In a bid to build their expertise in Augmented Reality (AR), Apple have acquired Spektral, a Danish start-up that produces software for cutting out figures from backgrounds in photos and video.
Formerly known as CloudCutout, the company began life in 2015, developing software that was used to cut students out of school photos. This soon evolved into video, incorporating machine-learning techniques to cut out a person from moving pictures in real-time, without the need for a Hollywood-style green screen.
Although Apple haven’t disclosed a motivation for the purchase — issuing only their standard boilerplate response when pressed for comment, the technology already appears to have found its way into the latest iPhone.
AR played a major role at the company’s recent launch of the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR devices, specifically in the iPhone camera and associated apps, which allow the manipulation of images and videos by separating people and objects from the background and dropping them into a scene with an alternative backdrop. This same technology is advertised on the Spektral website:
“Through machine learning and spectral graph theory we have created a technology that can cut-out people in real-time on a smartphone. Continuously building on our algorithms you will soon have the power to build apps that give totally new possibilities when it comes to video creation.”
The deal, which was worth 200 million DKK ($31 million USD) is thought to have taken place last December, but in typical Apple style has been kept out of the public eye. Shielding their affairs from the prying eyes of competitors is in the company’s interest, as they are not alone in seeing the tremendous potential of Augmented Reality.
Mergers and acquisitions of AR startups are rising, and the race towards implementing this technology is led by the corporate giants — Google, IBM, Intel and most notably Facebook with the $3 billion acquisition of Oculus in 2014. These companies not only have the range of technical skills needed to incorporate the expertise, but also the wide range of products and platforms ready to bring the technology to life.
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