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Apple Steps Up Visits To Stanford University VR Lab

In yet another sign its interest in virtual reality is growing, Apple is stepping up its frequency in visiting Stanford University's virtual reality lab. The move comes as the iPhone maker is amassing a large team to tackle virtual reality to play catch-up to Facebook and Microsoft.

Dawn Kawamoto

February 3, 2016

3 Min Read
<p align="left">(Image: Jason Doiy/iStockphoto)</p>

Apple is ramping up its virtual reality efforts, apparently looking to broaden its knowledge on the topic by visiting Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

The iconic device and computer maker, which filed a patent for head-mounted display googles in 2013, began laying the groundwork for its VR team in 2014, and substantially built out the team over the past two years, is apparently on a quest to get a deeper look into current VR research.

"Apple hasn't come to my lab in 13 years, except they've come three times in the last three months," said Jeremy Bailenson, Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab director, in a video of his talk at the CIO conference. "They come and they don't say a word, but there's a data point for you."

Although Apple is mum on its interest in the lab, it may be useful to understand the lab's mission:

The mission of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab is to understand the dynamics and implications of interactions among people in immersive virtual reality simulations (VR), and other forms of human digital representations in media, communication systems, and games. Our work is centered on using empirical, behavioral science methodologies to explore people as they interact in these digital worlds. However, oftentimes it is necessary to develop new gesture tracking systems, three-dimensional modeling techniques, or agent-behavior algorithms in order to answer these basic social questions. Consequently, we also engage in research geared towards developing new ways to produce these VR simulations.

Stanford's VR lab tends to work on projects that aim to explore one of these three areas: new social issues that may arise from VR systems; using VR as a research tool for studying face-to-face interaction; and ways to apply VR to improve conversation, communication, empathy and other aspects of daily living.

Apple's goggle system patent described the device as providing a personal media viewing experience that may include a way for "generating the media display, and a lens on which the generated media displayed is provided to the user."

Apple's patents offer a hint it is aiming to develop Virtual Reality goggles with an immersive 3D experience, similar to that of rival Facebook's Oculus Rift, and also to provide Augmented Reality goggles that allow users to look through the lens at their existing environment. Those would also embed 3D images into the display, in a way similar to Microsoft's HoloLens.

Some of the moves Apple has taken to build up its VR and AR portfolio include receiving the patent award for its head-mounted VR set, which incorporates the use of its iPhone as its computing component and display. Last spring Apple snapped up Metaio, a German company with products that include an AR authoring tool.

[Read Microsoft, NASA Send HoloLens Into Space.]

In the meantime, as noted in a Macworld report, Apple has armed itself with some top hires from the VR industry.

Those hires include Nick Thompson, an engineer who worked on Microsoft's HoloLens audio hardware; Bennett Wilburn, a former Microsoft employee with experience in machine learning for recognizing human activity; and Doug Bowman, a leader in 3D user interfaces. Bowman is a former Virginia Tech computer science professor who led its Center for Human-Computer Interaction.

Apple reportedly has amassed hundreds of staff members for its VR and AR research unit, according to a Financial Times report late last month. Some of its team comes from companies from which Apple has raided staff, while others have come from acquisitions like Flyby Media, an AR company.

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About the Author(s)

Dawn Kawamoto

Associate Editor, Dark Reading

Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's News.com, TheStreet.com, AOL's DailyFinance, and The Motley Fool. More recently, she served as associate editor for technology careers site Dice.com.

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