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Apple and its boss Tim Cook is investing heavily in augmented reality Reuters

In what could be a small step for Apple, but a giant leap for augmented reality, the iPhone maker has reportedly hired the former chief of AR at Nasa, Jeff Norris.

The hiring of Norris comes as speculation mounts around what Apple has planned for the future for AR, potentially leading to an entirely new product category for the California company. Boss Tim Cook has said numerous times how he believes the future is bright for AR – even more so than for virtual reality (VR).

According to anonymous sources speaking to the often well-informed Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, Norris joined Apple earlier in 2017 as a senior manager on the company's augmented reality team, a division run by former Dolby Labs executive Mike Rockwell.

It was reached by anonymous sources earlier this year that this secretive division within Apple is working on a pair of AR glasses and a set of related features to work in partnership with a future iPhone.

Having joined Nasa in 1999, Norris first helped create software for controlling the space agency's Mars rovers. Norris later founded Nasa's Mission Operations Innovation Office, within the Jet Propulsion Lab. Here, he oversaw efforts to create new ways to control spacecraft and robots using virtual and augmented reality.

With Cook a huge fan of AR, it is understood that Apple plans to bring its first AR products to market as soon as 2018. Rivals already established in the market include Microsoft and its HoloLens AR headset, which blends the wearer's own environment with a virtual one to help improve their ability to work.

Apple will no doubt be aware of Google's failed attempt to crack the AR market with Glass, a pair of spectacles with an outward facing camera and which projected a user interface into the wearer's eye. Costing £1,000 they failed to take off in the lucrative consumer market, while continue to be used in small numbers by some manufacturing companies.