Magic Leap said Tuesday that it raised $794 million in new funding in a round led by Alibaba Group, confirming earlier speculation that the secretive augmented-reality company was raising a large new round of funding. Together with a previous round of $542 million led by Google, this brings Magic Leap’s total raised since late 2014 to about $1.34 billion.
So what’s Magic Leap doing with all that money? A lot of things. The Florida-based company has spent several years now working on hardware to build its so-called “cinematic reality” technology into a head-worn device that makes it possible to see all kinds of digital images—monsters, robots, and more—as though they’re actually in front of you.
Though it hasn’t yet publicly shown off such a thing, a demo using a hulking, stationary prototype that I saw in late 2014 did make it look like monsters and other characters were in the room with me. I also got a look at a nonworking engineering prototype that looks more like a bulky pair of sports sunglasses with a battery pack attached.
Making this kind of hardware costs a lot of money, especially if Magic Leap’s display will include its own light-field chip that relies on silicon photonics—and the company is working on such a chip, CEO and founder Rony Abovitz told editor in chief Jason Pontin in June at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference in San Francisco. At the time, Abovitz said his startup had come up with novel fabrication techniques and was using them in Florida on a pilot manufacturing line. This is likely to be extremely tricky and very pricey, as building a chip fab is no small potatoes.
Magic Leap is spending plenty of money on other things as well, like building a team that includes some notable names, such as science-fiction author Neal Stephenson, who’s the company’s chief futurist, and longtime video-game developer Graeme Devine, who’s its chief creative officer.
And it’s also developing content to view with its forthcoming device, a teaser for which the company showed off in October in a video that was shown at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJD technology conference, showing a little virtual robot moving beneath an actual desk, while a glowing solar-system model levitated atop the desk.