We really don’t know a lot about Florida-based startup Magic Leap — as a prototype has yet to be revealed to the press — but what we do know is that the company has a LOT of buzz around it. The headsets which are a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality will supposedly be able to display 3-D images like a tiny elephant in one’s hands that are indistinguishable from what one sees in the real world. This is all made possible by a “dynamic digitalized light-filled signal.” That certainly sounds like an impressive combination of words, but is Magic Leap really posing itself to be as mind-blowingly great as its cracked up to be? Well, very possibly — yes.
If you’re unfamiliar with Magic Leap, don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to catch up as nobody knows when these game-changing glasses will make the leap to reality. Here’s what we know so far about the magic going into Magic Leap.
The company has a $542 million investment from Google. When the search engine giant announced that they had invested half a billion dollars in Magic Leap last year it definitely turned a lot of heads. The New York Times reported that this investment put the startup’s value at $2 billion, as the company also has large investments from Legendary Entertainment (the movie studio behind the recent “Godzilla” reboot and “Interstellar”) and Weta Workship (the company that developed graphics for “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings”).
Magic Leap calls its headset “cinematic reality.” When they’re working with movie studios, you can pretty much bet that Magic Leap is going to somehow factor into one’s entertainment offerings. The company’s CEO, Rony Abovitz did a Reddit AMA where he spoke vaguely about the headset’s “cinematic reality.”
“The current view of AR is that it is a monoscopic text overlay, or a stereo 3D, see-through system. VR (as known today) is a stereoscopic 3d, world blocked out, cell-phone in front of your face in a Viewmaster type configuration. Our vision for AR and VR is a true replication of visual reality. The ONLY safe way forward is to make a digital light field that is naturally tuned into your brain and physiology. And it’s amazing how when you give the mind and body what they want, how much it gives back.”
According to an interview the company gave with Technology Review, your brain won’t be able to detect the difference in light between the virtual and the real world. That’s why you’ll see shadows from the computer-generated 3-D graphics.
It won’t only be used for entertainment purposes. While the company is working with movie studio, gave development, and graphic novel creative teams, Abovitz envisions non-entertainment uses for the headset as well. “Everyday computing will be amazing in our platform – and we are in talks with all kinds of app and experience developers, including social, mapping, productivity, creation, communication, ” said Abovitz.
One thing the company doesn’t want the headset to do is cause eyestrain, a common drawback from stereoscopic 3D. Their alternative is a tiny projector that shines light into the user’s retina and blends extremely well with light from the real world. “We’re spending half a billion dollars–plus to effectively make nothing happen to you, physiologically,” said Abovitz.
The headset won’t be bulky like the Oculus Rift. Not a lot is know about the hardware of Magic Leap, but the company is keen on making an easy to carry headset. Currently, there are three working prototypes: A pair of glasses attached to some rather large metal scaffolding, and the other and eyeglasses hooked up to some hardware on a cart. Neither is exactly travel-friendly. The third prototype in development contains a tiny projector built into a black wire, but is currently only available to display crude versions of 3D images compared to its larger versions. Magic Leap’s goal is finding a way to mesh the different sizes into one easy-to-carry pair of sunglasses that won’t make the user feel like they’re wearing a 4 lb. helmet.
When will you be able to buy a pair of Magic Leap glasses? Unfortunately, there is no release date as the company still has a lot of work to do with bringing the glasses down to size. The company says its hiring software engineers, optical engineers and game designers like crazy. At the end of the day, whether we see Magic Leap cross over to the consumer world in one year or five years is anyone’s guess, but according to Abovitz it’s going to be “so bad-ass you can’t believe it.”