Faceshift, whose motion capture tech allows animated avatars to double the facial movements of real actors. Image Credit: UploadVR
Faceshift, whose motion capture tech allows animated avatars to double the facial movements of real actors. Image Credit: UploadVR

As the virtual– and augmented- reality wars heat up, Apple is making sure it stays competitive with occasional acquisitions such as AR pioneer Metaio and 3D sensor outfit PrimeSense.

Now it’s adding another company to its quiver, Swiss-based Faceshift, whose motion capture tech allows animated avatars to double the facial movements of real actors. The tech was used in the new Star Wars movie, out Dec. 18.

Rumors of the Apple purchase had surfaced earlier in the year, but TechCrunch cited unnamed sources Tuesday in confirming the report. Apple declined to confirm the acquisition to TechCrunch, simply saying “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Many analysts believe 2016 will be a watershed year for AR/VR tech. Samsung just released its $99 Gear VR goggles, which use a Samsung smartphone to power VR content that ranges from games to entertainment. And next year Sony will unveilProject Morpheus for PlayStationMicrosoft is expected to release a developer kit for its HoloLens augmented reality glasses, and Facebook-owned Oculus Rift also should be unveiling a dev kit for its much anticipated $1,500 product.

According to Digi-Capital, AR and VR combined are expected to be a $150 billion business by 2020, as entertainment companies, media giants and the gaming industry look to exploit the new technology to lure in consumers. Interestingly, of that sum, the vast majority — $120 billion — will be generated by augmented reality, whose technology isn’t as developed and whose existing hardware is aimed mainly at enterprise customers ranging from doctors in surgery (whose monitors pop up in their field of view) to oil workers on remote platforms (who can follow repair instructions out of the corner of their eye).

There’s no telling just how Apple might be planning to use its latest purchase in future products, especially since Apple is not at the moment a video game company and Faceshift’s tech would seem perfect for that sort of application.

Apple’s extreme secrecy when it comes to projects currently extends to its much-rumored development of a car. While Apple has never confirmed its interest in making automobiles, its recently hiring spree of auto-world veterans would suggest the tech company is – much like Google – interested in having a hand in the upcoming makeover of the transportation industry.

[USA Today]