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Magic Leap Lifts the Veil on Its Vision for Mixed Reality (Video)

"We're gearing up to ship millions of things."

Magic Leap

The secretive mixed-reality company Magic Leap lifted the veil today on its ambitious plans to blend the digital and physical, showing off a video that depicted its virtual creations interacting with the world around them.

In the demonstration, a tiny silver robot hovers beneath a desk and then seemingly becomes aware of an observer and responds with a wave. After that, a solar system swirls above a desk, casting light and shadow on the surface below. Here’s a video, which Magic Leap says was not polished with any special effects, like a previous concept video:

The reel, captured with Magic Leap’s technology, vividly illustrated the technology’s ability to project virtual objects that appear to have mass and occupy physical space within the real world.

“We are sensing the world — the floor, the people. We’re doing real-time understanding of the world, so that all these objects can know where they sit,” said Magic Leap President and Chief Executive Rony Abovitz in remarks Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal WSJDLive conference at The Montage in Laguna Beach, Calif. “Otherwise, they just pass through things.”

Magic Leap says this “mixed reality” technology has applications in entertainment, education, health care and the workplace. It could blend digital images of, say, TIE Fighters in the sky for a “Star Wars” fan, or allow a Chicago Cubs booster who’s attending a party to watch a live broadcast of an MLB playoff game that has been tacked, like a TV, to the wall.

“The possibilities [are] limitless,” said Rio Caraeff, Magic Leap’s chief content officer. “Anything you can do on a smartphone, anything you can do on a computer, you can do on Magic Leap.”

The Florida-based company raised $542 million from Google, Qualcomm and others last year. This fall, it applied for a raft of patents indicating that it is developing a device similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens that would display 3-D objects in the real world.

Abovitz said hundreds of visitors have witnessed the technology under strict nondisclosure agreements. He said the experience has awakened the “inner child” in more than one adult.

When will the rest of the world have a chance to try out Magic Leap? Abovitz declined to say when it will be commercially available, though he said hundreds of people are working on the project in an old Motorola factory in South Florida.

“We’re not in a research lab, doing theoretical things,” Abovitz said. “We’re gearing up to ship millions of things.”

Magic Leap will not follow the traditional path of beta-testing its product, but has hand-picked the developers it wants to work with on this new type of operating system. Abovitz offered few specifics of the device itself other than to say it would be powered by a small, lightweight, wearable computer that would not look like an oddity when worn in public.

For a technology that so seamlessly blends reality with fantasy, Abovitz said he hopes Magic Leap will be a less obtrusive and distracting digital tool than smartphones. Indeed, he plans to encourage users to maintain eye contact.

“We want to bring people back to normal human social relationships,” Abovitz said. “Your digital stuff can be there, but it doesn’t have to take over your whole world.”

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