Apple is further investing in its supply chain for optical imaging technology, signaling the company’s ongoing interest in 3D facial recognition. The tech giant has announced a $410 million award for II-VI (pronounced “two-six”), an American manufacturer of semiconductors and optical materials.
In announcing the funding, Apple emphasized II-VI’s work in manufacturing vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), which area a crucial component in the operation of Apple’s Face ID authentication system. Introduced with 2017’s iPhone X, Face ID essentially projects an infrared grid onto an end user’s face in order to establish a three-dimensional biometric template, which can be used for authentication.
VCSEL technology is also important for the functionality of Apple’s Memoji and Animoji media, and in the construction of “Portrait mode” selfie images.
Apple also noted that it works with II-VI to produce laser technology used in its LiDAR Scanner, which enables Augmented Reality applications through Apple devices.
The company had initially awarded II-VI $390 million through its Advanced Manufacturing Fund in 2017; at the time, the funding went to VCSEL specialist Finisar, which was acquired by II-IV the next year.
Apple says it has worked closely with II-VI engineers in a Texas-based facility to ramp up production over the past year. Going forward, the company says that its additional funding will create more capacity for future iPhone components across II-VI facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, in addition to Texas.
All of this activity points to ongoing support for Face ID, which has become Apple’s favored mode of user authentication on its iPhone devices, as well as continuing interest in related AR and imaging technologies supported by VCSELs. And II-VI CEO Vincent Mattera suggested there could be more innovation in store.
“The partnership between Apple and II-VI sets the stage for a new wave of breakthrough technologies that we believe will enable a wide range of applications that will benefit our world for decades to come,” he said. “We are incredibly grateful for Apple’s support which has allowed us to expand our manufacturing capacity and scale our operations across the US.”