Magic Leap Mixed Reality – VR’s More Badass Brother
In an ordinary office park near Fort Lauderdale Florida, a highly secretive startup has been the recipient of a history-making round of C-round funding totaling $793.5 million. This brings the total amount of funding to a whopping $1.4 billion. What is even more interesting are the names behind this exceptionally generous funding; Google, QUALCOMM, Alibaba, Warner Brothers and J.P, Morgan among others. The most interesting bit is that we know so little for a company that is garnering an immense amount of interest among investors. The startup, called Magic Leap, is working on mixed reality technology that they say will be revolutionary. They must have convinced Google and other major funders of this to see millions of dollars pouring into their coffers.
A look at what the company has announced so far combined with analysis from industry experts and our own educated guesses shows that Magic Leap might just be onto something. They could redefine how we interact with technology and essentially, how we interact with each other through technology. If successful, they will not only have changed the face of technology, they will change how we live.
What Exactly is MR / Mixed Reality?
According to what we know so far, Magic Leap is working on mixed reality technology. What exactly does this mean? Mixed reality is a term that is used to describe the cross between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.
- Augmented reality (AR) describes technologies such as Google Glass where virtual input is overlaid into our view of the real world. With the now-defunct Google Glass for example, you could see information and images on a screen while still looking out into the real world. Some cars come equipped with technology that allows you to display weather and GPS information on the windscreen. So essentially, the live world is augmented or supplemented by computer-generated input including sounds and visuals. This is the reason why augmented reality apps and games exist.
- Virtual reality (VR) sits on the opposite end of augmented reality. Instead of augmenting reality, it completely replaces it. Users are transported to a simulated world, where every bit of real life is shut out to focus the senses on what is happening inside the virtual reality. The brain is then able to perceive this reality as real, creating an immersive experience.
- Mixed Reality (MR) combines the best from AR and VR to create an experience that is immersive yet integrated into the real world. You do not have to leave the real world to experience amazing virtual reality. In many ways, MR is better than both VR and AR. It is also one of the most daunting technologies to create successfully; but Magic Leap seems to have done it.
What is Magic Leap Doing?
This is why it is such a big deal. They have found a way to mix AR and VR to form a never-seen-before mixed reality platform that is bound to hit the very core of technology as we know it. The only bit that has been revealed is the viewing lens, making up a central part of the kit. The company is calling it a photonic lightfield chip.
The way this chip works makes Magic Leap vastly different from other AR technologies. Instead of using reflected light to send computer generated images and information to the eye, the chip projects virtual images directly into the eye in a technology referred to a Dynamic Digitised Lightfield Signal or simply Digital Lightfield. The result is a highly realistic view of the virtual world augmenting the real world.
In available demos, you can hold a miniature elephant in your hands, project a virtual computer screen in front of you and do online shopping without touching your phone or computer. The company says that the technology can accomplish numerous other things in multiple fields from surgery to education and entertainment.
Magic Leap Design
The only pictures we have of Magic Leap’s hardware are those filed alongside their patent. Earlier images show a headset resembling the common ones used in VR kits such as Oculus Rift. Later images show a Google Glass like design leading analysts to speculate that Magic Leap will be a cross between Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens.
A Goggle-like device is the most sensible path for Magic Leap. It is easily portable and does not have the nerd-like effect of a large headset. You simply put on a pair of glasses and explore the mixed reality world around you. The design seems to incorporate both physical buttons and gesture controls.
Blurring the Line Between Virtual and Reality
One problem that virtual reality companies face is creating a world believable enough to completely immerse the brain. This is why mixed reality is very challenging. Unlike VR that completely eclipses the real world, MR has to integrate VR with actual reality. The challenge is in making the VR aspect of it as close as possible to reality.
Most AR technologies tend to show pixilated images that are a poor imitation of real things. This inhibits how immersive the experience can be.
But Magic Leap seems to have figured out how to create extremely realistic images that are projected right into the eye’s retina. The combination of the ultra high-resolution images with the Digital Lightfield technology places Magic Leap in a position to upturn current technology.
Specifically, analysts are calling Magic Leap a “screen killer”. Using the technology, you can replace physical screens with virtual screens. The text and visuals on the visual screen would look just as good as in a physical screen. With easy and intuitive controls included, why else would you need to lag your laptop or even Smartphone around?
You can browse Facebook, watch a YouTube video, play on online game, scroll through a Wikipedia article, shop on Amazon and so much more. Essentially, Magic Leap could do away with most screened devices, drastically changing how we interact with technology. This is quite a big deal and it is easy to see why big companies and investors are so interested.
