And what we still – STILL – don’t know
The wait for Magic Leap has been a long roller coaster of emotions, but the company has finally shown us what its mixed reality glasses look like and some of the things they’ll be able to do. The glasses are called Magic Leap One, and they’re shipping next year.
Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore have helped push augmented and mixed reality into the mainstream in 2017, making the mystery surrounding Magic Leap all the more intriguing.
We’ve tried a few AR headsets before, but to date nothing has truly blown us away. With Leap, we hope that changes. But stories of chaos in the R&D department and delay after delay have stopped us getting too swept up in the hype. Now that Magic Leap has revealed what it’s been working on, is it time to get excited? Here’s what you need to know.
What is Magic Leap?
Shot through Magic Leap technology
Magic Leap has developed what its CEO, Rony Abovitz, refers to as lightfield technology. Similar to Google Glass and HoloLens, the glasses overlay digital 3D graphics onto your view of the real world via a headset with transparent lenses.
The lightfield part refers to the way Leap accommodates multiple focal points, so you’ll be able to clearly see holograms at various distances. The same technology is something we tried in the Avegant headset, and were suitably impressed by.
Lightfield can capture not only every beam of light hitting our eyes but also the direction each one is travelling in and the amount of light travelling through every point in a space. This allows VR, AR and MR researchers and engineers to give virtual animations, objects and characters a sense of depth. Abovitz claims that its technology is better for our bodies – eyes, brains etc – than VR as it respects how we see and process the world.
To those outside Magic Leap/Microsoft, the easiest way to describe this is next-gen augmented reality. The companies themselves have been using the term mixed reality (MR) for a while now, to signify that this is AR that interacts with the physical world around it.
What will it look like?
Magic Leap One looks like a pair of futuristic swimming goggles, attached by a wire to a computer attachment called the Lightpack that can be attached to the back of your trousers or slipped into a pocket. Its full name is Magic Leap One: Creators Edition, as the company predicts initial interest will come from early adopters and creative types.
The glasses come in two sizes, according to an interview with Rolling Stone, and the nose pieces, temple pads and forehead pad will all be customizable to ensure comfort and a good fit. You’ll also be able to order prescription lenses.
There are four built-in microphones for spatial sound and six eternal cameras to track your position and movement. We don’t know the field of view the headset can create, but according to the Rolling Stone piece, “The viewing space is about the size of a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended. It’s much larger than the HoloLens, but it’s still there.”
We also know how it will be controlled. Magic Leap One will come with a 6DOF (degrees of freedom) controller that also has haptic feedback. To date mobile VR headsets have only offered 3DOF controls, so Magic Leap is stepping things up here.
Golden State Warriors small forward Andre Iguodala told CNET earlier this year that, in a demo of Leap, he was able to control smart home equipment using just his eyes, so while the company hasn’t mentioned this explicitly, it sounds like this will be another way you can control things.
2018 is the year
While Magic Leap hasn’t given a firm release date for the Creator Edition, it says it will ship in 2018. It will be cracking open its Creator Portal in “early 2018” and this will give developers all of the tools they need to start building for Magic Leap.
It’s taken its sweet time. We saw the first concept video back in 2015, the same year that the software development kit was set to ship. In 2016 rumours from VRWorld suggested that the first planned tech demo was set for the end of 2016 with an official unveil at CES 2017 in Las Vegas. Again, it didn’t happen. So yeah, we’ve been waiting a long time.
On top of that there have been all sorts of stories of troubles in the company, surrounding struggles with the technology and the company culture itself. Magic Leap settled a sex discrimination lawsuit from an ex-employee who said the company was dismissive of ideas put forward by women. And well, Beyonce supposedly tried a demo and wasn’t impressed, so…
All in all, we’re tempering expectations. Even after the big reveal, all we have to go on are mocked-up impressions and videos and it’s hard to get a sense of how good the quality of Magic Leap will be compared to other augmented reality and mixed reality systems we’ve tried on.
What apps and games will it run?
Thanks to Magic Leap’s video teasers, we’ve got a good idea of the kinds of things it will do, but we’re still not sure how much better this will be than HoloLens or other AR headsets we’ve tried. So far, the apps fall into a few different groups – productivity, education, everyday essentials and games – which are highlighted on Magic Leap’s website.
So on the one hand, you’ll be able to open up emails, buy shoes and brushing up on your mountain climbing history. And on the other, there are AR games that take over the office and CG animated jellyfish floating around your head. Plus, thanks to Iguodala we know that there’s some kind of digital character you can hold in your hand that acts as an AR personal assistant.
Magic Leap also has some high profile friends in the form of WETA Workshop and Peter Jackson. WETA is building a virtual world for Magic Leap. It’s called Dr. Grordborts and features ray guns. And the Lord of the Rings director is working on something for the platform, though we don’t know whether that’s Grordborts or another project.
The WETA project is confirmed but one tantalising rumour is that Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One adaptation will, in some way, include something for Magic Leap.
Warner Bros is an early investor so we could look forward to something from the studio in due course. One more thing detailed in patents is Digital Live Artists and Digital Music Venue apps – beaming musicians into your living room for a private AR gig and placing you (and friends) into a concert environment.
Lucasfilm is another company that’s joined the Magic Leap fold. Specifically, the ILMxLab will be partnering with the company to create Star Warsexperiences. We’ve already played with an HTC Vive experience made by xLaband were duly impressed so we can’t wait to see what Magic Leap Star Wars will be like.
Magic Leap has also gone on a bit of a shopping spree for content, purchasingFuzzyCube Software, a game developer founded by former Apple employees and game developers that have worked on games like Halo Wars and Age of Empires. The company also looked into purchasing Moonbot Studios, an Academy Award-winning animation house. While IP issues kept Magic Leap from purchasing the company outright, it did end up hiring about a dozen animators and artists from Moonbot.
From the sound of things, it seems like Magic Leap is working towards creating a healthy content ecosystem with both first-party and third-party entertainment support alongside a more standard AR operating system. We expect that once the Creator Portal opens in 2018 we’ll start hearing more about the specifics of what we can expect to actually do with Magic Leap.
Who is behind it?
You might have seen Rony Abovitz’ incredible, bonkers TEDx Talk from way back in 2013. Before he founded Magic Leap, which is now based in Dania Beach, Florida, Abovitz co-founded a company called MAKO Surgical Corp which made surgical robotic arms and was sold for $1.65 billion in 2013. He is the best kind of eccentric entrepreneur, at least in terms of his public persona.
He blogs. Plays in an indie rock band. Drew quirky cartoons in his university newspaper. And describes his technology in poetic language like “a living river of light sculpture” and “the part without atoms” instead of releasing specs and features.
Then there are the investors. Magic Leap raised around half a billion dollars in 2014 initially then added $794 million to that total to make $1.4 billion. Investors so far include Google, Qualcomm, Warner Bros and Alibaba.
Abovitz has announced a partnership between Magic Leap and Twilio with plans to add its software, which lets app developers tack on phone calls or text messaging, to the Leap system.
How much will it cost?
We don’t yet know the answer to this qiestion, but it’s been previously reported that the glasses will cost between $1,500 and $2,000. Earlier the Financial Time reported that Magic Leap’s headset would compete with Microsoft’s HoloLens in price and retail in excess of $1,000. That’s a bit of a large range, as the dev kit for Microsoft’s device is currently $3,000 but the two sources give us something to go on.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Abovitz said, “Pre-order and pricing will come together. I would say we are more of a premium computing system. We are more of a premium artisanal computer.”
All we really know is that if there’s enough interest in the first iteration and the rest of the industry continues to experiment and release products, the price will eventually come down.