Opposing evidence: Is Magic Leap actually boring?

If you are interested in Magic Leap (and if you are reading this site, you certainly are) then you really should be reading Karl Guttag’s blog. He has done some excellent analysis of the video that Magic Leap has released and come to some conclusions of what technology is being used. Unlike many reports, Guttag far less optimistic about the company. He paints a picture that puts Magic Leap in the same sort of place as many competitors. The advantages such as fiber scanning displays and high resolution are all but a dream in his analysis.

If you are interested in Magic Leap (and if you are reading this site, you certainly are) then you really should be reading Karl Guttag’s blog. He has done some excellent analysis of the video that Magic Leap has released and come to some conclusions of what technology is being used. Unlike many reports, Guttag far less optimistic about the company. He paints a picture that puts Magic Leap in the same sort of place as many competitors. The advantages such as fiber scanning displays and high resolution are all but a dream in his analysis.  Please do read the last few entries in his blog, they put forward some compelling evidence. 

 This looks good. But it doesn't quite line up with the quality of reports from the demo.
This looks good. But it doesn’t quite line up with the quality of reports from the demo.

On this blog, we have generally been optimistic about Magic Leap.  This is largely a result of all the reasons it makes sense to have some amount of faith in Magic leap but is further strengthened from the sort of philosophical idea that optimism is positive for the community (and the world at large). Unfortunately, reality has its own ideas and they often do not align with the optimist. Nor does it align with anyone else for that matter.  

How do we rectify analysis done here on GPU of the Brain and elsewhere with Guttag’s in depth analysis? Well, the first thing to note is Guttag is taking first hand information.  He is looking directly at the videos that Magic Leap has released. So we cannot chalk his ideas up to cold pessimism. Likewise, we cannot discount the reactions to demos seen by a number of independent people. These people are generally respected tech journalists, some of whom have been in the industry for years. These reactions show that Magic Leap must have something up their sleeve that is beyond todays tech.

As with most things, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Backlash

 Hololens doesn't have the field of view we were initially led to believe.
Hololens doesn’t have the field of view we were initially led to believe.

Magic Leap should be terrified of backlash to their product. It happened to Google Glass. It happened to Hololens and it will likely happen to Magic Leap. With this in mind, I suspect the videos that are being shown by Magic Leap are a projection of what they imagine their product will do at a relative minimum.  They don’t want to show a huge field of view or high resolution as hololens did only to later reveal that that isn’t the reality of the product.  They want these videos to line up as closely as they can with whatever it is they eventually come to sell. 

I don’t think Magic Leap have done a great job at managing the hype train but some of what Guttag has seen can likely be chalked up as an attempt to do this. 

“There are no pixels”

This has been said repeatedly by those who have tried the Magic Leap demo. As Guttag points out, in the videos released by Magic Leap, pixels are very clear. I don’t believe these reporters are lying but I think they are being shown a prototype that goes beyond the capabilities of miniaturisation and manufacturing at this point in time.  As I said in my previous piece on these demos, the most important question that can be asked about Magic Leap right now is: “Can Magic Leap transition this impressive demo into a form factor and product suitable for the consumer market?”.  The answer is unclear at this point.

Then what is the product?

Rony Abovitz has said in some recent talks that he imagines Magic Leap on a path that mirrors the iPhone.  He talks about the iPod being the first stop. If you go back and look at the original iPod you see a compelling product that is marginally better than competing devices of the time. That margin was enough for it to win the space. I don’t think Apple had a grand plan at this stage of the company but you can see the steps and iterative improvements as technology caught up to allow for a device like the iPhone.   

Magic Leaps first product will likely start the company on a path that technology will eventually catch up with. There is a good chance we won’t get a fiber scanning display in iteration one. We might not get a great FoV.  We might only get a glimpse of accommodation and vergence. But these ideas look like they hold water and five to ten years from now, we might get exactly what the larger demos are promising. They have the blueprints, they just need the time to build it. My biggest fear is that the inevitable backlash will kill them before they are able to truly make what they believe in. We should think about this when the device is launched. We should try to be optimistic. I know grave dancing is fun but it ultimately penalises companies for trying something new. We should be encouraging these companies not ridiculing them.

The people who have tried Magic Leap

At this point “1000s” of people have tried some incarnation of Magic Leap. Most of these people will be the employees or potential employees of Magic Leap, investors and content creators. All of them are under NDA and are not particularly interested in discussing their experience. But there are a few reporters who have been invited to try prototypes at different stages of development. They are still under NDA but are doing their best to tell us what they saw under these heavy restrictions. With each new article we see a slightly different twist on the bending of these restrictions and by putting them together we can build a more cohesive picture. 

