Magic Leap, the augmented reality company established by enigmatic entrepreneur Rony Abovitz, and which gained over US $500 million from the likes of Google in 2014 (see my article from October 2014), revealed a little more about its product during a WSJD Live interview recently.
As reported by Nicole Lee for Engadget, Abovitz and Chief Content Officer Rio Caraeff talked in general terms about the system which has caused no small amount of excitement among those who have actually seen it in action. People such as Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, who sits on the Magic Leap board and was one of the driving forces behind Google’s lion’s share of the half-billion funding mentioned above, and who shares a place on the board with Qualcomm’s executive chairman, Paul Jacobs, another investor from that round of funding.
The technology has also wowed leading lights from the entertainment industry such as Weta Workshop’s co-founder Richard Taylor (one of the first to invest in Magic Leap), and Thomas Tull, CEO of Legendary Entertainment (aka Legendary Pictures). For those outside, however, Magic Leap has perhaps come over as a riddle bordering on smoke and mirrors.
Talking at the WSJD event, Abovitz indicated Magic Leap won’t be tied to a particular platform or OS, but will be entirely self-contained and with a dedicated OS. He also indicates that in difference to those dismissing AR on the grounds that “no-one likes to wear glasses for long”, the form factor for the unit will be something people won’t fight shy of wearing. He also states it will allow them to maintain a normal relationship with others when in use – a little dig, no doubt, at the first generation of cumbersome and isolating VR headsets about to hit the market.
Alongside of the interview, Magic Leap also released a new video which they state is filmed entirely through Magic Leap technology and with no special effects or compositing.
Quite how the system works, however, is still a mystery. No headsets are shown in any of the company’s promotional material, and much is made of the use of a “Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal” (which we can call “Digital Lightfield™”). In speaking at WSJD, Abovitz and Caraeff both skirted specifics, with the former only saying, “We treat human biology as our centre point; everyone already has a head-mounted display. It’s your head!”
This suggests the company is perhaps pursuing direct retinal projection, possibly in some form of headset unit that is less intrusive than the kind of units suggestive in the patent filings the company has made in the past. And if this sounds like science-fiction, remember Abovitz made his money developing medical technology, and the company has apparently devoted considerable effort into researching the relationship between the photonic light field and the way the brain functions.
So what is the purpose of all this? Caraeff indicated the ultimate am is for Magic Leap to provide broad-based platform for visual computing. “Anything that you can do on your smartphone, on your computer; you’ll be able to do on Magic Leap,” he said, then added, “Where the world is your screen.”
“We believe the future of computing should be natural,” Abovitz stated. “With Magic Leap, your brain doesn’t distinguish what’s real and what’s Magic Leap, because as far as your brain’s concerned, it is real.”
I admit to being far more persuaded that AR will generate a greater mass market presence than VR. Despite the negative memes about people not liking glasses and Google’s misplaced Glass product, AR would appear to be far more inclusive in its use than VR, and have the same potential reach into many of the markets being hailed as VR’s territory: business, medical, education, healthcare and entertainment.
Whether Magic Leap will actually pave the way in this regard as units start to roll off the company’s new production line in Florida at some point in the future, is open to debate. I do, however, admit to being more intrigued by the potential of AR systems like it and CastAR than I am with the first generation of VR headsets we’re about to see.
Additional material on the WSJD Live event via The Verge.