Even for uber-secretive Apple, the acquisition of Danish visual effects startup Spektral was especially hush-hush. The tech giant bought the Copenhagen-based firm in December of last year for more than $30 million but didn’t disclose the purchase at the time, according to a Wednesday report by Danish newspaper Børsen.
Spektral got its start by developing software that enabled photographers to digitally pluck a person—down to the pesky stray hairs on their head—from one green screen-like background and plunk them down in front of another. Think school portraits.
That technique is called “cutouts” and the company went by the name CloudCutout at the time. It offered a way to do in the digital cloud something photographers once did by hand with film and later did by mouse in photo editing software.
But all those math Ph.D.s at CloudCutout got restless and trained their machine-learning software to cut out a person from moving pictures without the need for an actual Hollywood-style green screen. Now the company advertises that it can do that in real time, creating a “mixed reality.” Think Pokémon Go.
Spektral, under its new name, raised $2.8 million last year, according to TechCrunch.
So what led Apple to acquire the firm? For one, it’s been investing in augmented reality since at least last year when it also opened its software developer’s kit to address augmented reality. It advertises possible in-home uses of augmented reality, such as checking what new Ikea furniture might look like in a user’s home. Also worth considering: Apple analysts have predicted that some sort of augmented reality glasses and driving assistants are on their way.
While Spektral wouldn’t comment for Børsen, its co-founder and chief technical officer Toke Jansen now lists Apple as his employer on LinkedIn. He was a Ph.D. student in math and computer science at Danish Technical University when he co-founded CloudCutout.