In one of the least-surprising developments in the hardware sector, light-field photography pioneer Lytro has apparently thrown in the towel after nearly $200 million in investment. According to an enigmatic post on the Lytro blog: (emphasis added)
At Lytro, we believe that Light Field will continue to shape the course of Virtual and Augmented Reality, and we’re incredibly proud of the role we’ve been able to play in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We’ve uncovered challenges we never dreamed of and made breakthroughs at a seemingly impossible pace. We’ve had some spectacular successes, and built entire systems that no one thought possible. More importantly, we built a team that was singularly unified in its focus and unrivaled in its dedication. It has been an honor and a pleasure to contribute to the cinema and Virtual Reality communities, but starting today we will not be taking on new productions or providing professional services as we prepare to wind down the company. We’re excited to see what new opportunities the future brings for the Lytro team as we go our separate ways. We would like to thank the various communities that have supported us and hope that our paths will cross in the future.
Once a high-flier in the tech scene, Lytro first launched a lipstick-sized light-field camera that offered the user the function of changing the focus of an image after the photo was taken. When the response to the first launch was tepid, the company pivoted to offer a more full-featured model (shown above). Eventually, Lytro again pivoted to embrace digital cinema and VR production. As of January, the company acquired a company called Limitless to develop VR gaming technology. Very few companies can manage a triple-pivot, even with $200 million funding.Very few companies can manage a triple-pivot, even with $200 million funding. Click To Tweet
According to Pitchbook, Lytro raised more than $200 million in funding and was valued at around $360 million. Investors included Silicon Valley luminaries Andreessen Horowitz, Foxconn, GSV, Greylock, NEA, Qualcomm Ventures and more. According to Techcrunch, the Lytro scraps were purchased by Google for $40 million.
The company was launched in 2006, as Refocus Imaging, and was one of the highlights of the 6Sight Future of Imaging Conference that year, as then Stanford-student Ren Ng demoed the technology. Ground-breaking at the time, the technology – and the company that launched it – never became mainstream or even particularly useful on its own. The concepts, however, were important to illustrate the potential of computational photography, which at that time was in its infancy. Many of today’s apps and cameras now borrow from these concepts.