Magic Leap: Now You See It

There are no special effects in the augmented reality demo it shared on Tuesday, Magic Leap said.

The video, which shows imaginary objects blended into a real-world setting, was shot using Magic Leap’s augmented reality technology, the company proclaimed.

Details about Magic Leap’s AR headset have been sparse thus far, but CEO Rony Abovitz dropped a bit more information about it during this week’s WSJDLive conference in California.

The software behind the Magic Leap headset senses and understands elements of the environment, according to Abovitz. That allows the digital objects to know where to occupy the real world, which appears to be the case in the latest teaser from the stealthy startup.

In the demo — said to be raw, unaltered footage shot from a Magic Leap headset — there’s a digital character camping out under a table in an office. When the headset’s wearer looks at the character, it expresses surprise and then waves its hands.

The feed then shows a 3D model of the solar system floating in open space inside the same office.

Do You Believe in Magic?

The Magic Leap headset is intriguing, but there needs to be more evidence than a couple of nice set pieces, said Eliot Winer, associate director of Iowa State University’s Virtual Reality Applications Center.

“We need to see the headset, get the technical specifications, learn how development can happen, and see some useful demonstrations before a judgment can be given,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They have received massive venture funding by some powerful outlets.”

That venture fuel Winer referenced was US$542 million in series B funding raised last year in a round led by Google, fattened by Qualcomm and filled in by other investors.

Beyond the monetary support, Magic Leap will need to grow a compelling collection of software for the AR headset, said EEDAR analyst Matthew Diener.

It’s got to be more than an interesting opportunity that has a ton of potential, because there are enough products already available that are offering similar promises, he said.

“In this department, it’s on Magic Leap to find enough developers to build the right applications that highlight its capabilities as an educational, gaming and productivity device at launch,” Diener told TechNewsWorld. “Going to market without these apps, games and programs will likely lead to a tepid reception.”

The Good

While there isn’t enough information to make a proper comparison between the Magic Leap device and Microsoft’s HoloLens, the use case seem to be about the same. Both Magic Leap and Microsoft foresee their AR headsets being used in entertainment, education, the enterprise and healthcare.

AR essentially smashes the limitations of 2D compute visualization, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“You could use Magic Leap or a similar AR device, like Microsoft’s Hololens, for any number of work-related tasks or presentations,” he told TechNewsWorld.

An interior designer could leverage AR to help clients visualize recommendations for furniture and decor, for example, suggested King. An architect could use it to help buyers envision how they could make a particular location home.

“On the playful side, AR could be used to support or complement a wide variety of gaming and entertainment scenarios,” said King. “The applications there are as limitless as the imagination.”

In the educational field, potential use cases for Magic Leap and the like are fascinating, remarked EEDAR’s Diener.

“It can potentially guide users through complex tasks like cooking, carpentry and computer repair with overlaid tutorials,” he said. “Even if applications aren’t purpose-built for these tasks, having the ability to work on a task with a tutorial video from YouTube playing in your same field of vision will add a lot of value to the experience for most users.”

The Problematic?

With all of the promise AR has been offering, the tech itself could be the source of various problems, according to Iowa State’s Winer.

“This is disruptive technology in it’s purest form,” he pointed out. “As simulation has increased in use for many fields, there has always been the inherent mapping issues involved. That is, a user would have to map the virtual world back to the physical and vice-versa.”

In the real world, the digital and the real are clearly separate, said Winer. Technological improvements have helped to pull the two worlds together, but the mainstream might not be ready to go all in for AR and VR just yet.

“The early adopters will love this tech,” Winer noted, “but the mainstream will have major social and usability issues with it.”

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

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