Call it a leap of faith.
Google, Qualcomm, Legendary Entertainment and others have just funded augmented reality startup Magic Leap to the tune of US$542 million (S$690 million) – but the product that it's developing is shrouded in mystery.
We pick apart the clues…
1. It's not augmented reality, it's "cinematic reality"
Magic Leap is developing what it calls a "proprietary human computing interface technology, known as Cinematic Reality" – which suggests a more realistic take on augmented reality. Images on the company's website show realistic CGI creations overlaid on everyday scenes; a whale hovering over a beach, a submarine cruising above a shopping street, an elephant dancing in someone's hands.
So far, so AR – but Magic Leap promises that it's "going beyond the current perception of mobile computing, augmented reality, and virtual reality. We are transcending all three, and will revolutionize the way people communicate, purchase, learn, share and play." And according to Richard Taylor, head of visual effects house Weta Workshop, Magic Leap are "visionaries in this new field of ultra-sensory perception."
Bold claims indeed – so how does it work?
2. It's based around something called a "Digital Lightfield"
Magic Leap's team has, it claims, done some digging into how the physics of the visual world works; and come up with what it's calling a "Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal," which it claims "respects how we function naturally as humans."
Looking a little closer at Magic Leap's elephant animation, it's possible to see that it's rendering real-time shadows of the elephant accurately on the hands of the person "holding" it. Now, that could be because the animation is just a bit of showreel fluff that doesn't accurately represent what the technology's capable of – but it'd certainly be a big leap for augmented reality if it's the real deal.
3. It's wearable
No arguments here – Magic Leap has openly stated that it's planning to make "the most natural and human-friendly wearable computing interface in the world." Whatever it is, it combines hardware, software, sensors, core processors and "a few things that just need to remain a mystery."
Hacker News has dug through Magic Leap's recently-filed patents, and unearthed some interesting details; the patents filed appear to be for a head-mounted device that displays an image for each eye. A high-speed masking device blocks off elements of the image that aren't at the current focal depth, and then refocuses the light at 12 different depth levels. What does that mean? Potentially, that it's able to create true depth in an augmented reality image – unlike current augmented reality devices, which are limited to a single depth plane.
4. It's going to be creative
Magic Leap reckons that the future of computing will need to respect human creativity, among other things; and it's currently looking to work with game developers, storytellers, musicians and artists. Company founder Rony Abovitz certainly embraces creativity, as this TEDx video in which he takes to the stage in a spacesuit shows.
The fact that Legendary Pictures is one of the major investors in Magic Leap suggests that the film industry will be interested in whatever product it's working on, too; last year, visual effects house Weta Workshop announced that it was teaming up with Magic Leap on an as-uet-undisclosed project. If Magic Leap's working on something that's solved the problem of focus in 3D, it'd certainly be of interest to movie-makers like James Cameron and Peter Jackson, who are both pioneers in the field.
Whatever it's come up with, we can expect to find out more details on Magic Leap's technology within weeks; we wait with bated breath for more information.