Back in December, former employees of the super-secretive augmented reality startup Magic Leap were circulating rumours that the company was way behind on its goals. Unless the plan is for users to wear a Ghostbusters-style proton pack, it certainly looks like that is true.
GIF: Magic Leap
According to Business Insider, this is what the Magic Leap prototype looked like as of early January:
— Alternative Dave (@redletterdave) February 11, 2017
So far, Magic Leap has not confirmed the legitimacy of the photo and Gizmodo has reached out for an official statement.
The report claims that the photo comes from “a source” who says the company is desperately trying to prepare for a board meeting next week. An updated prototype will be presented at the meeting that will house the components in belt packs rather than a backpack. And what’s that thing in the user’s hand? Is it an industrial-sized walkie talkie?
Nope, the Verge claims that’s the battery pack and it certainly looks like one.
Mixed reality startup Magic Leap is one of the most-hyped businesses in tech, but after five years and $US1.4 ($2) billion ($US1.8 ($2) billion) in funding from behemoths like Google and Alibaba, the notoriously secretive company still hasn't released a product. A new report from The Information now peeks behind the curtain and reveals that Magic Leap is in much worse shape than its bluster suggests.Read more
The December report from The Information claimed that one of the biggest issues facing the company is its inability to shrink down its tech to a size that’s feasible for a commercial product:
Some technology the company invented couldn’t be applied to a consumer product, [former employees] say, and other pieces were so large and cumbersome they wouldn’t fit into a device designed like a pair of spectacles — which Magic Leap revealed to The Information is what it plans to release.
The first prototype was the size of a refrigerator, for instance, and was called the “Beast” by company employees, The Information has learned. It used a projector with a motorised lens that enabled images to have more depth and therefore look more realistic. The spectacles that Magic Leap plans to release will use a different kind of lens that aren’t likely to offer the same level of depth, for instance.
The prototype above — which is internally dubbed the “PEQ0” — is certainly smaller than a refrigerator but it’s far from a sleek pair of spectacles. According to Business Insider, CEO Rony Abovitz sent an email to employees after the Information’s report that read in part, “I used a PEQ0b (our 3rd mini-production run) about a week ago. We still have more cycles to go (PEQ1-PEQ5), but it was awesome.” He urged them to “Ignore all of this. Focus on what we are doing, and we ship a great product.”
Based on demonstration videos and previous reports, Magic Leap’s headset appears to be much like Microsoft’s augmented reality project, Hololens. It will overlay computer-generated imagery on top of reality and allow a user to interact with it. Here’s a demo video that was made by the visual effects company Weta Workshop for Magic Leap:
That’s all just special effects, not a view from inside the actual device. Microsoft, on the other hand, has no public date for Hololens to go on sale but it is shipping kits to developers and its form factor certainly seems more complete.
But hey, maybe the company that’s valued at $US4.5 ($6) billion and has 800 employees is just working on some mind-blowing tech that needs a lot of time to shrink down. But Beyoncé reportedly got to take it for a test drive recently, and came away “bored.” Magic Leap should hope that its board members are more easily impressed than Queen Bae.