Multiple sources tell TechCrunch that Google is acquiring Lytro, an imaging startup that specializes in light-field technology.
According to TechCrunch, one source says the deal is an “asset sale” and the company is being bought for no more than $40 million. Another source says the asking price is $25 million and that it had already been shopped around to other companies, including Facebook.
At stake are Lytro’s 59 patents related to light-field and digital imaging technologies. The company, founded in 2006, created the first consumer camera to utilize the technology, resulting in the camera’s ability to refocus photos to any part of the image after they’re taken. Lytro’s cameras do this by capturing all the rays of light from a scene, as well as information about where they came from.
The company only ever made two consumer cameras, neither of which sold very well, and eventually made the decision to refocus efforts on light-field video solutions, which could be applied to cinema and VR. It discontinued the manufacturing and distribution of Lytro cameras for photography, and in December of last year, pulled hosting support for pictures.lytro.com, where photos taken with Lytro cameras could be shared for users to play with refocusing and 3D depth features.
Though there are no details on what Google’s plans for Lytro might be, the acquisition could bolster Google’s own VR efforts. Recently, Google experimented with light-field photography, modding one of the 16-camera circular “Jump” rigs that Google developed a few years ago with GoPro cameras. The cameras were taken out of the original setup, repositioned in a vertical arc, and mounted on a platform that spins 360 degrees. The scenes that Google shot were then made available on an immersive image viewer app it released called “Light Fields.”
If Google manages to nab Lytro at the rumored $40 million price tag, it would be a rough exit for the startup. Over the years Lytro raised over $200 million in funding and as recently as 2017, was valued at around $360 million. Rick Osterloh, SVP of hardware at Google, sits on Lytro’s board.