Apple buys motion sensor maker PrimeSense

Consumers try the Kinect console Gesture-based control is one of the fast-growing trends across various sectors

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Apple has purchased PrimeSense, an Israeli firm that specialises in making 3D motion detection technology.

PrimeSense is best known for developing gesture control for Microsoft's Kinect sensor, and has made strides towards bringing the technology to mobile.

Apple's deal is likely to spark speculation about its plans to develop new products such as Apple TV.

PrimeSense confirmed the deal with Apple in a statement to the BBC but said they could not comment further.

Apple did not disclose the financial details of the deal but said it had taken place. Some reports claimed it had paid $360m (£222m).

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," said an Apple spokesman.

'Mega trend'

The deal comes at a time when firms are increasingly experimenting with gesture control.

Start Quote

Usage of gesture-based, touch-less control of devices is one of the big mega trends in the industry right now”

End Quote Nitin Bhat Frost & Sullivan

In October 2011, Apple filed for a patent for new ways to control devices that do not involve physical contact.

Its filing, entitled Real Time Video Process Control Using Gestures, talked about allowing users to "throw" content - the ability to transfer it from one of the firm's products to another - using contact-free hand movements.

Analysts said that acquiring a firm that specialises in making motion sensor technology could help Apple offer such features.

"Usage of gesture-based, touch-less control of devices is one of the big mega trends in the industry right now," Nitin Bhat, a partner with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan told the BBC.

"From Apple's perspective it looks like an attempt to make its current gadgets a lot more attractive by offering such a feature on them.

"It could also look to incorporate this technology in future portfolio of devices which could include an Apple TV," he added.

'Ability to observe'

Earlier this year, PrimeSense unveiled the advances it has made in incorporating its technology in mobile devices.

By shrinking down the sensor used in the Kinect, the firm showed it working with a Nexus 10 tablet at a Google developers' conference in May.

According to PrimeSense, its 3D sensing technology gives digital devices "the ability to observe a scene in three dimensions".

It said that once it has observed the movements, it translates them into a "synchronized image stream... just like humans do".

The firm's technology then processes these 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 firm has also launched a 3D scanner which, it says, allows "anyone to scan items in their own environment and print them out on a 3D printer".

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