At this point “1000s” of people have tried some incarnation of Magic Leap. Most of these people will be the employees or potential employees of Magic Leap, investors and content creators. All of them are under NDA and are not particularly interested in discussing their experience. But there are a few reporters who have been invited to try prototypes at different stages of development. They are still under NDA but are doing their best to tell us what they saw under these heavy restrictions. With each new article we see a slightly different twist on the bending of these restrictions and by putting them together we can build a more cohesive picture. 

To be clear up front, these first hand accounts paint the prototypes in a highly positive light. All accounts depict a demo that has blown them away and in some cases elicits a highly emotional response.  So who are these people?

Rachel Metz, MIT Review, Late 2014

I believe this article in the MIT Technology Review is the first time a reporter was given a chance to see and write about Magic Leaps technology.  In late 2014, Metz looked through “a pair of lenses attached to what looks like metal scaffolding that towers over [her] head and contains a bunch of electronics and lenses”.  This early proof of concept prototype is about as far from a consumer release as you can get but should represent, at the very least, what Magic Leap is striving for in a smaller form factor.

Metz was clearly impressed with the high degree of realism seen in the prototypes.  We will see this impression become a prevailing theme amongst people who have tried Magic Leap. She says, “I know there isn’t a hulking four-armed, twisty-horned blue monster clomping in circles in front of me, but it sure as hell looks like it.” Further in the article she states:


“I extend my hand to give him a base to walk on, and I swear I feel a tingling in my palm in expectation of his little feet pressing into it”


As we will see, this phantom sensation is reported by others when experiencing the technology. The level or realism needed to achieve this is obviously high.  It is perhaps the most impressive statement people consistently make about the technology.

It is not all roses though. Metz is quick to remind us that the prototype used to produce this impressive effect is a large piece of machinery further stating “The smallest demo hardware I’ve seen at Magic Leap can’t yet match the experience of the bigger demo units” and that it produced a “crude green version of the same four-armed monster”. The state of things in late 2014 seems to be an excellent proof of concept but a huge challenge for miniaturisation.

Kevin Kelly, Wired, late 2015


“[You] see two staffers playing tag on the table. A scale shift that made me feel like ‘honey I shrunk the kids’. … They were about 3 inches tall. … Your nose is in the guys hair. There are no pixels”


In early 2016, Wired did a large cover story on Magic Leap.  This is perhaps the most widely read piece on the company. Along with Kevin Kelly, Billy Sorrentino and Scott Dadich took part in the demo. The demo itself seems like it was a modest upgrade to the demo seen by Metz but still did not show consumer ready hardware. When the story was published, Wired released a podcast episode that talks exclusively about the demo experience. This podcast has more details about the specific demos than the article which talks in broader generalities.  Similar to Metz, Sorrentino and Dadich were both blown away by the technology stating “I was as excited as anything that I’ve ever seen” and “I did not sleep that first night back [from the demo]”. Others in conversation with them say, “Your excitement was thrumming around you, it was crazy”.  

The most common theme from these experiences is that “There are no pixels”. This is mentioned in the article, stating “pixels disappear”, and in the podcast repeatedly.  We also get a reiteration of that phantom sense that Metz felt, “you almost feel a sensation of tingling as the robot flies up to [your finger]”.  All of this points to a resolution far greater than anything we’ve seen in other devices. We get an indication that Magic Leap handles creating Black in stride “The eyeballs of the robot are black.  If you are projecting something you can’t project black, black is the absence of light.  Your mind is filling in the blanks. Your brain is sending is sending you that black signal.” Not only can black be produced but environmental reflections were seen in the demo, though, it must be said, not in all cases.  


“Very easily you can imagine a world where TVs are just mapped on your wall … It felt just like watching a movie in a movie theater. The only difference was absent the constraint the size of the TV … It felt like sitting courtside [at a basketball game]”


But, again, we get the same caveats. “There isn’t a device yet” just a  “headset goggly thing”. The demo “was like sitting in an optometrists chair”.  That said the ergonomics must have improved somewhat as they claim that “removing the Magic Leap’s optics was effortless, as comfortable as slipping off sunglasses, which I also did not experience in other systems. It felt natural.”  We also get an indication of how realistic the virtual objects seemed. While impressive they were not to be mistaken for real objects.  “It looks synthetic, it looks like a projected object … what is absent is the screen door affect”  and “They look like glowing objects, ghostbustery. Critters in avatar, glowing.” So all the excitement around the realism of the objects seen shouldn’t be take to completely fool you.  You will know what is digital and what is real.

David Ewalt, Forbes, Fall 2016


“The high-definition television hanging on the wall seems perfectly normal. Until it vanishes. A moment later it reappears in the middle of the room. Incredibly, it is now levitating in midair. Get as close as you’d like, check it out from different angles. It’s 80 inches diagonal, tuned to ESPN–and there is nothing holding it up.”


