Lytro had big plans to change the photography industry with its unique, rectangular-shaped “light field camera” that let users refocus photos after they’d taken them.
Now, Lytro is being acquired by Google for as much as $40 million, TechCrunch reports. The decision comes following Lytro’s botched release of the Illum, a second overpriced (and rather clunky) light field camera that failed to catch on, and after the company’s more recent pivot to virtual reality.
The deal is reportedly not finalized just yet, with some sources suggesting the acquisition price could be much lower at around $25 million.
According to the report, Google is buying Lytro for its imaging assets, namely its light field-related patents. Some Lytro employees have reportedly already been let go, while others prepare to transition to Google.
It seems like a no-brainer for Google, a company investing heavily in VR, to buy a startup that’s created end-to-end hardware and software solutions to enable next-generation immersive content creation.
It’s even plausible Google could be looking to use Lytro’s talent and patented tech to fend off Facebook’s Oculus VR and Magic Leap.
But it’s just as reasonably possible that Google won’t even use Lytro’s technology for VR at all. Over the last few years, Google’s been clear about its ambitions to build the best smartphone cameras on its Pixel phones using a combination of techniques like machine learning and computer vision.
Perhaps, Google’s looking to build on top of the Pixel 2’s already best-in-class camera with Lytro’s light field photography tricks. Just imagine taking photos that you could refocus later. Sure would be more useful than the iPhone’s Live Photos or Pixel’s Motion Stills.
We’ve already seen the impressive “portrait mode” shots the Pixel 2 can produce using machine learning instead of a fancy dual camera system like on iPhone or Galaxy S9+.
Lytro’s light field camera was way ahead of its time, but the company had it all wrong. Maybe it it should have been trying to integrate it into smartphones. And if anyone can make that happen, it’s Google.