Magic Leap November 2014
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During October 2014, Google invested $542 million in the start-up Magic Leap, which has been working for several years on applications that superimpose virtual-reality images on views of the real world. Earlier in 2014, Magic Leap received $50 million in funding from undisclosed investors. Official information is sparse, but the company's website highlights a photorealistic video of a miniature elephant that cavorts in the palms of a user's hands. One of the investors, Legendary Pictures founder and CEO Thomas Tull, discussed Magic Leap with Fast Company magazine journalist David Lidsky and used the word "glasses." And Magic Leap founder, president, and CEO Rony Abovitz told Lidsky that "you don't need to be at home to use it."
These remarks indicate that Magic Leap has privately demonstrated augmented-reality video eyewear plus software that places dynamic virtual-reality images in their proper position and perspective, overlaid upon images of the real world. Abovitz was likely distinguishing Magic Leap's headset from that of Oculus VR, which requires a wire-line connection to a nearby computer. Magic Leap's demonstration video shows the accurate placement of a miniature elephant in the palms of a user's hands (the positions of the virtual elephant's legs depend on the positions of the palms of the user's hands, which move in the demonstration). Such precise placement indicates that, unlike Oculus VR's headset, Magic Leap's headset requires advanced image-processing software that precisely tracks the positions of real-world objects such as hands.
The total investment amount—nearly $600 million—is more than six times larger than what Oculus VR received from 2012 to 2013 before it was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. If Magic Leap spends it wisely, $600 million may be enough to solve some of the most difficult hardware and software problems of producing augmented-reality systems for mobile use. Such problems are significantly more challenging than those of producing virtual-reality eyewear for indoor use only.
During recent years, Abovitz has promoted his concept of immersive gaming and the imaginary Hour Blue universe that he codeveloped with partner Weta Workshop. Magic Leap's current demonstration video seems to indicate Abovitz's continuing interest in transforming reality into a venue for games and fantasy. And a fanciful application may attract attention and funding.
However, gamer-priced mixed-reality hardware and software that augment real-world images with photorealistic virtual-reality images in their correct positions and perspectives would be important for many applications. Mixed-reality games may be the least important application of a solution that could support hands-free information access, pedestrian navigation, and learning on demand. Perhaps untrained or lightly trained workers could perform skilled jobs while virtual-reality characters show people how to build structures, operate equipment, perform medical procedures, and so on.