Just recently, David Ewalt got a tour of the Magic Leap offices, their fledgeling manufacturing facility and a full demo.  He wrote an article for Forbes outlining his experience as well as an AMA on reddit. He comes away equally impressed as others stating that Magic Leap is “changing computing forever”.  It sounds like his demo was closer to a consumer product but still not quite there.  He talks about seeing objects walking down halls, in lounges and even outside in a parking lot.  This implies a mobility that previous demos were not privy to.  He calls what he experienced “a head-mounted display, but the final product should fit into a pair of spectacles”. 

Ewalt seemed particularly impressed with Magic Leap as a replacement for a Television. In the AMA he states: “I can absolutely see a pair of Magic Leap glasses replacing my TV and monitors”. That is a bold statement and a vast industry to disrupt.  

Google has made a big bet on AI assistance and it looks like Magic Leap is too.  They showed Ewalt “computer-generated ‘virtual interactive human’, life-size and surprisingly realistic” where magic leap “[imagines] virtual people (or animals or anything else) as digital assistants”.  Given Magic Leaps connection to Google, I would speculate these assistants may be partially powered by the Google Assistant in the background. 


“Ask your virtual assistant to deliver a message to a coworker and it might walk out of your office, reappear beside your colleague’s desk via his or her own MR headset and deliver the message in person.”


The AMA was more about specifications of what the technology could do.  Due to an agreement with the company, Ewalt has to watch what he says but he has a few carefully chosen things to say regarding field of view. “I could get very close to MR objects without experiencing any problems.”  This is one of the main drawbacks of Hololens. When you get close to an MR object it fills more of your field of view and will be clipped if the FOV is poor.  This statement goes along way to say that clipping is not a major issue for Magic Leap.  Further he states,  “There were certainly times when an experience was playing out across my view, and things looked like they were happening all around me… it’s surprisingly immersive”.  When specifically referencing Hololens, Ewalt says: “I can tell you the FOV is impressively large, and bigger than HoloLens”.  

The immersiveness and realism expressed by Ewalt was even more hypebolic than we have seen from others.  “I can imagine a scenario where someone is completely fooled into thinking an MR object created by Magic Leap’s technology is 100% real”.  This is a strong statement.

Ewalt was shown the manufacturing facility Magic Leap is building in Florida.  He was shown “a series of long, self-contained, modular bays” that have the ability to “[ramp] up production from thousands of units a year to more than a million.” Magic Leap wants to be as agile as possible on hardware and given the challenge of manufacturing this new technology this is a must. I am encouraged by the concept of modularity and self contained components to facilitate this rapid and ever changing process.

Putting it together

Those who have tried Magic Leap have not been able to say much. What they have said can only be viewed as overwhelmingly positive.  The most consistent thing we have heard from all these sources is just how impressive and transformative the demo is. After reading these impressions, one cannot reasonably think Magic Leap isn’t on to something interesting.

 TV's floating in the middle of the room
TV’s floating in the middle of the room

But we shouldn’t discount the skeptic either. One thing is still not clear from Magic Leap or these lucky folks who have tried the prototypes and puts a dark cloud over everything said.  Can Magic Leap transition this impressive demo into a form factor and product suitable for the consumer market? We just don’t know and these eye witness reports don’t give us any information in that regard.  The best that can be said is they do have an impressive looking manufacturing facility up and running currently.  What is coming out the other side of these “submarines” like pods? Only time will tell.

EDIT, November 16th, 2016:

Further accounts

There have been a number of other people who have tried Magic Leap technology over the years.  By all accounts, they are just as overwhelmed by the technology.  Felecia Hatcher posted about his experience on instagram.  He claims “Your iPhones, your smart phones, all that stuff just throw it out. Your television throw that out too.”  You can see his account here.

We get further accounts from John Markoff at about the 24 minute mark on the all tech considered podcast.  He visited Magic leap in early 2014.  At the time he says that the technology was very much incomplete.  Even in this prototype stage he says, the resolution they had achieved was as good or better than any HD TV he had ever seen. We get another account of the brain being tricked by the high level of realism achieved in the demo. When Markoff put his thumb “inside” of the digital monster, his thumb disappeared.  We are lead to believe this was not the monster rendering over his thumb but his brain actually occluding it on its own.  You can listen to his account here

Mysterious Magic Leap milestones

We just achieved a number of major product dev milestones; things are full on exciting @magicleap 

– Rony Abovitz

 

 

Slow news is the norm when it comes to Magic Leap but we are in a particularly deep drought these days. Hopefully the floodgates are closer to opening as Magic Leap appears to have hit another milestone. Of course we don’t know what that milestone is but we cling to whatever news we get these days.

