Magic Leap yesterday unveiled the first public look at what will become the original consumer product for its mind-tricking mixed reality headset, computer and controller, known collectively as Magic Leap One.
In the week proceeding the announcement, Glixel was invited to the company’s sprawling Florida campus to chat with founder Rony Abovitz, test out the final version of the gear and tour its massive underground wafer manufacturing plant. The story digs into how the idea came about, the break-through technology being used and what the company expects will happen once the headset is released to “creators” sometime next year for a still-to-be-announced price.
But there was much more that we didn’t dig into in that first story. What about keyboards? What about privacy? Is there going to be more than one version? Can I wear a hat (The answer to that surprisingly often asked question is probably not.). Below you’ll find ten more things you didn’t know about Magic Leap One, the technology behind it and the company making it.
Magic Leap By the Numbers
Magic Leap is big in just about every way, not just in its vision for the future. The complex is “hundreds of thousands of square feet.” Abovitz doesn’t know the exact number because the company is in the middle of trying to make its complex even larger. It employs a bit more than 1,500 employees, a bulk of which are in Florida, but they also have a global footprint with offices in Los Angeles, Sunnyvale, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Dallas, Zurich, Wellington, Haifa and Tel Aviv.
People Already Have Headsets
While this week marked the official unveil of Magic Leap One and its gear, a group of developers have had development kits for a bit now, according to Abovitz.
“Some developers have early access devices now quietly behind the scenes. We put out a decent number of those. And the reason why we are limiting it is we have been moving through iterations so fast, like you might have a P3 and then it gets replaced by a P4A and then a P4B, so just every few weeks we might be rotating out one iteration hardware for the next because we are running agile. So we don’t want to have too many of those. We want to get to the point where when we start to go public. So they will still be seeding, but we could do more of those.”
We Tried Several Versions of Magic Leap One
During my time at Magic Leap I tried demos in four different rooms using a variety of near-final product and the final product. Miller tells me that was to help illustrate the evolution of both the software and the hardware.
“Hardware is an easy thing to see,” he adds. “ In my work at NASA I did a lot of robotics work and everybody always wanted to build another body, but the soul that lives inside there is a little harder to see so we will try to illustrate that as well because that is a progression as well.
The Many Versions of Magic Leap
The plan is to eventually have multiple versions of the gear, Abovitz says. “We actually mapped out a portfolio,” he says. “We have sort of a like a decade strategic plan of how our portfolio evolves into everyday systems, extreme, extreme performance, unique different things for different occupations. So, yeah, we are definitely going to spread into a portfolio of things.”
And the shape those new systems take will be guided largely by the community and what it wants after launch, he says. “We are going to be in the exact opposite of being in the woodshop incubating. Think about a band that is like writing songs in the woods, and then they come out and go play everywhere. You are just with everybody and you’re like with the audience. Like Grateful Dead in San Francisco in the late ’60s. It’s sort of like where the band and the audience, you can’t tell the difference. I mean that is kind of what we want. It’s like sort of planting little trees in a forest and then watching them all bloom. Watering the ones that look like they are taking off, helping guide the ones that are struggling. But just more like curators of something where it sort of leaves our hands and starts to take its own life. We have to be, I think like the original Minecraft where the community was in a great feedback loop with Notch. They were all co-creating with him and all these cool things started to happen like the Minecraft videos. Hip-hop came out of people misusing turntables. Somebody is going to figure out how to circumvent what we are doing and do something completely unexpected. That is going to be awesome. That creative exploration, the hacking, we totally want that to happen.”
Magic Leap has had, Abovitz says, an internal plan and ship date for a long time and they just “continue to track to it.” He points out that the company has never really announced a date before so they’ve never been on time, early or late. “But internally we have a pretty detailed program plan. We have a group called Mission Control, which tracks all of the incoming projects and critical path to ship. And we have been tracking it diligently every single week and we are tracking to our ship date. So on our plan it said if we hit certain product milestones, we are going to do something. And the something you want to do is sort of walk out of the woodshed at the end of ’17 and be able to make ’18 all about celebrating the developers and creators we are working with, getting a lot more on board, doing public events and then having our launch.”
How You’ll Buy a Magic Leap
At least initially, Magic Leap gear won’t be in retail stores like Best Buy, Abovitz says. It needs to be shown off in a way that helps illustrate the benefits of the system, “something that really expresses what our capability is and something that you really like doing. And then if you really like that, that is when you decide if you are going to buy it or not buy it. “ He added that there is an entire unboxing process that lives up to the name Magic Leap, though I didn’t experience it while I was there.
