Apple beefs up AR team with top engineers

Apple has hired engineers who worked on Oculus and HoloLens VR headsets and 3D animation experts to bring augmented reality to products like the iPhone.

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Apple is assembling a top-notch team of engineers to bring augmented reality, or AR, to the masses. More details about the people the company's been hiring emerged Monday in a Bloomberg report.

The team, which includes some notable Apple insiders, is also being bolstered by expertise from a few outside hires, the report said citing unnamed sources. A UBS report from February said Apple has hired more than 1,000 engineers to work on AR. Mike Rockwell from Dolby Laboratories was hired in 2015 to lead the group that includes engineers who have worked on Oculus and HoloLens virtual reality headsets from Facebook and Microsoft, as well as digital effects engineers who have worked for movie studios in Hollywood.

Apple declined to comment on the Bloomberg report.

Unlike virtual reality, or VR, which completely immerses users in an artificial experience, augmented reality supplements the existing reality with digital special effects. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been touting the possibilities of augmented reality for some time. And Apple has been acquiring technology from AR-related start-ups such as PrimeSense, Metaio and RealFace. So it should come as little surprise that the company is working on products that incorporate the technology.

CNET reported in February that AR is expected to be featured in the next iPhone, the iPhone 8, which is due later this year. Apple has also been rumored to be working on a set of digital glasses that could connect wirelessly to an iPhone, but Bloomberg said such a product is still a ways off.

If Apple brings AR to the iPhone it will be competing with Google Tango-enabled phones, like the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and Asus ZenFone AR.

Apple engineers who have been put on the AR team include Fletcher Rothkopf, who helped design the Apple Watch, and Tomlinson Holman, who created THX, the audio standard made popular by Lucasfilm, according to Bloomberg.

The company has also recruited some notable outsiders: Cody White, former lead engineer of Amazon's Lumberyard virtual reality platform; Duncan McRoberts, a former director of software development for a small company called Meta that makes $950 AR glasses; Yury Petrov, a former Oculus researcher; and Avi Bar-Zeev, who worked on the HoloLens and Google Earth.

Additionally, Apple has also been hiring camera and optical lens engineers. It's also opened an office in Wellington, New Zealand, and hired a slew of 3D animation experts from Weta Digital, the New Zealand special effects shop started by director Peter Jackson, according to Bloomberg.

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