That elusive Magic Leap release date

I suspect Magic Leap is planning to launch their first product next fall/winter.  The evidence for this is shaky but I don’t think it is an unreasonable guess. We know they are going to show us more “soon-ish“.  While that could mean anything I hope means within ~1 year. We also hear rumours about Magic Leap being involved in the film “Ready Player One” which premieres early 2018 pinning that as the latest date for Magic Leap to release. They are at the stage of doing experimental production runs and are actively debugging their production line. They are hiring people to test development kitsdesign packagingmanage FCC compliance among many other positions that are all required towards the later stages of product development. This all points towards a plan to release late next year. But plans are just that. Plans.

I suspect Magic Leap is planning to launch their first product next fall/winter.  The evidence for this is shaky but I don’t think it is an unreasonable guess. We know they are going to show us more “soon-ish“.  While that could mean anything I hope means within ~1 year. We also hear rumours about Magic Leap being involved in the film “Ready Player One” which premieres early 2018 pinning that as the latest date for Magic Leap to release. They are at the stage of doing experimental production runs and are actively debugging their production line. They are hiring people to test development kits, design packaging, manage FCC compliance among many other positions that are all required towards the later stages of product development. This all points towards a plan to release late next year. But plans are just that. Plans.

No one knows when Magic Leap is going to release their first product. No one. Not even Magic Leap. They have a timeline likely of next fall but the complexity of what they are building means that delays are inevitable.  Not just ‘we under estimated the amount of time it would take‘ delays but ‘fundamental assumptions that we made are not working out‘ sort of delays. These are the sorts of delays that you only get when toying with brand new ideas and technology. These are the delays that put you back an entire year. This is the reason it takes so long to make new things.  It is why most companies don’t bother.

 When will we be playing this?
When will we be playing this?

We should expect these sorts of problems from Magic Leap.  There are troubling indications that they have already hit some road blocks. There are some less favourable Glassdoor reviews out there that point to a company hitting growing pains.  (To be fair, glassdoor is not the best source for these sorts of things.  If someone is let go they might just be feeling a bit salty.) Further, a legal dispute such as the one between Magic Leap and  Gary Bradski is never a good sign. We have also seen a number of employees leaving Magic Leap recently though as the company matures employee turn over should be expected.  

None of these problems point towards disaster.  In fact, they seem pretty typical for a fast growing company.  But they can lead to distractions and delays.  So while I think Rony Abovitz wants his first product to hit store shelves next fall there is a good chance we will be waiting until 2018 before we see what is really going on behind those closed doors.  

When do you think Magic Leap will launch
First Half 2017
Second Half 2017
First Half 2018
Second Half 2018
2019
2020
Never

Focus on content: Neal Stephenson is running a content studio in Seattle

Everyone knows new products need new content. From television to smartphones to video games it doesn’t matter if you build the best technology, you need the best content to go along with it. Neal Stephenson, Magic Leaps “Chief Futurist”, has set up a content studio in his home town of Seattle, Washington to help solve this problem for Magic Leap.

“Content is king” 

“The name of the game is the game” 

Everyone knows new products need new content. From television to smartphones to video games it doesn’t matter if you build the best technology, you need the best content to go along with it. Neal Stephenson, Magic Leaps “Chief Futurist”, has set up a content studio in his home town of Seattle, Washington to help solve this problem for Magic Leap.  Stephenson is, of course, a highly acclaimed science fiction writers but he also has some experience in generating digital content. In an unfortunately failed kickstarter project, Stephenson tried to produce a sword fighting video game called Clang.  While the project ultimately failed, the lessons learned in the course of development will be good experience for Stephenson in this endeavour.  

 A screenshot from Stephenson's failed Clang project. Does this mean sword fighting in Magic Leap? That is probably a good bet.
A screenshot from Stephenson’s failed Clang project. Does this mean sword fighting in Magic Leap? That is probably a good bet.

This studio along with many other around the world, such as Weta Workshops in New Zealand and ILMxLab in California, imply that magic leap is taking on the content challenge head on.  They might even have more studios working on content then they do technology.  This is quite a departure from the other major tech companies who typically build the hardware and software while allowing independent studios to fill in the content holes.  

I find this both encouraging and worrying.  The ambitions of Magic Leap are already higher than any start-up, perhaps ever. Is the building of content going to be a further distraction for building the next generation computing platform? or is this level of integration just a deeper dive in to Apples successful strategy?  We’ll find out soon enough.

For a “Really Bad Idea” Oculus shares a lot of the same goals as Magic Leap

Last week the Chief Scientist at Oculus, Michael Abrash, laid out his vision for the future of VR. In his presentation he lays out a number of key technologies that are required to be able to fulfil this dream and gave a speculative time line of 5 years to accomplish many of the things he laid out. Encouragingly, most everything he said is something we know Magic Leap is working on from their patent applications, video releases and job posting. Seeing another company working in a similar space layout a roadmap that aligns so closely to what we presume Magic Leap is building gives credence to Magic Leaps ideas and ambitions.  Let’s look at some of these technologies.

