Lytro to lay off big chunk of staff, refocus its technology on virtual reality

Like its cameras, Lytro is planning to do some refocusing of its own. Re/code’s Ina Fried reports that the innovative company will move into the video and virtual reality sectors, as well as cutting possibly up to 50 people from its team of 130.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal told Re/code that they “are going to have to make some cuts in some areas so we can staff up in some new ones.” Some 25 to 50 employees may lose their jobs. Despite blowing the industry away with its light-field technology back in 2011 – which, among many features, allows users to refocus an image afterward – the company has failed to turn it into a commercial success with its cameras. (Digital Trends’ David Elrich was less than impressed with the high-end Illum.)

The good news is that Lytro has secured a $50 million investment. With it, the company plans to shift its focus toward virtual reality devices. Rosenthal says there are plenty of devices for displaying VR, but light field is the “perfect solution” for capturing images easily and affordably. But Rosenthal added $50 million isn’t enough to maintain a staff in its current form.

Rosenthal also said Lytro will continue to support light-field photography, and that more features in the Illum will be added via firmware updates. A new, higher-resolution camera is also in the works.

Despite Lytro’s attempt to break into the consumer market, our excitement for its cameras tempered (check out Harry McCracken’s piece on why consumers failed to catch on with light field, as well as our original op/ed from 2013, when we noticed problems for the budding company). We still love its light-field technology, and feel the technology may be better suited in the commercial space, such as security; a move into VR seems to indicate that. While layoffs are never good, it looks like Lytro will have more opportunities to wow us.

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