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The Secretive $4.5 Billion Startup 'Magic Leap' Is Gearing Up To Release A Consumer Version of Its Tech (forbes.com) 130

Magic Leap is an incredibly secretive company based in Florida that develops "mixed reality" technology. While the company was valued at $4.5 billion in its latest round of financing, Magic Leap has never released a product. "It has never given a public demonstration of a product, never announced a product, and never explained the proprietary 'lightfield' technology that powers its products," writes David M. Ewalt for Forbes. That may be about to change, however, as the CEO Rony Abovitz said in a rare interview that the company has spent a billion dollars perfecting a prototype and has begun constructing manufacturing lines in Florida (Editor's note: may be paywalled, alternate source), gearing up for a release of a consumer version of its technology. "We are building a new kind of contextual computer," Abovitz says. "We're doing something really, really different." The final product of theirs is expected to fit into a pair of glasses when everything is said and done. "When you're wearing the device, it doesn't block your view of the world; the 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)." Forbes adds: The hardware also constantly gathers information, scanning the room for obstacles, listening for voices, tracking eye movements and watching hands. As a result, mixed-reality objects are aware of their environment and have the ability to interact with the real world. On Magic Leap's hardware a Pokemon might escape capture by ducking behind your couch or, assuming you live in a "smart" home, turning off your lights and hiding in the dark. In one of its demos the Magic Leap team shows off a computer-generated "virtual interactive human," life-size and surprisingly realistic. Abovitz and his team imagine virtual people (or animals or anything else) as digital assistants -- think Siri on steroids, except with a physical presence that makes her easier to work with and harder to ignore. Ask your virtual assistant to deliver a message to a coworker and it might walk out of your office, reappear beside your colleague's desk via his or her own MR headset and deliver the message in person. Ewalt goes on to write about Abovitz's life growing up and the past companies he has founded, which have ultimately helped lead him to Magic Leap.
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The Secretive $4.5 Billion Startup 'Magic Leap' Is Gearing Up To Release A Consumer Version of Its Tech

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  • or the USA Presidential Election.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    And it failed because no one wanted to spend $999 on a pair of glasses that spy on you constantly and could be easily hacked and reveal all kinds of sensitive data (credit card numbers, etc.)

    • Sounds more like Microvision. I lost a ton on their stock. :/

    • The hype machine on this reminds me of Dean Kaman's hype for the project Ginger that turned out to be the segway. It was a remarkable achievement that fell flat like a thud. One could see how they might have imagined greatness for it.

      • by hodet ( 620484 )

        I was so disappointed with the Segway. Before we even knew what it was they were saying new cities would be built with this new technology in mind. I was very curious and anxious to know what this was. Then comes the rolling pogo stick......you're joking right. :-(

        • Then comes the rolling pogo stick......you're joking right. :-(

          Exactly. If you go back and read some of the PR hype you'd suspect that they'd invented time travel or teleportation or mind transference.

          But then it's unveiled, and it's just as you said: a fucking pogo stick with wheels. Seriously?

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @09:00PM (#53210213) Homepage Journal

    On Magic Leap's hardware a Pokemon might escape capture by ducking behind your couch or, assuming you live in a "smart" home, turning off your lights and hiding in the dark.

    It's all fun and games until someone dies from falling down the stairs in the dark because a pokemon switched off their internet-vulnerable lights.

  • Last time a heard a story like this we got the Segway.
    • Re:Deja Vu (Score:4, Funny)

      by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @09:26PM (#53210343) Journal

      "We're doing something really, really different."

      Translation: We're doing something slightly different than what someone else has already done, but not really groundbreaking in any meaningful way, and it will still have the same problems that the previous technology had.

    • Re:Deja Vu (Score:5, Interesting)

      by quenda ( 644621 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @10:34PM (#53210557)

      Last time a heard a story like this we got the Segway.

      Exactly what I was thinking. The vulture capitalists valued the company at $500 million before any product was released.
      They believed their own hype, and came out with an overly complicated electric scooter.
      $100 million R&D so they could put the wheels left & right instead of front & back.

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

        Yeah I remember newspaper articles saying "what is IT?" - picture of Steve Jobs, quote from him saying something like "city infrastructure worldwide will need to be adjusted for this".

        Laughed my ass off when I saw the Segway. Such a ridiculous thing. We were expecting a fucking hover car or something.

  • by ChesterRafoon ( 4205907 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @09:42PM (#53210411)
    Forture Magazine is more and more running articles originally authored by PR agencies under the guise of an "original" "investigative" article signed off by one of their own writers/editors. This whole article looks and smells a lot to me like the hype buildup for the Segway device - and how well did that all go?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Forture Magazine is more and more running articles originally authored by PR agencies under the guise of an "original" "investigative" article signed off by one of their own writers/editors. This whole article looks and smells a lot to me like the hype buildup for the Segway device - and how well did that all go?

      lol. fortune editors. Pretty sure all those are extinct.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

      and how well did that all go?

