Behind the Magic

We know very little about Magic Leap, aside from what we see in their numerous video demos and tweets from their CEO, the most recent of which announced the achievement of several major product development milestones.

Apart from these little clues, perhaps the biggest evidence that suggests Magic Leap might actually be magic is the unbelievably enormous amount of funding it has received. To date, the Florida-based startup has raised almost $1.4 billion in venture capital, with the latest C round of funding totaling about $793.5 million — making it the largest C round in history. The funding comes from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Google, JPMorgan, Fidelity and Alibaba, together with Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment.

What makes Magic Leap worth all the attention?

David Ewalt of Forbes decided its time to find out, and got himself a rare opportunity to interview the man behind the magic, CEO Rony Abovitz.

A Leap in Technology

Magic Leap's proprietary "lightfield" technology is bound to change things. It's not just going to be an improvement in screen technology or augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), it seems. "We are building a new kind of contextual computer,” explains Abovitz. “We’re doing something really, really different.”

As Ewalt puts it

Magic Leap’s innovation isn’t just a high-tech display–it’s a disruption machine. This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core. The applications are profound. Throw out your PC, your laptop and your mobile phone, because the computing power you need will be in your glasses, and they can make a display appear anywhere, at any size you like.

“It’s hard to think of an area that doesn’t completely change,” Abovitz says. This next-generation interface is bound to be available within the next 18 months — with manufacturing lines already being constructed in Florida.

At the center of this disruptive technology is a billion-dollar prototype head-mounted display which Magic Leap has perfected. The final product supposedly fits into a pair eyeglasses. It also isn't your regular VR headset or AR device. Magic Leap uses mixed reality. "VR takes you to another place. AR can make a Pikachu appear in your living room. Mixed reality keeps you where you are–and makes that Pikachu come to life," explains Erwalt.

To do this, the device doesn't block your view of the world nor impose on it, per se.

[T]he hardware projects an image directly onto your retina through an optics system built into a piece of semitransparent glass (the product won’t fry your eyeballs; it’s replicating the way we naturally observe the world instead of forcing you to stare at a screen). The hardware also constantly gathers information, scanning the room for obstacles, listening for voices, tracking eye movements and watching hands.

The objects in mixed reality can interact with the real world, being aware of their environment.

A Magical Future

There are many possible applications for such a technology. It can be used as a consumer entertainment device, and Abovitz insists that it's "not a luxury product".

But Abovitz sees its greatest impact in business applications, specifically in medical scanning and imaging. Then there's also an exciting partnership with ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm's immersive entertainment division, which has already produced a few mixed-reality experiences that play around the world of Star Wars. 

This doesn't really come as a surprise, as Abovitz considers himself a product of that generation. "My friends and I all wanted to be Luke Skywalker and defeat the Death Star and build C-3PO," he says. Now, it seems he has made his dream come true, and is making us capable of sharing it with him.

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