Magic Leap is a secretive US company working on a head-mounted display that could surpass the hopes of Google Glass, Hololens, Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive combined. While these devices use stereoscopic techniques to create an illusion of depth, using two virtual cameras separated by a short distance to trick your eyes into seeing 3D, Magic Leap is distinctly different. Magic Leap’s CEO, Rony Abovitz, outlined this difference at a recent Fortune Brainstorm conference, explaining that Magic Leap uses a digital light field system. It’s a “neurologically true” experience, he said, working with the display nature gave us. The headset is the size of a pair of glasses and projects a digital light field directly onto the retinas of its wearer, mimicking the way our eyes work naturally to create the illusion of solid 3D images. They look so real, he claimed, your brain can’t tell the difference.
Abovitz told the audience that Magic Leap creates Mixed Reality (MR) experiences. Like Augmented Reality (AR), MR lets the user see the real world but additionally allows you to see believable virtual objects, just like Virtual Reality (VR). What MR adds to both AR and VR is the ability to give these 3D objects positions in real world environments. They anchor virtual objects (mix them) into your everyday surroundings as if they are just as real as everything else.
The company has attracted a ridiculously large amount of investment funding. Magic Leap has raised an insane $1.4 billion plus from multiple investors since it was launched in 2010. Google, China’s Alibaba Group, JP Morgan, Qualcomm Ventures, and Warner Bros, are just some of the companies on board. Thousands of people have already experienced the device but are subject to Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Independent, first-hand experiences are therefore hard to come by.
The end of Google glass?
After hearing what Rony Abovitz had to say at the conference, and what has been released previously, it would not be a stretch to believe that Google Glass Version 2 was cancelled after Google executives experienced Magic Leap’s mixed reality headset first hand.
When Abovitz was asked at the conference whether Google Glass didn’t move forward because of Magic Leap, he didn’t shoot the suggestion down. Instead, he gave credit to Google being a pioneer in the field, saying Magic Leap had learnt a lot from Google, both good and bad. Google’s work had been “really helpful”, he said, suggesting that Google may have directly passed on everything they had learnt.
Google became a key investor in Magic Leap in September 2015, just before Google ended their Google Glass Explorer program. They sold their last headset in 2015. Google contributed to both Round B and Round C funding calls, with an early contribution of $542 million. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is now on Magic Leap’s board. Since then, there has been no suggestion that Google Glass will be rising from the ashes anytime soon.
Magic Leap’s private demonstrations have managed to attract numerous companies and individuals in a relatively short space of time. Lucasarts has a workshop dedicated to creating Magic Leap content, and Richard Taylor from Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop is also involved. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson joined the company in December 2014 as Chief Futurist.
Abovitz said the company has set up a development centre in Silicon Valley where testers wear the glasses and live in a mixed reality world every day. Digital people roam around with other workers. Because the testers couldn’t tell the real people from the fake, they had to give them brighter lighting to avoid confusion. The office was described by Brian Wallace, Magic Leap’s Chief Marketing Officer, as “a Harry Potter world come alive.”
The more that is released, the more intriguing it all sounds. If Magic Leap can live up to its claims, we could be on the verge of a paradigm shift in the way we are entertained, communicate, and interact with digital content.
Magic Leap says it will release its product to the world “…hopefully soonish”.
You can watch the full interview with Magic Leap’s CEO below. A Star Wars video demo using Magic Leap has also been released by Lucasarts.