Oculus Crystal Cove 001

Sony, HTC, and Facebook could soon have another competitor in the virtual reality business after Apple this week hired leading VR expert Doug Bowman, former director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech.

During his five-year tenure at Virginia Tech, Bowman was principal investigator of the 3D Interaction Group, which was focused on researching the benefits of immersion in virtual environments. He was also lead author of 3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice, and has been honored with a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for his work on 3D interaction.

Bowman took a sabbatical from Virginia Tech before joining Apple, reports Financial Times, and while the move may seem somewhat surprising, the Cupertino company has actually been toying with virtual reality for many years. It also holds many patents related to virtual reality technologies.

The FT notes that “people in the industry” are adamant Apple is interested in VR research, and that this is the strongest indication yet that the company intends to build VR products, which could include a headset of its own, or new technologies for vehicles.

The news comes just one week after Oculus made its first consumer VR headset available for pre-order, and HTC announced that Vive, built in partnership with Valve, would be going on sale in February. VR is definitely a hot technology right now, but it’s still unclear whether that will be the case in a few years.