One Giant Leap for Augmented Reality
When you hear “Steve Jobs” you think Apple. Bill Gates, you immediately think Microsoft. The same probably goes for Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos too. But if I said the name Rony Abovitz, your mind would probably go blank. But that’s ok. In fact, that’s exactly what he’s wanted.
Abovitz is the CEO of Magic Leap - one of the most secretive technology startups on the planet. Yet despite this shroud of secrecy, in it’s last round of financing Magic Leap was valued at a staggering $4.5bn. Even though the company (at the time of publish) hadn’t released a product, Forbes predicted Magic Leap’s technology will disrupt computing forever.
How? By augmenting our reality.
“We are building a new kind of contextual computer,” Abovitz says. “We’re doing something really, really different”
Of course all CEO’s are going to evangelise their innovations. But after several years of “billion dollar prototype” rumours, the release of the Magic Leap One certainly seems to back up Rony’s grand claims.
What makes Magic Leap so different is the way it augments content. Unlike other AR solutions where the content sits on the screen (to trick brains into thinking the content is really there) the Magic Leap One is designed to also project light into users’ eyes. This “Digital Lightfield” blends with natural light to produce life-like content that coexists in the real world. The brain therefore process these digital objects in the same way we perceive real-world objects.
Add to this eye tracking, gesture controls, machine learning and robust sensors that detect the world around us, and you don’t just have content that co-exists, it interacts with it’s environment too. It’s precisely this new dimension that Google, JPMorgan and Hollywood oligarchs (like Warner Bros and Legendary Entertainment) have invested in.
Size and performance matter
Whilst the content is going to be more life-like and better integrated into our surroundings, the other obstacle Magic Leap have had to overcome is the size of it’s hardware.
After years of mystery, the rumour mill speculated Magic Leap was struggling to shrink it’s technology to an acceptable wearable size that didn’t compromise vital computing performance. It’s this challenge that’s hindered many mixed reality headsets. Microsoft’s impressive HoloLens is a tad too cumbersome for everyday use. On the flip side, Google Glass was minuscule in size - and therefore capability - which was it’s ultimate demise.
One half steampunk and the other half borrowed from the face of Vin Diesel’s Riddick, Magic Leap One is certainly the closest attempt at ‘normal’ augmented reality eyewear I’ve seen.
The lack of compromise (in both size and performance) is thanks to the ‘Lightpack’. Which may look like a classic 90’s DiscMac, but - according to Abovitz - packs the processing punch of a MacBook Pro. Which is quite impressive considering that solutions such as HTC’s VIVE and Oculus’ Rift rely on being tethered to a PC.
But horses for courses, because rather than immerse you in alternate dimensions, Magic Leap will enhance our own - meaning we won’t have to escape to other realms. Being more physically acceptable is a promising step on the path to that reality.
Content is still King
Magic Leap’s roadmap starts with the ‘Creator Edition’. It’s not designed for the mass market, but rather strategically for the innovators and developers like us. Or as their website states “Magic Leap One is built for creators who want to change how we experience the world”.
By releasing this into the hands of those hell-bent on pushing boundaries is quite the opposite from Silicon Valleys usual walled-garden approach. But it’s a great strategy when you consider that the content consumed in Magic Leap One is what’s going to truly showcase it’s abilities and long-term potential.
The Magic Leap One website mentions 3D Pandas climbing across real life sofas, but, being blunt, it’ll be as endangered as said species if that’s all this powerhouse is used for.
Up until now, augmented reality content has been on the screens we hold. The Magic Leap One shows how everything we watch and interact with could be everywhere we gaze. Or as Abovitz says
“think of it as the future state of computing….where the world is your desktop”.