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Apple buys machine learning AR firm specializing in mixed realities

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Apple has reportedly bought a Danish startup called Spektral, which specialized in real-time separation of objects in photos and videos for a "green screen" effect.

The acquisition was actually made late last year, but has flown under the radar until now, Danish publication Brsen revealed on Wednesday. Co-founders Henrik Paltoft and Toke Jansen are said to have been paid 200 million Danish krone, or about $30 million.

Jansen has become a manager of Computational Imaging at Apple, working out of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Spektral's process relied on machine learning and computer vision technology, even handling object separation for video running at 60 frames per second. The company touted this as useful for creating mixed-reality material.

The firm originated as CloudCutout, and first established a toehold through the U.S. school photography industry. In 2016 it launched website for creating images from product photos, soon after developing its real-time system. Prior to its acquisition, Spektral said it was "working fiercely" on bringing real-time cutouts to smartphones.

Apple's plans are uncertain, though it could conceivably incorporate the technology into apps like Camera or Clips, or expand on the use of animoji and memoji.

When contacted for comment, Apple presented the normal refrain about reported acquisitions, saying that "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

Apple is known to be intensely interested in augmented reality. The company has developed a supporting iOS platform, ARKit, and even re-engineered its iPhone cameras to better support it. It has also made a number of related acquisitions, for instance buying Metaio in 2015, and AR lens maker Akonia Holographics earlier this year.

The company's long-term goal is believed to be an AR headset, codenamed "T288," which will run its own operating system currently dubbed "rOS." The gear may even have 8K displays and a separate processor, but isn't expected to ship until 2020 or later.