Magic Leap, backed by Google, aims to create 'an operating system for reality'

Magic Leap, the mysterious startup that snagged $542 million in funding last year from Google, released a new video showing how digital objects could be overlaid on physical reality.

Magic Leap/YouTube
A video released by Magic Leap shows a model of the solar system superimposed on a real-life desk, as well as a shy robot hiding under a table.

Augmented reality startup Magic Leap has already presented some surreal visions of everyday life.

Last October, just after the company landed $542 million in funding from Alphabet, then still known as Google, it released a series of videos showing tiny elephants frolicking in people’s palms, seahorses floating through classrooms, and submarines cruising ten feet above city streets.

Then, earlier this year, Magic Leap produced a video showing an augmented-reality office, in which users could physically move around their files and discard e-mails with a contemptuous swipe of the hand.

On Wednesday, the company clarified its ambitious mission: Magic Leap wants to create “an operating system for reality,” chief executive Rony Abovitz said this week, allowing users to interact with digital objects just as if they were in front of them. Besides sophisticated software, the company is building a Google Glass-like device that will be able to project the computer-generated visions onto a user’s field of vision. The company released another video showing a virtual model of the solar system rotating above a woman’s real-life desk, and shy robot named Gimbal hiding underneath a table.

A tagline on the video reads, “Shot directly through Magic Leap technology on October 14, 2015. No special effects or compositing were used in the creation of these videos” – implying that this is a near-final version of what you’d see if you were wearing a Magic Leap headset.

Rather than creating an immersive virtual world like the kind you’d get from Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR goggles, Magic Leap wants to weave fantastical creatures and objects into the world we already inhabit. 

Magic Leap has set up shop in a former Motorola phone factory in Florida, according to The Wall Street Journal, and is employing hundreds of people. “We’re not in the research lab doing theoretical things. We’re gearing up to ship millions of things,” Mr. Abovitz said on Tuesday. The company hasn’t yet released any details about the headset itself, or about when it expects to ship products to customers. 

Magic Leap hosts “app fests” to encourage selected developers to write software for its platform. One developer created a digital cookbook that projects recipes onto flat kitchen surfaces, and even displays a virtual stove in case users want to practice their culinary skills.

Magic Leap isn’t the only company focused on augmented, rather than virtual, reality: Microsoft aims to ship a developers’ edition of its HoloLens headset by the first quarter of 2016. Though details about HoloLens have been scarce, reviewers who tried on early versions of the headset at Microsoft’s BUILD 2015 conference said that they were utterly convinced by the meshing of holographic images with physical reality.

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