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One Giant Flop...The ‘game changer’ for mixed reality stumbles

Technology
By David Jacklin

Saturday 25 August 2018, 09:00AM


Nice promotional CGI shot but does the tech deliver? Image: Magic Leap

Nice promotional CGI shot but does the tech deliver? Image: Magic Leap

Have you ever heard of Magic Leap?

If not, you’ll be surprised to learn that this American start-up company, founded in 2010, has raised an enormous US$2.3 billion for a previously non-released technology platform development programme employing more than 1,500 employees.

For those that do know about Magic Leap’s existence, you’ll also know that whilst there has been much hype about the potential of their technology, supported by the occasional ‘life changing’ CGI image or two, the actual method and product has been shrouded in total secrecy for the past seven years of development.

Magic Leap is a ‘mixed reality’ platform. The company prefers to differentiate this as ‘spatial computing’. In essence it’s the ability to enhance your surrounding ‘real’ environment with the integration and interaction with menu systems, 3D objects and animations.

The current technological limitation and delivery method is for the user to wear a headset tethered to a wearable device which projects content into your field of vision... ideally with as much spatial accuracy as possible to prevent breaking the illusion that it’s actually ‘there’.

It’s fair to say that the intensity of ‘real-time’ information processing and tracking, paired with a wearable computer powerful enough to deliver this experience seamlessly has to this point been lacking.

Microsoft’s offering, The HoloLens, has been in the market for several years, and whilst it has its primitive uses in commercial training with an increasing potential in education, it certainly has underwhelming consumer value.

So, is Magic Leap the next case of Emperor’s New Clothes?

And what have they been doing with all of this time and money? According to the company founder and CEO, Rony Abovitz, with a company statement that is unlikely to calm the investors’ nerves, “When we’re not here talking about mixed reality and the future of computing, we’re busy putting robots in your kitchen and making music you can touch.”

Well that’s alrighty then. No further explanation needed. Please carry on. And so they did. Right up to August 8 when the Magic Leap One headset and developer’s kit was unleashed to a poised world… most notably without a convincing domestic android nor ‘touchy-feely’ semiquavers in augmented sight.

So the first technical journalist reviews are out. Now brace yourselves. Guess what? After billions of dollars spent and promises of floating ginormous sea mammals in your school gymnasium – and why is this the visual pinnacle of our future? – they’re far from encouraging.

The Verge’s Adi Robertson wrote a hands-on review of the launch product, describing the experience as a ‘flawed glimpse’ of the potential in this field of technology.

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"Based on an afternoon with Magic Leap, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition is a functional, thoughtfully designed headset with some very real advantages over competitors like the Microsoft HoloLens. But it doesn’t seem like a satisfying computing device or a radical step forward for mixed reality."

"While not as restrictive as Microsoft’s HoloLens, the Lightwear (headset) has a limited field of view that constrains the experience. Some objects appeared cut off unless I turned my head or took a few steps back. I don’t suggest anyone run out to buy one – maybe not for years. I found many of Magic Leap’s technically impressive demos to be little more than a novelty.”

And MIT Technology Review was also less than complimentary.

“Yet while the experiences in the demo room are fun and visually impressive, none of it is truly mind-blowing.”

“I want to feel like those robots are actually coming after me. I want the life-size whale coming out of the gym floor. And I want to forget that I’m weighed down by a headset and pocket-sized computer, peering at this visually enhanced world one rectangle at a time. For this to happen, the hardware will have to get still smaller and better.”

“More to the point, cool as the gadget is, the question remains: can Magic Leap turn it into a money-making business?”

So where is this going? I’m not sure even Magic Leap know. They’re certainly keen to promote a magical idea of a technically-enhanced future, but with little direction on what this will actually achieve.

And will they be the ones to do it even if the roadmap to a digitally enhanced future is imagined? Whilst Magic Leap have constrained any serious questions or information from within the company with strict non-disclosure agreements with all employees, and some clearly PR-orchestrated positive statements… various leaks from within the company have confirmed what we’ve secretly been wondering all along.

“Either management doesn’t appear to have a clue, or they are in on a very giant scam.”

“Unless you’re drinking the Kool-Aid you’ll quickly see how much of a facade this company is.”

Ouch. Perhaps they’ve been too busy working on a mixed-reality experience for their investors? One in which cryptocurrency literally falls off the swooning purple trees straight into their clean, glowing hands, neatly obscuring their regal butt-naked frames. The Garden of Eden this is not.


Check out the unforgettable first experiences created by Magic Leap Studios at www.magicleap.com

 

 

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