Rumor: Apple and Carl Zeiss teaming up for lightweight VR/AR glasses

Citing an unnamed “employee at Zeiss,” AR/VR evangelist Robert Scoble claims Apple is partnering with optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss on a pair of lightweight glasses, according to AppleInsider. He adds that the product will debut in 2018.

Zeiss currently markets the VR One Plus, a headset with special optics that turns almost any smartphone into a virtual or augmented reality system. Similar products, commonly called viewers, are available from Samsung and Google. 

Almost a year ago, then-Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicted that a virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) “ecosystem” for iOS devices such as the iPhone could be ready to go by 2018. 

"We believe 10 years from now Generation Z will find reality inefficient," he wrote. "We believe the concept of an 'inefficient reality' is evident through smartphone use today — the precursor to mixed reality — offering users the ability to find more information as needed.”

Munster said a search on LinkedIn revealed at least 141 Apple employees with a background in AR. He adds that there’s evidence that Apple is conducting AR/VR systems research behind closed doors, including numerous filed and granted patents covering virtual displays, augmented reality and computer vision.

In 2015 Apple was granted a patent for VR goggles that would use an iPhone as the display unit. The invention is for a "head-mounted display apparatus for retaining a portable electronic device with display." It would allow you to connect an iPhone to a GoPro-ish head mount for viewing media on a private display. The invention would allow users to couple and decouple a portable electronic device with a separate head-mounted device. 

Another patent filing indicates that Apple has considered a 3D imaging and display system that would work with Macsand iOS devices, and which would scan and display simultaneously. Yet another patent filing describes a device for “projecting a source image in a head-mounted display apparatus for a user” to deliver “an enhanced viewing experience.

What’s more, Apple has been scooping up VR/AR related companies, such as Emollient, a startup that uses artificial-intelligence technology to read people’s emotions by analyzing facial expressions. In November 2015 the company acquired Faceshift, which makes a facial motion capture system. 

In May 2015 Apple purchased Metaio, a company makes Metaio Creator, an AR authoring tool. In 2013, Apple bought PrimeSense, an Israeli maker of chips that enable three-dimensional (3D) machine vision.