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Apple Taps Leading Researcher in VR, AR Play

January 22, 2016, 4:24 PM UTC

Apple has hired one of the world’s top virtual reality researchers for, well, some reason.

Doug Bowman, Ph.D., previously a professor at Virginia Tech, has joined Apple (AAPL) in an unspecified role, according to the Financial Times. Bowman was on sabbatical from his job as professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, according to his resume. He was also the director of the university’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction.

While Apple has made no announcements related to its possible plans in virtual reality and augmented reality, the reported Bowman pickup could be an important step in that direction.

Bowman wrote his doctoral thesis on virtual environments and has won a slew of awards related to virtual reality. Over the years he has been awarded millions of dollars for funded research related to both virtual reality and augmented reality. Interestingly, he and a colleague in November won $100,000 in grants from Microsoft (MSFT) to use that company’s HoloLens headset to study “collaborative analysis of large-scale mixed reality data,” according to the Financial Times.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are slightly different disciplines, which makes Bowman’s knowledge of both technologies critical to any company attempting to compete in the virtual marketplace. Virtual reality creates an entire 3D world that encompasses the individual. Augmented reality, however, places virtual components atop the real world, allowing users to interact with what’s around them, in addition to the 3D renderings in front of their eyes.

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Although Apple has not confirmed that it has in fact hired Bowman—the company did not respond to a request for comment—the pickup could be an important one.

The virtual reality and augmented reality markets are set to take off in the coming years. Indeed, Goldman Sachs has said that virtual reality alone could be worth $80 billion in industry revenue within the next 10 years. The ultimate test will come down this year, as some of the most anticipated headsets, including Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC (HTC) Vive, hit store shelves.

While some of the industry’s heavyweights, including Facebook (FB), Microsoft, and Google (GOOG), have all publicly voiced their support for virtual and augmented reality, Apple has been surreptitiously doing so. Over the last several months, some patents related to virtual reality have cropped up, showing Apple and its employees as inventors of technologies that could enhance virtual reality headsets. Apple in May acquired Metaio, a company that was developing augmented reality tools before it was unceremoniously folded into the iPhone maker’s business.

For more, read: 3 Signs Apple Has Entered the Twilight Zone of Virtual Reality

Meanwhile, Apple has posted job openings for positions across both augmented and virtual reality, and last year hired Nick Thompson, who was previously the engineering lead on the audio technology in Microsoft’s HoloLens wearable.

The Bowman hire could be another piece of what is seemingly an important puzzle for Apple to solve. Indeed, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a research note in August that Apple has assembled a team of virtual and augmented reality engineers to work on products for those markets.

For more on virtual reality, watch:

It’s a new (virtual) world at Apple.