- Apple has acquired face motion capture software developer Faceshift.
- Faceshift technology maps the facial movements of a user to a computer generated character for films, games, and video conferencing.
- Other applications could include identification, access control, and security.
- The move follows several acquisitions and senior personnel hires in the VR/AR sector.
- The move points to future Apple-branded VR/AR devices and applications, including virtual versions of Facetime.
A spokesperson from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has confirmed that Apple has acquired face motion capture software developer Faceshift, TechCrunch reports. Though Apple hasn't disclosed its strategic objectives, it seems likely that Faceshift's technology can enhance several Apple products.
"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," was Apple's stock comment. However, the previously rumored acquisition has been confirmed, and it appears that several Faceshift employees are now working for Apple.
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Faceshift, based in Zurich, Switzerland, develops face analysis and rendering software. The company was launched in 2011 as a spin-off of the Computer Graphics and Geometry Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Two patents initially assigned to the EPFL were transferred to Faceshift, and are now owned by Apple. Later, Faceshift opened offices in London and San Francisco.
Faceshift Studio, the company's flagship product, analyzes the facial movements of a user in real-time and extracts a description of the user's basic expressions, head orientation, and eye gaze. The description is then used to animate virtual characters for use in any situation where facial animation is required, such as movie and game production. Faceshift also develops plugins that permit using the result of its face motion capture in top 3D modelling tools, such as Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) Maya and Unity.
Faceshift technology has notably been used to animate computer generated characters in the new "Star Wars" film by mapping the captured facial motion of actors onto the characters.
There are two obvious applications for Faceshift's technology. One is the application used in Star Wars - developing realistic human-like face animations for characters in films and videogame characters by using real face expressions captured from actors. Gamers can also directly use the technology to map their facial expression to the characters they play.
Another obvious application is using computer generated avatars in video conferencing instead of video feeds. Face motion capture technology can, in fact, translate the expression of the user to an avatar in real-time. This application is important for the users who prefer to remain anonymous in video chats and use an avatar, coupled with voice morphing technology. But using 3D synthetic avatars, which require much less bandwidth than real-time video streams, can also improve the efficiency of video conferencing in general, and make it available at poorly connected locations. Therefore, it seems likely that Faceshift technology could someday appear in Apple's consumer video conferencing product - Facetime.
Besides the obvious applications, Faceshift's face analysis technology could be re-purposed for applications to identification, access control, and security. These enterprise applications aren't part of Apple's core business, but it seems plausible that Apple could introduce iOS apps for consumers.
The move is to be interpreted in the context of Apple's growing interest in the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) markets. Earlier this year Apple bought Metaio, a German company that builds tools for developing augmented reality applications. Previously, Apple had acquired two developers of related technologies, Swedish company Polar Rose and Israeli company PrimeSense. In August, Apple hired away from Microsoft a senior engineer who worked on the HoloLens, Microsoft's upcoming "holographic" AR headset.
All that points to the possibility of future Apple-branded smart glasses or headsets for VR and AR applications, including VR versions of Facetime similar to the "Oculus Social" virtual conferencing system that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is launching. It seems plausible that VR/AR headsets and interface apps could be instant hits among the tech-savvy consumers loyal to the Apple brand.