Away from screens, Magic Leap goes even further to blur the line between the virtual and the real. They have managed to create depth perception, giving virtual images an even more realistic perception. Computer generated objects such as screens, furniture and animals look extremely realistic, making for an ultra immersive experience.
Possible applications of Magic Leap are endless. This is one of the reasons why it is attracting such a buzz; it has the potential to change, not just the technology world, but the entire world we live in. All the applications of VR and AR (gaming, entertainment, education, healthcare etc.) are similar to those of Magic Leap only in a much more enhanced manner.
Soon, anything you can do with your phone or computer, you can also do with Magic Leap. From office work to the surgical theatre to the classroom, the opportunities are endless.
Magic Leap Price – It will be Expensive
VR and AR technologies do not come cheap. We are still in the infancy stages meaning that developing them costs plenty of money, which then translates into high price tags. Facebook’s Oculus Rift begins at $599 while Microsoft HoloLens costs $3,000 for a developer kit.
Considering the difficulties and costs involved in developing mixed reality technology, we do not expect anything below $1,000. In fact, Magic Leap could rival the HoloLens in terms of pricing, ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.
The high cost might prove inhibitive in the beginning, but as all technologies go it will get cheaper as adoption rises. If Magic Leap is successful, you could get your own kit for less than $1,000 in a year or two.
For a technology that promises to make technology better, more realistic and more immersive, the cost is justified.
Possible Launch Date
The details surrounding the launch date are murky. While it seems that development is in high gear, no one is sure when we are going to see a consumer product released. Rumors indicate a possible first unveiling by the end of 2016. A full launch could then take place at the 2017 CES show in Las Vegas.
The CEO and Founder has in the past hinted that operations are in full swing with supply chain and manufacturing operations already set up and running. So it is entirely possible that a consumer-ready kit could be ready by the end of 2016 with possible launching in January 2017 at CES.
The last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017 will see a flurry of activities related to AR, VR and MR. Even Apple is said to be working on its own VR/AR technology that could launch soon. As we wait for Magic Leap to reveal their magic, we are also excited about upcoming developments in the entire industry. Keep your eye out on what is likely to be the technological turning point of the century.
The Man Behind Magic Leap
By all accounts, Rony Abovitz is an eccentric character with oversized visions and a track record of achieving them. His unique mannerisms are behind the highly-secretive nature of Magic Leap. On Twitter he brands himself a lover of people, animals and robots. He once gave a TED talk dressed as an astronaut and used unusual teaching aids in form of apes and a monster candy bar.
Despite his quirky character, he is a man who has accomplished a lot and is bound to achieve even more. Before Magic Leap, he ran a company developing surgical robot arms. In 2013, he sold Mako Surgical for $1.65 billion. He is looking to replicate this success in Magic Leap, and it seems like he will thanks to a large bank account and promising technology.
If you are going to give your millions to a company, like Google and other large investors have done, you want someone like Rony Abovitz behind the wheel. He may be eccentric and a bit weird, but he dreams big and creates big as well.
Final Words: Is It Really the End of Screens?
It is quite daunting to think of a world without laptops, tablets and Smartphones. This would upend technology as we know it today. Companies like Samsung and Apple would have to rethink their business models, as their bread and butter will be no more. Is it really possible for Magic Leap to cause that much disruption?
Looking at the direction technology is moving towards and what little we know about Magic Leap, we would say yes, such a disruption is entirely possible and is already happening. Microsoft HoloLens, though far from ready, is already pushing screens to the fringe of the tech world. In the next few years, a rapid development of VR, AR and MR devices will hasten the death of screens. The release of Magic Leap could be one of the last nails on the coffin for screened devices.
If Magic Leap is as amazing and realistic as we expect it to be, there will be less need to use your Smartphone or laptop. If you can don on the kit and do everything you can with a Smartphone, why else do you need the iPhone or Galaxy? If architects can create using Magic Leap, if artists can draw, if you can create a virtual sculpture, why do you need a laptop?
In many ways, we are moving into a new era of personal technology, an era that will define the 21st century and set a foundation for the future of technology. We are seeing the emergence of electric and driverless cars. Virtual reality is getting increasingly intertwined with our lives as it gets better and more refined.
While companies like Apple and Microsoft defined the current technological era, startups like Magic Leap are leading the way into a new age. Rony Abovitz himself has promised that the launch is going to be big, and we have no reason to doubt him. But what will be even bigger is what comes after. Will it be a screen killer? Maybe, maybe not, but the impact will be considerable.
Magic Leap will create experiences with mostly positive effects; artists have better tools to design, educators will find it easier to pass on information, doctors will have a better way to diagnose and treat, humans will be able to connect and socialize in a deeper way and so on.
What other change, big or small, do you think Magic Leap will bring about? Leave your comment below.
Featured image credit: theverge.com
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