realized in the industry and process it into consumer solutions that have appeal. This can only help AR/VR which will be a patchwork of developments for years and likely decades.

        • dogtato

          Might be good for AR/VR developers, to have a bigger user base once Apple releases something. Probably bad for consumers who don’t use Apple products and want eye tracking.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, how many devices have you seen from apple that is really generic and does not really center around their store……… just think what will happen if they release a VR-headset…… Don’t count on it to work on a PC..

  • Adrian Meredith

    It’s probably as much about acquiring patents to sue everyone else with as much as it is about making products

    • George Vieira IV

      This was my first thought. I hope it doesn’t slow the adoption of eye tracking into the next generation of HMDs.

  • elev8d

    This is really bad news to me considering these guys are leaders in eye-tracking. Not just for VR/AR, but for research and insights across a variety of industries. I’d rather these guys support everyone and not just be a tool of Apple. At least Tobii exists and has an eye-tracking add on for the Vive.

    • It’s happened as with Metaio: it was one of the best AR SDK out there, then Apple bought it and it disappered. Surely this has contributed in creating ARKit, but it has been a huge loss for all us working with AR…

      • Matias Nassi

        Yeah, and same happened with Primesense. Nice stuff like NiTE (perception library for RGBD cameras) disappeared completely from one day to another after Apple bought the company. And I’m still trying to find out in which iProduct they are using all this tech…

  • Rep Rep

    Fuck Apple, i hate that company. They have no business of acquiring anything VR related. They don’t even have a damm headset out and they want to acquire eye tracking? I hope HTC and Oculus stay away from SMI.

  • Lucidfeuer

    If this is for a mobile headset, this is going to be interesting. Samsung and Google completely wasted their competitive advantage, one of the biggest in the last decade, when they decide to be mediocre greedy scrap-savers with the GearVR and Daydream.

    As much as I hate Apple, and I find their last products mediocre, the remaining juice of Jobs legacy will probably have them conceived a mobile headset that is at least way better than other headsets given how crappy and stalling they’ve been lately.

    Again, brace for the actual VR devices sales at the end of the year…

  • Strategic acquisition. My guess is that they’ll use it one day with their AR glass. Don’t think Apple will ever release a VR-only HMD