Last week the Chief Scientist at Oculus, Michael Abrash, laid out his vision for the future of VR. In his presentation he lays out a number of key technologies that are required to be able to fulfil this dream and gave a speculative time line of 5 years to accomplish many of the things he laid out. Encouragingly, most everything he said is something we know Magic Leap is working on from their patent applications, video releases and job posting. Seeing another company working in a similar space layout a roadmap that aligns so closely to what we presume Magic Leap is building gives credence to Magic Leaps ideas and ambitions.  Let’s look at some of these technologies.

Optics And Displays

Abrash explains the need to improve the optical performance of the headset by leaps and bounds.  Features such as field of view, pixel density and variable focus are the core elements of these improvements.  All of these features figure prominently in patents released by Magic Leap and are supposed to be core improvements of the Magic Leap product over the competition. It is clear that variable focus is the main foundation of Magic Leap and, while nothing is certain, the resolution and field of view of the Magic Leap device are reported to be far superior to what we have seen before in similar form factors.

One of the key differences here is the angle in which these goals are approached by both companies.  Oculus is clearly gaming focused and their products are primarily built as a means towards that end. They are clearly shifting focus to a broader range of applications but the DNA of the company lives with gaming in mind.  As with much of the company, the core focus of Magic Leap is hard to pin down but everything we have seen points to a fundamental broader ambition than just gaming. The company is built on ground level research in to optics and display technology and it is the closest thing to their core competence that we can point to today.

Graphics and Eye Tracking

As Abrash points out, eye tracking and foveated rendering is the key to improving graphics in head mounted displays. We have seen in many Magic Leap patents that eye tracking is vital to their product. Unfortunately, Abrash is not optimistic about the technology calling it “the greatest single risk factor for my predictions” and “tracking at the level required for foveated rendering is not a solved problem at all”. This might be a harsh dose of reality for Magic Leap hopefuls. Personally, I had the impression that this was a solved problem or at least that the challenges were trackable. It looks like it will be another in a long set of challenges Magic Leap will have to overcome.  However, in this case, they might have some help.

There are rumours out there that Magic Leap is working with Eyefluence. They have shown off impressive eye tracking in a form factor similar to what Magic Leap is aiming for. If this is good enough for Foveated rendering remains to be seen.

Audio 

I honestly cannot work up much excitement for the audio aspects of these products and from the sounds of it neither can Abrash. That isn’t to say it should be ignored but the problems involved are not as complex as in some other areas. Companies will get this right and the experience will improve.  I think these improvements will be more incremental then revolutionary.

Interaction

Abrash sees the future of interaction that relies heavily on handheld controller devices.  This lines up with Magic Leaps reference to totems and tracking technologies such as that found in the razor hydra controller.  Hand tracking is pointed out as an area of intense research but the problems involved are nontrivial.  Abrash makes the bold claim that we will be using handheld devices for a long time to come based on the technical challenges with hand tracking. I think this is a reasonable guess but I hope we can eventually do away with these sorts of external controllers.  Unfortunately, Abrash is likely correct that we will be stuck with them for some time.  

Ergonomics

Abrash ambitions for VR are smaller than Magic Leaps. That is not a bad thing.  There is a good chance that having reasonable ambitions is smarter than reaching for the moon and crash landing. With that in mind, the ergonomics discussed differ from that of Magic Leap.  Reducing weight and prescription correction are pointed at as major improvements that can be made to the Oculus product but most importantly, he claims, is the need for wireless headsets to allow for freedom of movement within the home. He clearly is not thinking of shrinking devices to glasses size and he is not thinking of removing the “tether” (Wired or wireless) to the PC. That said, Oculus is building a stand alone device but Abrash did not appear to be excited about that potentially.  His ambition for the VR future is one for the living room not the sidewalk. While Magic Leaps first product will likely have the same ambition, the long term goal is to build something that can be used anywhere in the world.  Magic Leap will likely have a wire for some time but this wire will behave more like a headphone cable than a wall plug. We already know people are happy to wire a device to something on your head from the long history we have with headphones.  I like where Oculus is going with removing wires from a VR headset but this technology is not as vital to the Magic Leap product.  

Computer Vision

Oculus and Magic Leap are approaching the problem of mixed reality from opposite sides. Oculus wants to bring the world in to VR while Magic leap wants to bring VR to the world. The practical difference here is see through lenses which brings VR to the world versus closed imagery which brings the world into VR.  He tried to coin the term “Augmented VR”  but had to describe that term using the already established verbiage of Mixed Reality which made it feel awkward. I think awkward sums up the idea of bringing the world into VR.  This approach will always give people a sense of disconnect with the real world and the content they are consuming.  That said, we don’t know which approach will work best but the problems that will need to be solved are similar. Understanding the world via computer vision is vital to both approaches. Further, as Abrash points out, building realistic “virtual humans” will be an important use case regardless of how mixed reality will work.  

