Apple has hired NASA augmented and virtual reality expert Jeff Norris, Bloomberg reports, to build AR and VR projects for the company. Norris apparently joined Apple’s augmented reality team earlier this year, Bloomberg says, as a senior manager reporting to former Dolby Labs executive Mike Rockwell.
It’s not clear exactly what Norris will be doing at Apple, but Rockwell’s team is supposedly working on AR glasses that may function like a new version Google Glass, and won’t be revealed until 2018 at the earliest. But that’s not the only bit of AR technology that Apple is working on. Tim Cook has repeatedly talked of AR’s potential, saying last July that the company was “high on AR in the long run,” and confirming this year that he saw it as a “big idea like the smartphone.”
Indeed, Norris’ is one of a wave of experts hired by the company in recent months, including people poached from VR and AR competitors like Oculus and Magic Leap. Earlier this month, a UBS business note indicated that Apple may have as many as 1,000 engineers working on AR technology, while other reports suggested that it may even appear as a standard feature in the next generation of iPhones.
Norris had worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the last 18 years, founding and directing the agency’s Mission Operations Innovation Office, as well as its Ops Lab during that time. Among the projects he worked on at NASA included OnSight — an ambitious program for Microsoft’s HoloLens that used Mars mission data to allow people back on Earth to explore the red planet in virtual and augmented reality. Speaking to The Verge while working for NASA, Norris said that he saw huge potential in both AR and VR tech, describing the programs he worked on as "a new tool in the toolbox of explorers."