      Off a figurative and literal cliff.

  • by flatulus ( 260854 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @10:08PM (#53210485)
    It was a pretty good article. Well written and didn't sound like total hypus pocus.
    • Oh yeah... except that the product has the word "magic" in it... which totally inspires confidence in a technological breakthrough.

      Magic = smoke + mirrors

      1. How does this device work sir?
      2. Well, you see, it's magic.
      1. You have given up at life haven't you?

  • I haven't seen anything from this company that gives me confidence that this is a real product. Nothing that they've shown -- some of which has been produced by Weta Works, or nothing their marketeers, engineers, etc. have said. It all came off as incohesive bullshit.

    If they can really pull of what their fake-videos have shown, I will gladly buy their product. But until they show something( anything ) that's not just another produced-video, this stinks of a scam.
    • Re:Bullshit? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Friday November 04, 2016 @12:42AM (#53210823) Homepage

      If it's a scam, then it's an unusually clever one. Their demonstrations and patents [google.com.au] convinced Google, Qualcomm & others to invest hundreds of millions in them (twice). Maybe soon we'll find out for sure.

      • Maybe these companies are chiefly interested in the patents alone, the individual clever bits in the product rather than complete product. Then again, Google have invested in a similar device of their own, which wasn't even AR but a simple HUD. They know that if a product like this takes off, they'll want to be on board so they can rape us 6 ways from Sunday for whatever data this thing will collect.

        Apart from the device, I am curious about their software. Proper AR will need to do some fairly clever thi
      • This.
        Yeah, they've given no public demos.
        They have given demos however, to very reputable people in the industry.
        It's a different approach to other companies that are trying to get funding, but certainly seems to be working well for them.
        Of course, we won't know for sure till we actually try it ourselves, but that's true of just about any product.
        It seems to me that any further information they provided wouldn't mean much to their target consumers, and would both shorten their lead in whatever tech the
    • I imagine the best they could have possibly done is they've shrunk Hololens to the size of chunky regular glasses. Technologically that would be a great achievement but I'm not sure that would be all that important.

  • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @11:54PM (#53210735)
    The initial video demo [youtube.com] for Magic Leap looked very impressive, but it was just a concept video and was quite misleading. The problem is that the video shows various virtual objects that are darker than the background, e.g. The dark red robot against the cream wall at 49 seconds in.

    Unlike the composited lies of the initial video, all their subsequent videos are shot through their device and it is abundantly clear that they are using an additive light technology (much like you would get from bouncing an image off a piece of glass at 45 degrees). The first thing you notice is that all of the videos shot through the device are in rather dark rooms, some very dark indeed. If you look at this shopping demo [youtu.be] you will see that the eyes of the weird yellow lamp creature are meant to be black, but the grey background shows through them. This is a limitation of additive light.

    Now people who have used the device say they were blown away and I'm quite sure that if I saw their Star Wars demo [youtube.com] in a conveniently darked room, I would also be amazed. The problem is that people who have experienced the device in darkened rooms might come away with the impression that it can show dark objects, or rather, realistically lit objects, in a normal well-lit environment. In an outdoor environment, or even a well-lit room, the objects could look very washed-out, or at the very least, very bright, glowy and unnatural. If you just want to shoot glowing space aliens or read some glowy text, that isn't an issue. However, if people are expecting to see realistic naturally lit objects that actually look like they belong in your current environment, I think they may be sorely disappointed. The additive light limitations could also be a big problem for shopping applications. After all, it's a bit difficult to see how that dark green couch is going to look in your lounge if the wall behind it just shows through. Google's project tango has the advantage there since it can just composite naturally lit objects over the video feed.

    I'm not saying their device couldn't be really useful, or even pretty amazing in certain situations and environments, but I think the limitations will cause issues and may put a lot of people off buying one. I could also be wrong, and for some reason they have been refusing to show their amazing light-blocking technology in their demo videos, but that seems unlikely.

    P.S. Although they have been more honest in their videos recently, I should point out that their website still shows concept images that misleadingly give the impression that they are able to show objects darker than the background. I should also point out that Magic Leap have been far more honest than Microsoft who seem to exclusively composite their videos to hide their crappy field of view and similar additive light limitations.
    • I agree, it's almost certainly just adding light, and unless their final product includes an LCD blocking layer then bright background objects will indeed show through. But while this would limit its use in daylight, I suspect it would still be perfectly usable in a lot of scenarios. Yeah, their marketing material isn't entirely representative, but then it can't show its biggest strengths either; the comfortable 3D and natural-ness of a lightfield display.

