Magic Leap: Augmented Reality, But Not As We Know It



It’s highly likely the next big technology breakthrough that will fundamentally change the way we interact with computers will be augmented reality. Once AR tech reaches the point where it’s affordable, portable, and cost effective it could be the game changer of the next decade comparable to how the smartphone was the game changer of the previous decade.

It’s no wonder then, why a number of major tech companies are exploring AR. You’ve got companies like Microsoft with its HoloLens, Facebook for Oculus (though Oculus is virtual reality, but Facebook is also looking into augmented reality), and even Apple is said to have a team of researchers working on AR. But one of the first companies to publicly tackle the technology is Magic Leap–a startup that has raised over a billion in funding from companies including Google since 2014.

Magic Leap received a lot of hype in the past few years–much of it self-generated. But now it turns out that hype might have been artificially created to mislead people, according to a report from The Information.

Here’s everything you need to know about Magic Leap.

Magic Leap: What Is It?

Magic Leap is a US startup focused on developing augmented reality technology and making head mounted displays users can wear to enable the use of the technology. The company was officially founded in 2010, but remained in stealth mode until 2014, when it went public with its AR tech in order to get investment. Some of the early investors in Magic Leap include Google and Qualcomm.

Magic Leap: What Is “Augmented Reality”?

People often confuse augmented reality with virtual reality. Whereas virtual reality immerses the user in a completed computer generated 360º environment, augmented reality instead overlays computer-generated images over real-world objects. Augmented reality is already available in several smartphone apps. These apps take advantage of the smartphone’s camera and overlay images or other details that the user can then see superimposed on live video on their smartphone’s screen. The most typical use of augmented reality apps involve apps that identify businesses or landmarks when the smartphone’s camera is pointed at them.

However, the true potential of augmented reality is spotlighted by devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is a pair of goggles users wear to see advanced 3D interactive graphics laid over their environment. AR devices have the potential to transform everything from education to medicine to gaming. For example, a doctor could use an AR device to see a 3D image of a patient’s MRI scan appear in the air in front of him. Unlike viewing a traditional MRI scan (which have be viewed in 3D on flat screen monitors), an AR device would allow the doctor to more easily manipulate it–turning it with his hands; telling the AR device software to strip away various layers of structures so he could get a better look at something.

Magic Leap: What Is  The Device It’s Making?

While Microsoft is a major player in the burgeoning AR market, Magic Leap is also one of the main players too. Specifically, it’s said to be working on creating an AR device small enough and lightweight enough to fit on a user’s face like a pair of glasses. Specifically, the company is developing its proprietary fiber scanning display. This display shines a laser through a fiber optic cable that draws images out of light by rapidly moving back and forth. The technology is so advanced it can actually make photorealistic objects appear on AR screens as if they were really there. Examples of this Magic Leap has shown off in videos include a tiny elephant sitting in a user’s hands and a blue whale exploding through the floor of a gym.

Magic Leap: What’s The Controversy?

While the technology Magic Leap has shown off in demo videos looks impressive, a report from the Information says Magic Leap misrepresented the videos they showed. Apparently, the graphics in the videos were created by a visual effects studio–as was the whole video. While the demo video always had the logo of the visual effects studio on it, it was previously believed the studio made the graphics for the AR game being shown and not the entire video itself.

The Information did receive a product demo of Magic Leap’s actual tech and they report that the company’s AR technology as it stands now is greatly inferior to the AR tech that Microsoft is putting out with its HoloLens development kit, noting that images produced by it are more jittery and blurrier than those produced by the HoloLens, an inferior to the graphics show in their demo videos.

Magic Leap: Where Does It Go From Here?

The Information says the main bottleneck in Magic Leap’s tech appears to do with the company’s fiber scanning display. This display shines a laser through a fiber optic cable that draws images out of light by rapidly moving back and forth. Magic Leap has not been able to get their fiber scanning display to work and now the tech has been relegated to a long-term project the company will explore more in the future. This means that any consumer AR devices from Magic Leap are still likely years away.

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