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article imageReports: Google to acquire light-field camera startup Lytro

By James Walker     Mar 21, 2018 in Technology
Google is reportedly set to purchase light-field camera manufacturer Lytro for approximately $40m. The company is primarily interested in Lytro for its innovative technology, which produces cameras capable of refocusing images after they are taken.
The acquisition was reported by TechCrunch today. The publication cited "multiple sources" which informed it of the impending deal. Neither Google or Lytro have officially confirmed the purchase.
Lytro has previously raised over $200 million in funding. It first gained attention in 2011, after unveiling its first light-field camera. The technology allows the entire "light field" of a scene to be captured and stored in image data. The image effectively composites every angle of the scene, enabling focusing and depth control to be adjusted after the data is stored.
More recently, Lytro has been pivoting towards virtual and augmented reality. Light fields have applications in these technologies because they enable dynamic refocusing onto different sections of an image. This ability allows developers to "flatten" images in their apps, avoiding the motion sickness caused by graphics which appear to move with the user.
It remains unclear what Google has in mind for Lytro. The company is itself making an aggressive entry into augmented reality, pushing its ARCore platform as a way for developers to engage millions of Android users. It's possible Google will add Lytro technology to its existing AR products, which might help it differentiate itself from rival ecosystems such as Apple's ARCore.
The first light field camera (Lytro)
The first light field camera (Lytro)
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According to TechCrunch, the acquisition is primarily an "asset sale." Google is concentrating on obtaining access to Lytro's existing innovation in light field research. Lytro currently holds 59 patents describing various digital imaging systems which could be applied to future technologies.
With Google only interested in Lytro's technology and patents, the future of the startup's operations is uncertain. Several employees are reported to have already been let go, with some leaving of their own accord and others receiving severance payments.
If it continues to operate, the sale to Google could give Lytro a way to grow its operations. While its cameras were initially hailed as innovations likely to transform virtual reality, the company has failed to translate the interest into actual demand. The virtual reality market has developed much more slowly than some analysts had expected, with overall uptake of the technology still very low.
By working with Google, Lytro can now integrate its technology with some of the largest platforms in the tech industry. Instead of having to make a case for itself in an increasingly competitive market, it will be able to focus on further innovation in light-field imaging for when the wider VR ecosystem is ready.
More about Google, Lytro, Virtual reality, augmented reality, lightfield imaging
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