Earlier this month, Magic Leap—a mysterious startup building an augmented reality system—released another video of its psychotropic technology. The company, which has been funded by Google and technology investors like Andressen Horowitz, has closely guarded its secret “photonic light field” technology, but those who have experienced it have called it revolutionary.
The demonstration, the third filmed directly through Magic Leap technology, has latched onto the widespread excitement for virtual reality and its potential to create novel experiences. Kevin Kelly, a technology journalist who has followed virtual reality devices for nearly 30 years, wrote in Wired magazine that it could create “a Wikipedia of experiences” for people to download on demand.
Magic Leap’s technology, which has largely been kept secret, creates what has been called “cinematic reality.” Most of what we know about the device was revealed in a patent, “Planar Waveguide Apparatus with Diffraction Elements,” filed by Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz in 2015. Small projectors inside a headset beams images directly into your eyes, while sensors help to blend the virtual images with your physical surroundings (allowing digital jellyfish to vanish underneath tables, for instance, only to appear on the other side).
According to the patent filing, “where the planar waveguide is constructed of a partially or wholly transparent material, a human may view real physical objects through the waveguide. The waveguide display system can, thus, comprise an optically see-through mixed reality (or “augmented reality”) display system, in which artificial or remote image data can be superimposed, overlaid, or juxtaposed with real scenes.”
The technology, which invites comparison to Microsoft HoloLens, differs from virtual reality headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR. While the mixed reality of Magic Leap merges digital images with our surroundings, virtual reality transports users to computer-generated worlds or locations captured by video camera.
Those who have used Magic Leap’s technology have injected a significant amount of money into the startup, which has shunned Silicon Valley for offices near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Led by Google’s investment arm, the latest round of funding raised $793.5 million, pushing Magic’s Leap’s total funding to $1.4 billion.