After more than a decade spent developing it’s “light field” imaging technology, camera startup Lytro is throwing in the towel. According to a statement on the company’s website, the time has come to “wind down” operations. A recent rumor pointed to a possible Google acquisition of Lytro, but it looks like Google is only interested in snapping up the company’s engineers. A large chunk of the Lytro team will apparently be heading to Google.
Lytro is perhaps most well-known for its first consumer product, an experimental consumer camera launched in 2011. The device was just a square-ish tube with an LCD at one end and the lens at the other. You didn’t have to worry about focusing the Lytro camera because it used the company’s “light field” technology to capture multiple planes in the image. After taking photos, you could process them and change the focal point to any location in the image. It made for a cool tech demo if nothing else.
The original Lytro cost $400 and was little more than a novelty. Lytro released a second camera in 2014 priced at a whopping $1,600, but it had a more conventional form factor and more powerful hardware. It still had the same cool light field focusing tricks, but just a year later the company pivoted away from consumer devices and began development of VR technology.
The idea behind Lytro’s VR tech was that you could use light field images to make VR more immersive and less nausea-inducing by adjusting the focus dynamically. Lytro released a professional 360-degree VR camera rig in 2015, but VR itself is going through some growing pains right now. No one is sure where the technology is going to go or what content will look like.
Lytro has scored more than $200 million in funding since its founding on the basis of how cool light field technology was in demos. The move to VR didn’t save Lytro, and investors weren’t throwing more money at it. Rumors of at Google acquisition previously claimed the sale price was only $40 million or so, but now it looks like Google is just hiring away Lytro’s staff. If it’s just a hiring deal, Google probably won’t get any of the patents or technology Lytro developed.
Things might not have worked out for Lytro, but light field technology might live on at Google. In the meantime, you can still buy the original Lytro as a curiosity for around $100.
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