      But then they're not selling it to consumers yet. On

    • I'm 50/50 split on this point. Their patent actually cites light cancelling as one of the features of the lightfield display chip that they use. *But* I can't tell if it's bullshit or not since as you say all of the demos appear to be purely additive. It's theoretically possible that they're able to build a lightfield that shunts incoming vectors if they do have a true lightfield manipulation device but... I've got my doubts.

      • They do talk about light blocking technology in their patents but they haven't demonstrated it. Surely if they had that working, they would demo it. The best we can hope for is that there has been some mad rush to finish it and it will be ready at the 11th hour.
        • Well we already have light blocking tech, from LCD wristwatches through to active shutter glasses, however they probably have a trade-off between how much they can block vs the relevant component size/power. So they can probably block a percentage of light, meaning if you comb through the demos you will still be able to see through such areas to a degree. How much impact this has on the experience I won't hazard a guess, however. I know that there's a ton of different visual tricks and techniques with our c
  • I know what it is! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kuzb ( 724081 ) on Friday November 04, 2016 @01:13AM (#53210877)
    It's a non-story with nothing interesting to say because nobody knows enough to be able to talk about it. What the fuck is the point of articles like this?
  • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Friday November 04, 2016 @01:18AM (#53210889)

    It's a scam. They always are.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is actually not a scam. You should read up on Rony and his buddies from Washington. And all their patents.
      I'll nutshell it for you. Rony is a weird guy that made a fortune in the medical field. His friends hold a bunch of imaging patents on how to generate visual data by vibrating a fiber optic cable, this is how they will create the light field display. It's an absolutely ingenious setup.

      Rony has been obsessed with VR/AR for decades, before it was cool the first time. This is a passion project that wa

    • I'm sitting in South Florida right now and you're absolutely right. There's no "secretive" tech being developed here. There's some tech, yes, but nothing on the cutting-edge at all. However, there is a constant stream of scam-bait coming from a bunch of old men who moved here from Jersey. They're always pitching some BS and I'm sure that's what this is.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )

      It's a scam. They always are.

      It could also be a prelude to another "Florida man" story.

    • You might even say: "I'll believe it when I see it"

  • 1. It will be a really nice display technology.

    2. It will be ruined by plays to create a new "platform" owned by magic leap.

    3. It will be filled to the hilt with malware/spyware.

    4. It won't work with GPUs powerful enough to take advantage of the new display.

  • Let me make a wild guess: we are talking about a pair of glasses with more or less transparent displays for lenses and some sort of eye tracking tech? Hard to imagine how this has cost billions to develop. Thousands, I can believe, or even millions, but billions? Let's see the goods, that all I can say.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wow, that citation FTA is awfull. The examples it gives are just for selling the future to people stuck in the past..

    On Magic Leap's hardware a Pokemon might escape capture by ducking behind your couch or, assuming you live in a "smart" home, turning off your lights and hiding in the dark. In one of its demos the Magic Leap team shows off a computer-generated "virtual interactive human," life-size and surprisingly realistic. Abovitz and his team imagine virtual people (or animals or anything else) as digita

  • by UberVegeta ( 3450067 ) on Friday November 04, 2016 @05:41AM (#53211369)

    Abovitz and his team imagine virtual people (or animals or anything else) as digital assistants -- think Siri on steroids, except with a physical presence that makes her easier to work with and harder to ignore. Ask your virtual assistant to deliver a message to a coworker and it might walk out of your office, reappear beside your colleague's desk via his or her own MR headset and deliver the message in person.

    I'll buy them for my entire department if it means I can inflict Clippy on other people.

  • Can it run proper porn VR?
  • When 'secret developments' are hyped, and the detail is left obscure to scare up interest, it ends up in a damp squib of an implementation; a project that 'fails to commercialise' as they said about Project Ginger, aka Segway.
    • Yeah, except that all of the investors got a demo. It's just us public (people who haven't put money into it) that don't know.
  • IT (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Friday November 04, 2016 @09:44AM (#53212545) Journal
    Why does this feel like Dean Kamen and "IT" (Segway) all over again?
  • by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Friday November 04, 2016 @09:45AM (#53212557)

    I imagine this thing to be the device that Riker brought back from Risa in "The Game"

    Come on Wesley, try it! Everyone is doing it!

  • Abovitz and his team imagine virtual people (or animals or anything else) as digital assistants -- think Siri on steroids, except with a physical presence that makes her easier to work with and harder to ignore. Ask your virtual assistant to deliver a message to a coworker and it might walk out of your office, reappear beside your colleague's desk via his or her own MR headset and deliver the message in person.

    So ... instant messaging, with a more-intrusive and less-efficient user experience, crossed with a feeble simulacrum of actual in-person interaction.

    If that's the typical use case for their additive-light augmented-reality tech, then no thanks.

    AR proponents have always been keen on pointing out potential applications, in entertainment (who needs more entertainment options?), and education (where I feel it's hugely overrated), and in industry (where there are certainly valid ones, but they're too obvious to

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