Magic Leap has been in and out of the news for years now, but nobody’s really known what it is they’re all about. The Florida-based firm has been known to be working on mixed-reality technology of some sort - the kind of thing that prompts all who try it to trip over themselves trying to find ways of describing it - but that’s about it. For Magic Leap’s insane technology has until now been matched with insane secrecy, cloaked in NDAs so powerful that not even workers’ families have been privy to what they’re working on. Anecdotal evidence emerged through the grapevine over the years that the tech had the potential to truly change the way people interact with computers and content, but until now, concrete details have been scarce.
Today, however, the company finally pulled back the curtain. The first generation of Magic Leap hardware, dubbed Magic Leap One, is now set to launch in 2018. It consists of the “Lightwear” goggles, smaller in bulk and completely different to virtual-reality headsets, and a disc-shaped, belt-mounted “Lightpack” computer (which you can bet will be eliminated with time and technology shrinkage). The goggles have four microphones and six cameras to orient themselves in three-dimensional space, and use analog “lightfield photonics” to simulate how humans see objects in the real world. Instead of looking at screens, you’re looking through lenses (by launch, Magic Leap will be able to build the goggles with custom prescriptions) at reality, with virtual objects superimposed into it - no eye strain, no nausea. It’s borderline theoretical physics stuff with no real equivalent on the market today, and I’m positively gagging to try it out.
In practice, Magic Leap promises true mixed-reality vision - virtual objects interacting naturally with real objects and environments - thanks to its array of cameras and ability to store room and positioning information. Potential uses, according to the company’s website, include interactive websites, multiple displays anywhere, communication with avatars inside a real space instead of a screen, near-limitless virtual sculpture or painting, and of course, gaming.
Magic Leap’s investors include Google and Peter Jackson, amongst the usual cluster of VC companies, and Jackson’s involvement (as a man whose business involves staying on the bleeding edge of entertainment technology) is a major clue to the system’s potential. Few developers are known at this stage, but we do know Weta Workshop is making a first-person shooter set in its own steampunk universe; Sigur Rós is building an interactive music-creation experience; and digital comic publisher Madefire is working to build comics that can be explored in multiple dimensions. But honestly, it's the fields of communication and natural computing that excite me most. More information is sure to come out in the coming months, as Magic Leap runs further demos and opens up its software development kit.
Most exciting of all is the fact that thanks to being based on analog technology, Magic Leap expects to someday reach a point at which the equipment is “finished,” with no further iterations necessary. That’s unheard-of in the tech industry, and speaks to how confident the firm is that this is a world-changer. But that’s some years off. For now, I highly recommend reading Brian Crecente’s excellent hands-on writeup over at Rolling Stone.