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Magic Leap Has a Headset, but Its Technology Is Still Mysterious

The augmented-reality startup has raised over a billion dollars from investors, but it still isn’t saying how its technology really works.
April 19, 2016

The secretive, extremely well-funded augmented-reality startup Magic Leap has spent several years working on its technology for blending crisp digital images with the real world. It says that technology will eventually be made into a headset. It hasn’t divulged all that much since I got an in-depth look at the company in late 2014, but it recently opened up a bit to let Wired take a peek at what it’s building.

In an extensive piece about Magic Leap and virtual- and augmented-reality technology, Wired shares that it was able to wear a Magic Leap headset to check out things like a hovering steampunk robot drone (presumably the same one I saw during a visit to the company’s suburban Florida office, though I was viewing it through a large demo unit on a cart), as well as “human-size robots” that walked through walls and tiny people wrestling on a tabletop.

There’s still no mention of what the headset looks like—an engineering prototype I viewed suggested a chunky pair of sports-like glasses with a connected battery pack—nor a release date or pricing. The company, which has thus far raised about $1.4 billion from investors, has previously said it will be in the range of consumer mobile devices.

And there are just a scant few details about how Magic Leap’s technology works to let you see images that are so bright, clear, and fully formed they seem nearly indistinguishable from real objects that surround you. The story does include an image of a clear lens captioned as Magic Leap’s “mysterious photonic lightfield chip”—a light field is the pattern that light creates when bouncing off of something, and Magic Leap has said it’s creating a light-field chip that includes silicon photonics. In a video accompanying the Wired story, Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz adds a bit of information, saying it’s 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.”

Wired notes that Magic Leap claims what it’s making is different from other augmented-reality headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens because of how it shines light in your eye. But, frustratingly, there’s still no real sense of what’s going on under the hood, as Magic Leap “declines to explain it further at this time.”

I’m not the only one who still has questions; this piece from the Verge is also wondering what the company is and how it’s doing what it’s doing.

The startup released a new demo video on YouTube on Tuesday that was shot through its technology in an office, showing things like a 3-D map of Mt. Everest popping up atop a desk and pulsating pink jellyfish floating through the air. But beyond that teaser, it looks like we’ll have to keep waiting until Magic Leap is ready to say more.

(Read more: Wired, “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2015: Magic Leap,” “Magic Leap Needs to Engineer a Miracle,” The Verge)

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