Personally, I believe Oculus is barking up the wrong tree here. Rony Abovitz seems to agree calling the likes of Oculus a “Really Bad Idea“.  See through lenses are yet to be proven but if they are feasible the advantages over full VR are vast.  From lowering required rendering and world mapping to approachability, see through lenses are simply better. It remains to be seen if they can be built practically but I highly doubt people will want to walk around the world completely closed off even in their living room when an alternative that allows for external vision exists. Why rely on display to reproduce what is directly in front of you?  

Competition is a good thing

While I don’t personally buy into everything Oculus and Abrash is saying here, much of it overlaps with what we can gather Magic Leaps vision to be. Having another company working towards similar goals validates much of what Magic Leap is trying to do. This sort of competition can only be good for pushing the technology forward and I welcome the ambition Oculus is driving towards. Hopefully both companies can succeed in their own way and push each other to do great things. I look forward to Oculus succeeding and wish them the best in the dreams they have laid out.  

The inspirational power of Rony Abovitz at Harvard Hubweek

Rony Abovitz arrived to the talk by remote control telepresence bot to join Jon Hirschtick on stage. The ‘uniqueness’ of the appearance wasn’t limited to just the use of telepresence, though. The event highlighted both a longstanding friendship and a nascent partnership between the two CEOs and their companies. OnShape is a leader in the Computer-Aided Design field with their Cloud platform for collaborative 3D design, and Jon Hirschtick himself was a founder and CEO of SolidWorks, one of the leading modeling and design tools in multiple industries. It was quite a special event to see two people with nearly a twenty year friendship, both pioneers and leaders in their fields, talk to each other about the future.

David Harrison got a chance to see Rony Abovitz speak “live” at harvard hubweek yesterday.  By “live”, it was really via a telepresence robot but that is close enough to the real deal. He wrote of his experience here  as well as uploading a video of the talk.  He has graciously allowed me to repost both his thoughts and his video which can be found below. Thanks David!

My first impression of the event was that it was empty, but just five minutes later the lobby was packed as everyone started to show up. I was just way too early, it seems. The atmosphere was even more lively and enthusiastic then. I met a few people who were ‘looking into’ AR and VR for the first time, many startups and students, too. The demo hall had many local Boston-area companies, and the Vive was on display everywhere. HTC were there with a few demos (theBlu, for one) and NVidia brought their Funhouse with them. One of the more impressive things on display was a bouncing 360-degree video camera sphere for use in tactical scenarios, and it was paired with a 360-degree VR viewer. It’s easy to see, though, why Rony Abovitz had to start the chat off with a discussion of the definition of VR, AR and MR.

Rony Abovitz arrived by remote control telepresence bot to join Jon Hirschtick on stage. The ‘uniqueness’ of the appearance wasn’t limited to just the use of telepresence, though. The event highlighted both a longstanding friendship and a nascent partnership between the two CEOs and their companies. OnShape is a leader in the Computer-Aided Design field with their Cloud platform for collaborative 3D design, and Jon Hirschtick himself was a founder and CEO of SolidWorks, one of the leading modeling and design tools in multiple industries. It was quite a special event to see two people with nearly a twenty year friendship, both pioneers and leaders in their fields, talk to each other about the future.

Jon Hirschtick opened with praise for Rony Abovitz’s successes in his last company and with Magic Leap. He shared that he was overcome by a feeling that Rony would go on to do great things, even twenty years ago and especially now at Magic Leap. He says of Magic Leap:


“I truly believe that what Magic Leap is doing has the potential to improve the way every product on earth gets designed, manufactured and produced.”


His full comments are in the video, and you should watch them. As he was asked about the current generation of devices, Rony Abovitz responds with a ten to fifteen year plan that works with the current generation of technology to enable even more growth later on. He shared a vision of a cross-platform, cross-technology world, where smartphone users in developing countries can still serve as contributors to projects made for Leap, and the proliferation of the last generation of devices in the rest of the world will let people’s of poorly-developed countries reap investment and employment globally, despite not having access to Magic Leap. This vision and plan falls right in line with most industry analysis, where slowing or stagnant smartphone growth in the first-world is pushing the industry towards producing budget handsets for poorer countries where there are still many billions of people to connect to the internet and global economy. The challenge after that then is to connect them to Leap as those older devices become truly obviated.


