Google is reportedly buying Lytro, the company known for making ground-breaking camera equipment for consumer use. The acquisition comes at an interesting point as Lytro has pivoted from consumer cameras to leverage its depth-data, light-field technology in virtual reality.
TechCrunch reports that Google is paying $40 million for the startup, which was estimated to be valued at around $360 million. The pricing suggests that Google is getting a bargain deal here. The significance of the deal is further highlighted by the fact that Google showed off a new app to display immersive photography in virtual reality and a multi-camera technique to capture it last week.
Google is invested in technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality and has been pioneering new ways to capture depth map and data that would supplement these technologies. With Lytro, Google stands to gain significant foothold into that space. People briefed about the deal say Google is mainly interested in the assets that come with the purchase of Lytro. These assets would include Lytro’s 59 patents related to light-field and other digital imaging technology.
The report also speculates Lytro would command even lower price tag of $25 million and the company has turned to Google after exploring buying options from Facebook and Apple. The deal would also mean that not all employees will move to Google and some will end up receiving severance package to part ways with the company.
Lytro is iconically known for its consumer camera based on light-field technology that capture entire light field around a picture rather than capturing one place of light. Its list of investors include prominent names like Andreessen Horowitz, Foxconn, GSV, Greylock, Qualcomm Ventures and among others. Google’s SVP of hardware Rick Osterloh sits on the board of Lytro and might have been instrumental in pushing through the deal.
The report adds that Lytro has raised just over $200 million in funding and it was valued at around $360 million in the last round of funding. That valuation means that Lytro’s sale to Google is not going down as the best investment option for the silicon valley venture capital firms. Lytro’s first camera based on light-field technology was revolutionary and it gave options to post process images in a way not possible with standard digital cameras. But it was way expensive from ownership perspective.
The weaker sales of its cameras forced Lytro pivot to VR business where it has a golden chance to build quality technology with all the data it has related to depth sensing and light-field mechanism. Lytro also acquired Limitless recently to expand its work in VR for gaming. Google has a massive ambition to expand its hardware business and has been tightly integrating its software services with in-house hardware. It is not clear what it would do with Lytro but the core assets will help the company strengthen its existing product offerings and improve quality of products like Google Clips camera.