Magic Leap and Keyboards
The Magic Leap One gear will support physical accessories which can connect through Bluetooth. Specifically, I asked about using a wireless keyboard and Abovitz says that’s possible. He added that opening up the SDK to developers next year will also include people making physical things for the Magic Leap One.
Magic Leap Isn’t VR, AR or … MR?
Most people would identify Magic Leaps technology as mixed reality, but not Abovitz
“Personally I don’t like the terms AR, VR or MR for us, so we’re calling our computers a spacial computer and our visualization a digital light field because that’s probably the most accurate description of what we do. The other terms are totally corrupted. Our VR systems with see-through cameras now VR or MR? AR is mostly a phone. So it just associates with stuff fundamentally different from what we do. Our version of what spacial computing is has to have a certain amount of features, has to have an awareness of the world. It has sound field, light field and sensing, so it’s really a different set of capabilities. it’s like a car isn’t a jet so we’re like let’s not be in the same label as those things. And in the science fiction world there are people that describe virtual reality, in the real world now that is being applied to things that are so all over the place. So we’re trying to step aside from those categories.”
Magic Leap Is Thinking About Privacy and Security Already
A big question, one I didn’t have the time to delve into much in my day at Magic Leap, is one of privacy and data security. The Magic Leap One captures a lot of data about a user, where they go and what they look at. Abovitz and his team seem very aware of this.
Abovitz calls that stream of data coming into the gear a “lifestream.” That’s what is used to build a model of you, your space and your habits and accessing it is a key component of what the team believes will make Magic Leap feel magic.
“You will have your own personal lifestream,” Abovitz said. “You also have your own identity and our view is that the lifestream belongs to you. It’s a data set that, just like writing a book, is your personal copy. That means there is a need to make people aware that they have a lifestream that has value and then connecting that to other things that you could have; goods and services and interactions around the lifestream. So just like you can write a book and trade that for something, I want to license it and get paid, we believe the lifestream is yours. Our job is to create a series of protections around it. But then to enable creators and developers to build really cool things if you let them access part of it.
“So it’s always explicit, it’s always permission based. But there are amazing experiences and possibilities you can have. The experiential part is the best because if I just see objects that are disconnected from me in the world, there is not really an experience. I am just looking at something. But if something is aware of me and aware of the environment and I am aware of it, now you are in a whole new place. You’re in a whole new kind of story-telling that really begins to feel like life. So our system knows where your eyes are looking, where you are in space, where the world is and what you are saying and what you are hearing and that provides input. So somebody could know where you are and come right up to you, look you in the eye. You could say hello to something and then do something else. So you have this ability to have presence and awareness and interaction with characters and stories and experiences. Even if it’s something simple like there is a web space and the web space acknowledges you or I just want to leave something and you could leave it there and come back to it later. So I could leave a digital object somewhere and it could stay there. So that awareness became something we emerged into. We started out focusing on the light field, but we realized the thing was really special computing. The sensing and awareness, your sensing and awareness combined with the visualization became really powerful.”
Sam Miller, senior director of systems engineering at Magic Leap, says that the headset is constantly doing a “sensor sweep” of your space to make a digital representation of the real world.
“One digital representation that everyone can share and it’s stored in the cloud,” he says. “So if I have made a representation of this room and it knows not just the geometry of the space, not just the mesh that you would find in other things, but the actual semantics behind that geometry. Like this is a table. What is on tables? Vases and glasses and you know cats like tables. That is a coffee table, that is a chair, that’s a picture, that’s a lamp. So those kind of things allow digital content to make air quotes is the word, but there are a lot of roboticists and other people here in AI, but those digital beings can live. They can persist across time across users.
“The awesome thing is the way we have set up our stack is the same way that you choose the application that run on your phone. And I am sure you have had applications say, share us your content. And you’re like, ‘Hell no.’ And like the fourth time it asks that and it shows you some benefit and you are like okay I trust these people, I trust this sure. Share my contacts because I am going to get a big benefit out of it. So you control all of those this at the application level and it’s explicitly opt-in. So everything on our platform is explicitly opt-in. If you don’t want it, you have to opt into things. That is kind of our commitment to privacy and security cause it’s a new field, so you have to be sensitive to that.”
Inspiration, Wishes and Dreams
Abovitz mentioned a lot of pop culture, a lot of music, artists, books, film directors, games in talking about the inspiration, creation and development of Magic Leap. At one point he tells me that what he really would like is for a director like Guillermo Del Toro to create something for the system, or maybe Stanley Kubrick. He also agrees with me when I say the system is a bit like Magic Realism brought to life. “The only sad thing is that we couldn’t show it to [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez or [Salvidor] Dali.”