It’s one thing to read and analyze and over-analyze (and yes, write and post), but to really see the trust, faith and admiration that Rony Abovitz has inspired in someone else was something else entirely


OnShape, and other industries, are looking at new opportunities with Magic Leap (a smooth transition), not a disruptive revolution, despite the obvious superiority of Magic Leap. It’s an impressive vision, and the confidence and trust in Rony Abovitz to execute it was on full display today and it was a little contagious. Throughout the talk, I couldn’t help but be moved by the same feeling. It’s one thing to read and analyze and over-analyze (and yes, write and post), but to really see the trust, faith and admiration that Rony Abovitz has inspired in someone else was something else entirely. The plan sounds like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it’s OnShape that grounds it, already producing collaborative CAD applications for devices operating in 2D and now partnering early with Magic Leap to make it happen in the natural, spatial way Magic Leap enables. It’s a promising partnership and a direct execution of that plan, and it’s easy to see where that trust comes from.

I had a chance after the presentation to talk to Shaun, an original employee from the time when Magic Leap had only 90 employees. He gave me as good an impression of someone who’s seen the future as anyone could, and he showed that same trust in the Magic Leap vision as I asked him about things he couldn’t talk to me about. Working in software and hardware at Magic Leap, he couldn’t answer a lot of my questions with regards to Human Factors and interaction, either, but he confirmed to me that while the robot shooting game video wasn’t shot through Leap at the time, it is real and he has played it (and it’s really cool, and more than robots). He mentioned something about the ML audio system, but I don’t want to get him in trouble if he wasn’t meant to.

On a side note, Magic Leap reads the /r/magicleap subreddit. As I approached Shawn to introduce myself, he said, “I already know who you are.” I can’t imagine the shade of red I went! He had some great advice on where to start, and Unity and C, C# and Python are all great, but their job postings are the best source of information for figuring out what’s going on inside. Bootcamps and demonstrations, while discussed in the presentation, aren’t in place yet, but that will open the floodgates for development.

On a personal note, I was most impressed with the presentation. The content was visionary, but as I mentioned above, the real life demonstration of the trust and belief in Rony Abovitz and Magic Leap by Jon Hirschtick was most powerful. The quiet from Magic Leap has bred in me, at least, a wild speculative nature that ignored the people who believe in them, their vision and technology. There’s a thousand of them who call Magic Leap their employer, and dozens more in partners and investors that are betting the future of their businesses (at least a portion of it) on Magic Leap and investing in Rony Abovitz. That kind of impression is not one left easily, and I have to say I came out with a small divot myself. Listening to Shawn talk about Magic Leap (what he could, at least), I got the impression, too, that there’s a lot of brilliant people at Magic Leap working on everything I can imagine from sensors to chips to a platform. I’ve not been very fair on Magic Leap lately (partly because of the deafening silence!), but I think this event was made even more impactful by highlighting the people who share Magic Leap’s vision and have trust and confidence in the execution of that vision. I suppose seeing is believing. Now that’s a great motto…

For more from David, he can be found making insightful posts on reddit under the user David_Harrison.

Magic Leaps privacy predicament

Privacy always seems to be top of mind in the tech industry. It is a touchy subject and it is hard to have a nuanced conversation about.  There are vocal people on both sides of the privacy argument and separating economics and emotions from reality can be challenging.  Further complicating matters is that we, the public, constantly change what we are comfortable with while companies are constantly redefining what privacy even means.  Yet I would argue that all the ink spilled on the subject to date is but precursor to what will happen if Magic Leap is successful.  The potential for, and necessity of, data collection by Magic Leap will far exceed what any company has done in the past.  Magic Leap with have to tread carefully as it brings us into their future.

Privacy always seems to be top of mind in the tech industry. It is a touchy subject and it is hard to have a nuanced conversation about.  There are vocal people on both sides of the privacy argument and separating economics and emotions from reality can be challenging.  Further complicating matters is that we, the public, constantly change what we are comfortable with while companies are constantly redefining what privacy even means.  Yet I would argue that all the ink spilled on the subject to date is but precursor to what will happen if Magic Leap is successful.  The potential for, and necessity of, data collection by Magic Leap will far exceed what any company has done in the past.  Magic Leap with have to tread carefully as it brings us into their future.

Google Glass: a case study 

Luckily for Magic Leap, Google has already tested the waters. We have all heard the hullabaloo about privacy in regards to Google Glass.  Many attribute the Camera on Google Glass as the reason for Glass never became a consumer product. While it was an easy thing to point at, and certainly didn’t help matters, Glass had problems beyond the camera.  First and foremost was utility.  You couldn’t actually do all that much with Glass. Of the things you could do most were accomplished more efficiently through your phone.  When you couple that with an exclusive purchasing program and exorbitant price tag, you create an exclusionary item whose main attribute is to aggressively point out how rich and connected you are. Of course people are going to rebel against that anyway they can. 

