Magic Leap’s augmented reality tech may be more augmented than reality: report

Magic Leap
Source: Magic Leap

ITEM: Augmented reality firm Magic Leap has been dazzling prospective customers with its AR demos that promise to raise the stakes in the AR field. However, It turns out Magic Leap’s claims about its AR chops may have been … well, augmented.

A report by The Information [subscription only] claims that Magic Leap has been overdoing its marketing push, creating videos and public demos that look great but will be very hard to deliver as advertised.

Exhibit A: this video from Magic Leap of an AR game.

Turns out the video isn’t the actual game but an animated simulation from visual effects studio Weta Workshop. From The Verge:

Prior to today, it was believed Weta had simply created the visual assets for the game. However, The Information reveals the entire video was created by the studio. Magic Leap nonetheless used it to recruit employees to work at its South Florida headquarters. “This is a game we’re playing around the office right now,” reads the video’s description — an assertion that could not have been true.

Exhibit B: Magic Leap has been staging live demos of its technology using a bulky headset cabled to a stack of equipment in a cart, then producing a mock-up of the intended final product (a pair of sunglasses connected to a small box). Over $1 billion in funding later (thanks to those demos), Magic Leap reportedly is not any closer to that final product – at least not in terms of replicating its whiz-bang demos. From Technology Review:

The product that the company now intends to release is “spectacle-like” according to the Information, which has seen a prototype of the device. But a former employee of the company says that much of the technology in the demonstration device didn’t make it into the product that will be commercially available. The company had planned to use exotic silicon photonics in its hardware, but that was always going to be a big ask, and it appears the company has, for now at least, abandoned those plans.

We get it – demos are meant to impress, and the path from innovative prototype to finished product doesn’t always go the way you planned or stick to your schedule. But it appears Magic Leap may have got carried away by its own hype (which is the most charitable way of putting it).

Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz hasn’t publicly addressed the report directly, but did point out in a blog post just after the Information article was posted that “the units we are building now are for engineering and manufacturing verification/validation testing, early reliability/quality testing, production line speed, and a bunch of other important parameters.”

Abovitz also said the company has completed the first PEQ (product equivalent) build of its target form factor in its new facility, and is “about to start a much bigger PEQ run, which will exercise our supply chain and manufacturing/quality operations.”

He did respond a bit more directly on Twitter:

In any case, let this be a cautionary tale: when a company demos a prototype based on some amazing, revolutionary and secret technology, approach with caution.

And if you’re the company with the amazing, revolutionary and secret technology, always remember that hype only really pays if you can live up to it.

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