Apple just hired a leading VR expert, which could mean a ‘VRKit’ is in the works

Apple just hired a leading VR expert, which could mean a ‘VRKit’ is in the works

A new report from The Financial Times suggests Apple has hired Doug Bowman, a leading researcher in the field of virtual reality.

Before landing at Apple, Bowman was a computer science professor at Virginia Tech where he focussed on “three-dimensional user interface design and the benefits of immersion in virtual environments.” He also once received a $100,000 grant from Microsoft to apply its Hololens to “collaborative analysis of large-scale mixed reality data.”

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It’s no secret Apple is working on VR, but it’s not clear what it may be working on. Three fairly recent acquisitions — Metaio, Perceptio and Primesense — all suggest Apple has some real-world VR applications in mind.

Metaio

Metaio used a series of SDKs to help developers create augmented reality apps, while Perceptio uses deep learning for things like facial recognition, which can be experienced through its app Smoothie. Primesense is the hardware angle; it makes 3D sensor technology.

Oh, Apple also purchased Faceshift, which uses motion capture to animate characters without the need for expensive hardware, and emotion tracking software company Emotient.

Unfortunately, we can’t discern what Apple may be working on, but there are rumblings its VR interest has little to do with games, and may instead be focussed on Maps.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 9.49.57 AM

For me, these news items have several possible applications, but one result: VRKit.

The common thread with all of these acquisitions is that they can be used without buying expensive hardware. If Apple instilled 3D sensors on iPhones and/or iPads (or maybe built standalone hardware for 3D tracking), developers could possibly use technology Apple now has via Faceshift or Perceptio to animate characters.

Bowman’s best work is in research, and he’s got a history in both virtual and augmented reality. He’s knowledgeable about immersive VR as well as the simpler ‘layered’ effect AR can bring (think Google Glass and it’s tiny heads-up display).

Of course, we’ll probably have to wait for Apple to apply this technology to its own applications and services first — and how Apple can get Metal to make VR shine. To that, it’s hard to say we’ll see a VRKit at WWDC 2016.

But if Apple really is going to make its acquired technology available for devs, WWDC 2017 may not be one you’ll want to miss.

Read next: You can watch 13 of the best VR films at Sundance from your home right now

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