For Magic Leap, they need to ensure that they don’t create an elitist product.  If only a select few “leapholes” can either afford to buy or are able to buy the product, I predict you get a similar backlash. It will not be possible to discreetly wear Magic Leap meaning you will stick out like a rich, snobby sore thumb while wearing the device. In this case it will be easy to point at privacy as part of the evil that is Magic Leap.  On the other hand, if it does not get the reputation for elitism, people will be far more forgiving of other issues. 

The main way to avoid this problem is for Magic Leap to create a product that is so compelling that people are willing to accept it into their lives and, literally, on to their face.  That is a big ask. If it is delightful to use and provides genuine utility, the issues Glass faced will be side stepped. 

But what about that camera?  Magic Leap will have some sort of recording device always on while under operation. They need it to do the simultaneous location and mapping required to project holograms. There is a good chance that information will be streamed to the cloud so that the world models you build can be passed to other users for shared MR experiences.  Is this going to be a problem?  

I’m not sure.  I am sure the tech press is going to talk about it ad nauseam but I am not sure the consumer will care.  We have seen repeatedly throughout the history of technology that privacy issues are often put aside when the utility provided is so great it outweighs the privacy issues presented.  When the first phone camera hit the market there were a litany of stories proclaiming the end of privacy. Consumers didn’t seem to mind though. Having a camera on the thing you take everywhere with you was just too useful. People were willing to give up a rather nebulous claim that our privacy is being violated to get the utility that a camera on a phone provides. Over time this has become so completely normalized it is now somewhat odd to not have a camera on you. And those nebulous privacy concerns? No one seems to care at all anymore. They have moved on to the next privacy issue.

What I’m leading to is that most people do not care about privacy.  Don’t get me wrong, they care about clear cut privacy invasion cases. If some guy starts taking photos through your bedroom window you are certainly going to care about that.  But if there is some distant issue that could become a privacy problem one day in the future somehow, then people simply do not care or at least will accept it once it has become normalised. 

Snapchat

Speaking of normalised. Snapchat are making a pair of glasses with a camera on it. I don’t expect these to be particularly successful but this is great news for Magic Leap.  The road to normalising a new technology that could be perceived as invasive is rocky and requires people to have lived with the tech for some time. These glasses will help them along that road and can further teach them lessons on how to present their product to the public. Who knows, by the time Magic Leap launches, it might be part of a whole stable of products with face mounted cameras.  We certainly put Gopros on our head from time to time. Magic Leap might get to sidestep the issue entirely though I don’t think this is likely. 

It is a fine line that Magic Leap will have to walk and there is certainly going to backlash against their products. I don’t imagine a single review of their first release not mentioning the privacy issue. How they manage this is based largely on how good the product actually is and if their PR team is up to the challenge. But I challenge those that think it is insurmountable. While some care about maintaining the privacy status quo.  Most, do not. They just want a cool and useful new toy.

Magic Leap field of view “far superior to hololens”

According to a former blackhat hacker that goes by Gummo, the field of view of Magic Leap is “far superior to hololens”.  While this should not come as a surprise it is nice to hear from someone who claims to have tried the technology.  It is also interesting to see who Magic Leap is showing this technology to. It is clear Magic Leap is concerned about security and have shown this through their sole acquisition of Northbit security company.  The fact they are giving demos and likely working with security experts such as Gummo bodes well for the security of the platform.

According to a former blackhat hacker that goes by Gummo, the field of view of Magic Leap is “far superior to hololens”.  While this should not come as a surprise it is nice to hear from someone who claims to have tried the technology.  It is also interesting to see who Magic Leap is showing this technology to. It is clear Magic Leap is concerned about security and have shown this through their sole acquisition of Northbit security company.  The fact they are giving demos and likely working with security experts such as Gummo bodes well for the security of the platform.

Kevin Spacey and Magic Leap: A quest for content

Looks like Kevin Spacey is a Magic Leap fan.  In a since deleted tweet from a Magic Leap employee, we see President Underwood sporting a Magic Leap branded phone case.  What does this mean? What revelations have been exposed? Is Usual Suspects 2 confirmed as a Magic Leap exclusive!?

Looks like Kevin Spacey is a Magic Leap fan.  In a since deleted tweet from a Magic Leap employee, we see President Underwood sporting a Magic Leap branded phone case.  What does this mean? What revelations have been exposed? Is Usual Suspects 2 confirmed as a Magic Leap exclusive!?

No, clearly it means basically nothing. All we may suppose is that Spacey has seen a Magic Leap demo and found it so compelling he was willing to brand his phone with the logo. Spacey has long been a big proponent of technology so this is hardly surprising. 

It does bring up the conversation about content.  Magic Leap knows that for its product to be a success it needs to bring compelling content to the platform.  This is just a further example of Magic Leap reaching out to content creators. Given House of Cards predilection to display interesting mobile games, perhaps next season we will see President Underwood sporting a Magic Leap headset.