The first-gen Lytro camera, released in 2012.
The Lytro Illum, a second-gen light-field camera with a more traditional form factor.
With the pivot to VR come crazy camera setups like this, the “Lytro Immerge 2.0.” It captures 3D VR video.
The Lytro Cinema is a super-sized light-field camera for filmmaking.
A report from TechCrunch claims that Google is going to buy the camera company Lytro for “around 40 million dollars.” Lytro is best known for creating an innovative “Light field camera,” but the company has lately pivoted to professional camera technology for filmmaking and capturing VR video.
You might remember the first Lytro camera, which came in a crazy “tube” form factor with a lens at one end and a 1.5-inch touchscreen on the other. The tube was full of lenses and a special “Light Field Sensor” that would capture images as light-field data rather than a grid of pixels. The benefit was that you could just take a picture without worrying about the focus, and you could later selectively focus the image however you wanted. The downside is that you needed a much denser CMOS sensor to capture a high megapixel image. In 2012, when the camera came out, Lytro could compute all this light-field data down to only a 1MP image.
Lytro followed up the first-gen tube camera with the “Lytro Illum” in 2014. This camera used more of a traditional form factor and increased the resolution. Neither of these cameras sold very well, and the company eventually moved away from consumer cameras and started making more professional cameras for VR and cinema.
TechCrunch says Google’s plans for Lytro are “not clear yet.” The report suggests that the purchase would help Google’s VR efforts, pointing to Google’s own work with light-field cameras and a recently released immersive image viewer for Stream VR called “Light Fields.” In addition to having competing light-field camera designs and engineers, Lytro also has 59 patents related to light-field imaging that Google might want. There’s already a strong connection between Lytro and Google: Rick Osterloh, Google’s SVP of hardware, has a seat on Lytro’s board of directors.
The report is a bit cloudy on the exact details of the transaction. “One source described the deal as an ‘asset sale,’ with Lytro going for no more than $40 million,” the report says. “Another source said the price was even lower: $25 million and that it was shopped around—to Facebook, according to one source and possibly to Apple, according to another. A separate person told us that not all employees are coming over with the company’s technology: some have already received severance and parted ways with the company, and others have simply left.”
All of those possibilities sound like a rough outcome for Lytro. In 2017, the company was valued at $360 million, and the company has raised more than $200 million in total funding from various investors. With a lack of a hit product or service over Lytro’s 12-year history, it sounds like the money dried up, and Google is grabbing the company at a bargain.