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Magic Leap Reveals A Bit More About Its “Mixed Reality” Product, But Key Questions Remain Unanswered

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The ever-mysterious Magic Leap is one of those rare startups which has close to $1.4 billion — invested by the likes of Google and Alibaba in its coffers without a single product in the market. Except that the company was working on augmented reality headset, even an idea of what could be the real product was not disclosed so far.

However, now we have some more information about the product, through a video released by the company and a 8500-word feature story published on Wired by senior tech journalist Kevin Kelly.

The video, as described by the company, is exactly as seen through a Magic Leap headset without any external tamperings or special effects. Like Hololens, it shows virtual objects embedded into the real life view in front of the viewer.

Phone notifications, a 3D projection of Mount Everest on the desk, viewing a product before shopping online, jellyfish floating in the air are some of the things included in the video. And yes, the projections seem extremely real barring few distortions at some places.

One could not help but draw comparisons with Microsoft’s Hololens which also showed a similar potential in its demo videos. However, as was reported later after developers actually used Hololens, that it suffered from the narrow range of view and objects begin to disappear the moment user begins to turn away.

But, Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz says that their product differs from Hololens or Meta AR and prefers to call it “mixed reality” rather than augmented reality. The former products use beam-splitting tech to reflect light into users’ eye to create an illusion of depth but which limits the focus on nearby and far objects.

According to Abovitz, at Magic Leap, they have used a photonic light field chip comprising of a three-dimensional, wafer-like component that has very small structures in it, and they manage the flow of photons that ultimately create a digital light-field signal.

The Wired feature story also differentiates between augmented and mixed reality as Kelly writes,

In augmented reality, the visible world is overlaid with a layer of digital content. In mixed reality, virtual objects are integrated into the natural world. So a virtual ball under your desk would be blocked from view unless you bend down to look for it. In theory, MR could become VR.

However, there has not been any further explanation of the technology behind this. Although according to the patent, the company has developed some kind of fiber-optic projection that simulates how light naturally gets into your eyes allowing the user to experience “mixed reality” more naturally.

As far as the experience of using Magic Leap headset is concerned, one employee describes the experience as “dreaming with your eyes open” whereas Wired claims that the quality of virtual objects in Magic Leap “exceeds all others”.

Also, unlike other similar AR products, wearing and taking off Magic Leap headset is as simple as wearing and taking off sunglasses.

Another thing which we know about Magic Leap headset is that it won’t be wireless but could be tethered to a battery pack at the very least.

This is because Kelly agrees on the uniqueness of Hololens  because it isn’t tethered to an external computer or battery pack and suggests that Magic Leap headsets will “be wired to a battery in your pocket.”

However, despite all this, we still don’t know when the actual product will hit the market. This is crucial because Magic Leap’s primary rival Microsoft, has already started giving developer kits for Hololens. And according to Kelly, another rival Meta 2 augmented reality headset will begin shipping developer kits this fall “likely well before Magic Leap”.

But since the company has at least begun to give somewhat detailed glimpses into its product after remaining secret for years, we can expect to hear more frequently of Magic Leap in coming months.


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