Magic Leap – Field of dreams

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I think that Magic Leap has solved the field of view problem in AR.

  • There are many augmented reality (AR) companies out there but the best financed is almost certainly Magic Leap.
  • AR is very different from virtual reality as VR creates an entirely artificial world while AR superimposes virtual objects on top of what one can already see.
  • When I think about use cases, AR has far more applications that users are going to be willing to pay for in contrast to VR which looks to me to be limited to high end games and media.
  • On top of a massive $542m round in October 2014 led by Google Ventures, the company is raising another $827m with a post money valuation of around $4bn.
  • I assume that this round will also be led by Google which I suspect wants the right of first refusal on acquisition should the technology prove to be commercially viable.
  • Although I think AR has much greater commercial potential, it is much more difficult to get right and I think that it is here where the vast sums are being invested.
  • Every demonstration that I have seen is using the same basic idea to superimpose virtual objects upon the real world.
  • From the patent applications of Magic Leap and commentary from those who have been able to have a demonstration, I believe that Magic Leap is doing the same.
  • The user wears headgear through which he has normal vision of his immediate surroundings.
  • On each side there is a projector (one for each eye) which shines the virtual image across the front of the lenses through which the user sees the real world.
  • In those lenses are waveguides which pick up the light being shone across the lenses and direct it into the user’s eye giving the desired superimposition.
  • The problem is that today, limitations in the technology mean that the virtual world can only be superimposed on a portion of the user’s field of vision.
  • Effectively there is a letter box within which the virtual world exits and from which it cannot escape.
  • For many commercial and medical purposes, I don’t think that this is a problem but for the consumer it’s a deal breaker.
  • This is why I suspect that the first applications of offerings like Microsoft HoloLens and Atheer Air are likely to be focused on commercial, medical and educational use long before consumer.
  • I think that Magic Leap is going after the consumer and on that basis, I think it has found a way to fix the limited field of view problem.
  • This would also explain why its hardware is still much bigger than its competition are and why it could still be another 2 years before there is a product.
  • Developer units of Hololens and Atheer Air are shipping in early 2016.
  • Furthermore, I think it is looking to create a much more intuitive and immersive experience and consequently the system needs to track things like eye and body movements and be able to properly understand them.
  • For the consumer I still think that there are three key criteria that need to be met before real traction will result.
  • These are hardware, user experience and ecosystem and these are discussed in more detail here.
  • Hardware and user experience will be critical to getting in the game but I strongly suspect that it will be the ecosystem that wins it.
  • Here, having Google on board will be a major help but it will need a much wider base of third party developers if it ever wants to hit the mainstream.
  • With a valuation already at $4bn and the probability that more will be needed, massive success is already being assumed.
  • This is very far from guaranteed and I suspect that as Magic Leap endeavours to meet the hardware criteria (see here), the size of the technical challenge will become exponentially larger.
  • This is the biggest challenge that Magic Leap faces as I think that it is already aware of and has dealt with the user experience and is planning for the ecosystem.
  • In any event it is going to have to sell huge volumes of what is initially going to be a niche product just to keep its investors happy.