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Apple Virtual Reality Efforts Get Boost With New Hire

The tech giant further expands its reach into virtual and augmented reality technology by hiring leading Virginia Tech researcher Doug Bowman, according to reports.
iPhone 7 Rumors: 7 That Have People Talking
iPhone 7 Rumors: 7 That Have People Talking
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Apple continues to bolster its roster of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) specialists with the hiring of Doug Bowman, a former interactive computing researcher at the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech, according to a Financial Times report.

The hiring of Bowman is another indicator that Apple is quietly pursuing research and development of AR and VR technologies, both of which could find use-cases in everything from home computer and mobile technologies to applications for its rumored self-driving car project.

Bowman's academic profile page shows he was the principal investigator of the 3D Interaction Group, focusing on the topics of three-dimensional user interface design and the benefits of immersion in virtual environments. 

He also received a Career award from the National Science Foundation for his work on 3D Interaction, and was named an ACM Distinguished Scientist. Bowman received his undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science from Emory University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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"I'd wager that there is a substantial team within Apple figuring out how the company will play a role in this technology," Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight, told the Financial Times. "It certainly can't let rivals such as Facebook, Google, and Samsung run away with the market, particularly given the groundswell of momentum building around smartphone-based virtual reality."

In November, Bowman and Joseph Gabbard were award recipients of the Microsoft HoloLens Academic Research Grant Program for their proposal "Virginia Tech: Collaborative Analysis of Large-Scale Mixed Reality Data," and received $100,000 and two Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition devices with which to conduct their research.

The funded research will investigate multi-user visualization of, and interaction with, big datasets in collaborative mixed reality environments.

The research is inspired by large physical spaces such as museums that allow users to stand around large objects in expansive spaces, each with individual points of view, but with common ground and the ability to understand what others are looking at and talking about.

The concept of augmented reality combines real-time views of the user's environment and displays of sensory information, such as GPS coordinates, information about the weather, or other data. Virtual reality immerses the viewer in an artificial and interactive world.

[Read Microsoft, NASA Send HoloLens Into Space.]

Apple has quietly been building up its VR and AR portfolio for some time now. Last February the company was awarded a patent for a head-mounted virtual reality set that uses an iPhone as the display and computing component.

The concept is similar to Samsung's Gear VR, a virtual reality device developed in collaboration with Oculus VR, a company that was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion last year.

In May, Apple acquired the German company Metaio, according to several media sources. A photo  also surfaced on Twitter showing a document that allegedly provided proof of the closed deal.

Metaio offered a host of products, including a user-friendly augmented reality authoring tool; a software development kit (SDK) made up of a capturing component, a sensor interface component, a rendering component, and a tracking component; and an application hosting and delivery-as-a-service platform.

(Cover Image: AleksandarNakic/iStockphoto)