Recently Graham Devine, Chief Creative Officer at Magic Leap, told an audience to "Have Faith" that that the Mixed Reality revolution was coming. He then went on to outline all of the facets of our lives in which Mixed Reality will have an impact. In short, he listed just about everything we currently do with technology. Even the most zealous among us might have a crisis of faith given these broad aspirations. From the Phantom videogame console to the more recent Theranos scandal, there are plenty of examples to give anyone a health dose of skepticism. So why should we have faith? What evidence do we have to take Devine at his word?
"Faith! What a dirty monosyllable---Jill, why didn't you mention that one when you were teaching me the short words that mustn't be used in polite company?"
-Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
When looking for faith in Magic Leap, you cannot go to the source. Magic Leap themselves have said many things about their company but very little of it is tangible. From "technical" nonsense such as that from which this blog gets its namesake to broad outlines that give you nothing concrete to hang on to, you would be insane to have faith in Magic Leap from their own press. Luckily, there are other sources to draw from.
The investor story is arguable the only reason we talk about Magic Leap at all. Their record breaking fundraising pushed them from an unknown company to the front page of every tech blog around the world. 1.39 Billion dollars on the back of a tech demo is unheard of. Yet, other companies have had similar (if not as grandiose) funding stories and still failed to deliver. The industry is still reeling from the failure of Theranos to deliver a product. Could Magic Leap follow the same course?
Of course they could but I would guess they cannot be pulling the wool over every ones eyes. The quality and magnitude of the investment coming in is unprecedented for a company at this stage of development. By contrast, a quick scan of the funding rounds Theranos has gone through shows much of their raise has been through private equity and, to a lesser extent, Walgreens. I'm not sure how much experience Walgreens has in funding technology but they certainly aren't the first name you think of in the tech investment space. Magic Leap, on the other hand, has some of the biggest names in the industry backing them: Google, Qualcomm, Alibaba, Warner Brothers, JP Morgan among others. These are all well respected and intelligent organizations. I could imagine a good demo getting them in the door for one or two of these companies but they seem to be able to raise from a wide variety of companies, across a range of industries.
Recall, this is a business that has no brand to speak of, no production capability and an unfinished product. They have been given 1.39 Billion dollars on the back of the potential of the technology alone. The organisations backing Magic Leap would not thrown that kind of money around without seriously vetting the ability for Magic Leap to follow through on its promises. For the money we are talking about, those promises must be extraordinary.
Smart people work at Magic Leap. Sure, they have a chief futurist, but Neal Stephenson is far more appealing in that "position" than say, Will.I.Am. Let's look at some of the people building Magic Leap.
- Graham Devine: A highly respected video game developer brought in to lead the creative content creation on the platform.
- Gary Bradski: One of the leaders in computer vision. He actually wrote the book on it.
- Brian Schowengerdt: A PhD scientist from the University of Washington. His main research interest were in the functioning of the human visual system and perception. His work involves 3D displays, retinal scanned light displays, autostereoscopic displays, interaction with displays, adaptive displays, human factors, and human vision.
- Rony Abovitz: The CEO of Magic Leap. He has successfully built and sold companies in the past.
This is just a small sampling but shows they have the leading experts in many technology categories fundamental to how the product will need to work.
Two of the largest and most protected intellectual properties in the world include Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Both had (or continue to have) huge productions behind them that pioneered new technology in the cinema space. Both Weta workshops, who did the effects for Lord of the Rings and Lucasfilm, the people behind Star Wars, have committed to partnerships with Magic Leap. These companies are high profile and pick partnerships carefully. They would not hop on board with a new and unknown company unless they were convinced it was something special.
There are more reasons than this to think having faith in Magic Leap might not be as crazy as it seems on the surface. What little we know of the technology used points to a novel display mechanism that no one else in the industry is looking at. We will have a post on theories around this technology soon but it does lend credence to the ambitions of Magic Leap.