Business Today

The Secret of Magic Leap

As of now, there is just a headset from the Florida-based company while we wait for its mixed reality vision to become ours.
Team BT | Print Edition: February 11, 2018
The Secret of Magic Leap

For a company that has been doing something mysterious for the past six to seven years, Magic Leap has raised a lot of funding - no less than $1.9 billion. Its investors include the Alibaba Group, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Google LLC, J.P. Morgan Investment Management, Temasek EDBI, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.

The company is valued at $4.5 billion. Fascinatingly, until recently, the start-up has had no product to show. However, the computer demos have been compelling enough to excite the few VIPs and celebrities who have seen what it is doing. Except for Beyonce, who was apparently bored. Magic Leap is based on the idea whatever is inside the computer is spilling over into the real world. It is similar to the Mixed Reality Microsoft has been talking about and demoing with its HoloLens. "We are adding another dimension to computing where digital respects the physical. And they work together to make life better. Magic Leap One (consisting of a pair of oversized goggles, an external computer and a handheld controller) is built for creators who want to change how we experience the world," says the company's website on the release of a headset meant for developers.

The headset, incidentally, is fairly ugly, but it may not be what the eventual product will be as one of the biggest challenges for Magic Leap is to miniaturise everything for everyday consumer use. To visualise what Magic Leap sees as the next platform in computing, think of how a virtual lamp can be placed in a room, or how the model of the solar system can appear in front of you in full 3D and its workings understood better, or how a jellyfish could be swimming across your ceiling in a fascinating display, or how a miniature of Mount Everest could grow out of a table as you get the facts about it. In other words, the virtual and the real meet seamlessly and realistically to impact everything one does. In a sense, you can also 'pull the web out of the screen'.

Magic Leap says its lightfield photonics generate digital light at different depths and blend seamlessly with natural light to produce lifelike digital objects that coexist in the real world. The technology allows our brain to naturally process digital objects in the same way we do the real-world things, making it comfortable to use the device for a longer period. The headset is called Lightwear, but it has to fit into a whole system of augmented reality. As a result, people can interact with virtual objects.

Rolling Stone reporter was among the few to have seen a Magic Leap demo and describes one experience: "A wall in the room suddenly showed the outline of a door with bright white light shining through it. The door opened, and a woman walked in. She walked up to me, stopping a few feet away, to stand nearby. The level of detail was impressive. Though I wouldn't mistake her for a real person - there was something about her luminescence, her design, that gave her away. While she didn't talk or react to what I was saying, she does have that ability." Scepticism about Magic Leap's project has been fairly widespread with some wondering whether the whole thing is a hoax of sorts. But Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz says all the tools will come to developers in 2018.

Breaking Sweat

You are not the only one to be breaking sweat during a workout. A robot does it too. Japanese-made Kengoro and its cousin Kenshiro are the University of Tokyo's way of understanding the human body better.

Researchers built a human-like musculoskeletal nervous system and even a Linux-based brain into the machine and got it to do the sort of movements and exercises people typically do in a workout. That included crunches, neck rolls, squats, push-ups and more. As the robot heats up, it sweats. By design. The emission of fluid is, just as in humans, meant to cool it down. More than the effort and the sweat, however, the engineers think the robots can provide insights into how movement is processed within the body. This, in turn, feeds into other fields such as vehicle testing where a more realistic dummy may be needed, or as an aid to creating better prosthetic limbs.

Considering that the humanoids have everything, from synthetic muscles to brains, they can be put to many uses. There is not much artificial intelligence built into them, though, which may just be a good thing.

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