You may not have heard of Primesense before, so when Israeli newspapers reported over the weekend that Apple had purchased the company for $360 million, maybe it seemed meaningless–another company purchased in the ever-ongoing patent wars of Silicon Valley. But in reality, Apple’s acquisition of Primesense could be about a lot more than just lawsuits.
Primesense is one of, if not the, leading companies in camera-based gesture interfaces. They built the technology behind the original Xbox Kinect–which included extremely complex algorithms that could transform otherwise meaningless image data into what a computer could recognize as the complete, 3-D human form. Microsoft later took Kinect development internally–as they seem to have done for the entire Xbox One design process–but Primesense continued working in the space.
Most recently, they announced a sensor called Capri. Smaller than a pencil, think of Capri as a Kinect that fits into your phone, or any other device you could imagine. Typically dumb infrastructure like elevators could track their passengers. Billboards could follow a pedestrian’s eyes. Autonomous robots, like Roombas, could map rooms. (You can read our full write-up on Capri here, but the cheesy video above tells most of the story.)
Now we’re not at all implying that Apple purchased Primesense for Capri. We’re implying that Apple purchased Primesense because it could build something like Capri. (Besides, there’s no doubt that Primesense has a far more powerful iteration of such hardware under top secret lock-and-key.)
Even if it’s not Apple’s first gesture-based corporate acquisition, Primesense has both engineering expertise and an imaginative track record of understanding where their technology can be applied. It’s the perfect marriage for a company like Apple, which purchased Siri, Inc., to understand voice, and can now add real-world movements to that equation.
Some speculate Primesense will make its way into the long-fabled Apple TV reboot and, sure, that’s possible (even probable). But to view the possibilities for Apple through such tunnel vision does the company no service. Remember, Apple explores a multitude of hardware we never, ever see–they’ve had a version of Google Glass for years–meaning that in the best-case scenario, the sort that most Apple geeks pine for, Primesense is the company to fuel those experiments, and maybe whole new product categories.
[Hat tip: Fast Company]