Magic Leap released a rare preview of its cutting edge “mixed reality,” or MR, technology today, heightening curiosity about one of the most highly anticipated innovations in recent years. According to Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz, MR, which blends virtual reality and the physical, real world that surrounds us, is poised to replace virtually all computer screens in the next decade.
Magic Leap has been unusually secretive about its product in development. There have been none of the usual media tours, announcements or PR materials. Wired‘s senior reporter Kevin Kelly is one of only two journalists who has tried the exciting new Magic Leap technology so far, as reported in the May issue of the magazine.
Magic Leap technology is based on virtual reality, or synthetic-reality, as it is sometimes called. Essentially, users wear a headset that creates a simulated world. A photonic lightfield chip is at the heart of the Magic Leap technology, and while it certainly resembles a glasses lens, Abovitz rejects that label. While it showed Wired reporters the photonic chip, Magic Leap refuses to release any images or diagrams of the goggles – if, indeed, the technology will use goggles similar to other virtual reality models.
While the company has refused to release any images of the planned MR device (and Wired reporters were sworn to keep the secret,) a piece in Tech Insider looks at the lengthy patent application for Magic Leap published in July 2015. It notes diagrams of a sunglasses-like system that uses a remote processing module which can be worn in a pocket or on a belt clip. Tech Insider got a brief statement from Magic Leaps that seems to confirm the premise.
“Our product will be mobile and will not require plugging into a computer.”
However, Magic Leap is not the only kid on the block when it comes to the virtual – or even mixed – reality game. Among the competition is Microsofts’s HoloLens, an MR visor, with an early version already for sale. Oculus Rift is currently for sale and Meta is another MR device that is expected to be released for sale before Magic Leap hits the market.
But, Magic Leap is said to be different than the rest. Existing MR models all use a visor or headset that projects images onto a semitransparent material (usually coated glass) sideways. Semitransparent material is what allows the virtual images to blend with the physical world. Virtual images are projected from the edges of the glass, where tiny ridges then bounce it back into the user’s eyes. Magic Leap, in contrast, claims that its technology beams light directly into the user’s eyes; although, that is all the company will reveal in terms of specifics about the way it works. In an exclusive Wired video, Ron Abovitz explains the concept in general terms.
“The brain is like a graphics processor and basically we tried to clone what that signal is – we made a digital version of that.”
How does it compare to existing VR and MR technology? Most current head-mounted VR displays feature at least slight pixelation, or a visible grid of pixels. As reported in Wired‘s early review, the difference with Magic Leap is that pixelation is eliminated, producing smooth, convincing images that blend seamlessly with the concrete reality that surrounds us.
Despite the secrecy surrounding Magic Leap, the company’s nondescript suburban Fort Lauderdale headquarters has been a hub of activity as major players in the entertainment, gaming, and tech industries have paid visits to get in on the MR action early. Google has been a major investor and Alibaba, the Hangzhou, China, e-commerce giant, was among the investors pouring in an additional $783.5 million into the start up earlier this year in its third round of funding. Magic Leap has received $1.4 billion in financing in total so far.
Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) sits on the advisory panel for Magic Leap, and he has told Wired that he plans on producing content for the new technology.
“This mixed reality is not an extension of 3-D movies. It’s something completely different. Once you can create the illusion of solid objects anywhere you want, you create new entertainment opportunities.”
Rony has great ambitions for Magic Leap, well beyond the obvious uses for gaming and the entertainment industry. He hopes it will eventually replace all computer screens. The potential for MR technology is vast. By being able to produce multiple screens anywhere, it has possibilities for virtually any computing application. Virtual screens can replace physical computers, or even smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, which is something that will soon happen at Magic Leap headquarters.
In the meantime, consumers can only wait for Magic Leap to reveal more about this exciting new technology.
[Image by Hasan Eroglu/Shutterstock]