Apple ‘has bought Israel’s PrimeSense, maker of first-generation Kinect sensor’

November 20, 2013

Apple has bought PrimeSense, an Israeli company which provided 3D sensors for the first generation Microsoft Kinect, according to reports in Israel.

PrimeSense’s systems generate a three-dimensional representation of the space in front of the sensors using reflected infrared light, so that digital devices can effectively “see” a scene and recognise elements in it. The first-generation Kinect uses it to locate players and observe their movements.

The deal, said to be worth $345m (£213m), was reported by Calcalist, an Israeli financial newspaper which has a good track record on acquisitions in the area. It was the first to report that Google had bought the Israeli traffic mapping company Waze in June.

Apple’s decision to purchase the company will heighten expectation that it is working on some form of application for the living room, where a sensor could work with its Apple TV set-top box and allow users to control a TV remotely. Alternatively it could be fitted to a phone and used to recognise faces – perhaps as an adjunct to its fingerprint unlocking system introduced on the iPhone 5S in September, or a feature in an entirely new device

Sense and synchronise

Founded in 2005 and with about 150 staff, PrimeSense, which has raised a total of $85m in venture funding, says that its sensing technology “gives digital devices the ability to observe a scene in three dimensions. It translates these observations into a synchronised image stream (depth and color) – just like humans do. It then takes those synchronised images and translates them into information such as identification of people – their body properties, movements and gestures; classification of objects such as furniture; location of walls and floor.”

The company claims that its technology is used in 24m devices around the world. A large number of those will be the first version of the Kinect. Microsoft used a different supplier for its second-generation Kinect.

Apple tends to buy comparatively small companies for their technologies. In 2012 it bought Anobit for $390m, another Israeli company, for its expertise in working with solid state storage technology, which is a key part of its phones and tablets, and a growing number of its computers. The Californian company reportedly has three research and development centres in Israel.

But the many projects that PrimeSense is working on with third parties are likely to be curtailed, as happened when it purchased the fingerprint sensing company Authentec in July 2012. That technology took more than a year to appear in Apple’s phone technology, suggesting that any plans the company has for it might not appear for some time – although it is not known whether the two companies were collaborating ahead of Apple’s buyout.

The company said: “PrimeSense is the leading 3D technology in the market. We are focused on building a prosperous company while bringing 3D sensing and Natural Interaction to the mass market in a variety of markets such as interactive living room and mobile devices. We do not comment on what any of our partners, customers or potential customers are doing and we do not relate to rumors or re-cycled rumors.”

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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