Magic Leap is perhaps the biggest name in tech that you don't know anything about yet. This mysterious augmented-reality and mixed-reality company has been making big waves — not just because of its stunning concept videos that show whales jumping out of gym floors, but also because Google and other investors have pumped over a billion dollars into this Florida-based startup.
Magic Leap's tech looks like it could be a serious rival to Microsoft HoloLens, but it's not clear when (or if) we'll ever get our hands on it. Here's everything we know so far.
What is Magic Leap?
Founded in 2010, Magic Leap is a Florida-based company working on "mixed-reality" technology, which allows you to see virtual objects in the real world. Magic Leap hasn't quite taken the form of a tangible headset that consumers (or even developers) can buy yet, but the company has released a series of captivating videos showing what its tech is capable of.
Magic Leap has demonstrated its ability to put a virtual baby elephant in your hands and bring the solar system to your home office, to name a few examples. The company's latest video shows Magic Leap's potential to replace your PC, as the Leap's wearer is seen checking emails and three-dimensional charts, shopping for shoes and gazing at a virtual swarm of jellyfish floating above his desk.
The company claims that all of these breathtaking clips were shot directly through Magic Leap devices, with no added effects. Given that few people outside Magic Leap have been able to use its device, however, there's no way to know if that's 100 percent true.
Why should I care?
When Google throws a bunch of money behind your project, there's a good chance that it's something special. The search giant is one of Magic Leap's key financial backers, contributing to the staggering $542 million that the company raised by late 2014. According to Wired's recent deep-dive feature story on Magic Leap, the startup has secured a total of $1.4 billion in funding. Whatever crazy technology Magic Leap decides to build in the future, it should have more than enough resources to do it.
Because Magic Leap can project virtual displays and bring messages and emails directly to your eyes, it could someday replace your phone, PC and even your entertainment center. Just imagine being able to read through work reports without a single monitor on your desk, or watch football on your own personal screen when there's no TV around.
Hands-on impressions from Wired's Kevin Kelly are also encouraging.
"I found that [Magic Leap] worked amazingly well close up, within arm's reach, which was not true of many of the other mixed- and virtual-reality systems I used," Kelly wrote." "I also found that the transition back to the real world while removing the Magic Leap's optics was effortless, as comfortable as slipping off sunglasses, which I also did not experience in other systems."
What does Magic Leap look like?
While we're not sure what Magic Leap will look like by the time it hits consumers, there is one small (albeit wacky) clue. A recent Magic Leap patent filing shows a design sketch of what looks very much like some sort of AR or VR headset. However, the dome-like headset looks more like what Luke Skywalker used during his lightsaber training, and not something you'd want to wear out in public (Magic Leap has previously promised that you won't be embarrassed to wear its tech).
Magic Leap's Andy Fouché told The Verge that this patent doesn't represent the final design, so there's still hope for Magic Leap to look more like a pair of glasses and less like something out of an 80's sci-fi flick.
How is it different from HoloLens and other AR headsets?
According to Wired's report, devices such as HoloLens, the Meta AR glasses and Magic Leap feature semitransparent lenses that project light sources at the edges, eventually reflecting images toward the wearer's eye. Magic Leap says its method of beaming this light is unique, but the company didn't specify exactly how.
A Magic Leap test rig in action. Photo: Peter Yang/Wired
What the Wired feature did note, however, is that images on Magic Leap lack the pixelation that sometimes occurs on other AR and VR headsets. That could go a long way toward making "mixed reality" feel like reality.
The current crop of mixed-reality headsets also differ in terms of connectivity — the Meta glasses require a connection to your PC, while HoloLens can operate fully untethered. It's not exactly clear whether the Magic Leap will be powered by an external device, but CEO Rony Abovitz told reporters last fall that the wearable would be "self-contained," according to Engadget.
Is there a price or release date?
Magic Leap sure looks exciting, but the company has been fairly silent about when you'll actually get to try it for yourself. As reported by Engadget last October, Abovitz said during an interview at WSJ.D Live, "We're not announcing when we're shipping. But we're not far." Though we don't know what you'll look like when wearing one of these things, Abovitz mentioned that the company is aiming to deliver a device that you won't be ashamed to wear in public.
Whenever Magic Leap does end up launching, it's hard to imagine it being cheap — at least in its first wave. HoloLens developer kits cost a whopping $3,000 each, while the latest Meta 2 dev kit runs for $949. And Google Glass sold for a hefty $1,500 before it was discontinued.
The About Us section on Magic Leap's website sums up what's both so exciting and so frustratingly mysterious about the company's tech in just a few sentences.
"Whales jump out of gymnasium floors, solar systems can be held in the palm of your hand and you can share your world in completely new ways," reads the Magic Leap website. "We're so excited to show you what we're building. So while we work to get it exactly right for you, please keep in touch and know that magic is right around the corner."