Apple Buys German Firm SenoMotoric For Eye Tracking And AR Expertise

Apple is not making a fuss about its latest acquisition, though it could prove a big deal in the long run. The Cupertino outfit acquired SensoMotoric Instruments, a German maker of eye-tracking glasses that was founded in 1991 as a spin-off from academic and medical research at the Free University of Berlin. In addition to being headquartered in Germany, it also has offices in Boston, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California in the United States.

SMI's eye-tracking hardware is used in a variety of applications, including virtual and augmented reality, early autism detection in children, in-car systems, brain mapping and neurology, vision science, psychology, physical training, and the list goes on.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 (Joe Ravi)

Apple is not really commenting on the acquisition. In a short statement provided to Axios, Apple said it "buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." Apple's quest for secrecy runs even deeper than that—as with other smaller acquisitions it has made in the past, Apple tried to hide this one through shell companies, which MacRumors traced back to the outfit.

It is also worth noting that SMI recently updated its website by removing over a dozen pages with detailed information about its products. Other parts have also been removed, including a jobs section, news blog, schedule of events and workshops, contact information, list of distributors and resellers, and a mailing list signup form. It's possible that Apple is working to rebuild the site with updated info that will reflect the company's efforts moving forward.

What Apple ultimately has planned is a mystery for the time being. That said, SMI makes eye tracking glasses that can record a person's gaze behavior in real-time with a sampling rate of up to 120Hz. It has also developed eye-tracking technology for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift that can detect and analyze a person's gaze to help reduce motion sickness.

Apple could be going in any number of directions here. It might be interested in developing and licensing technologies to third parties, or this could be part of a larger AR play that could tie into macOS or iOS, just as Microsoft is working to implement AR technology into Windows 10.