Secretive Start-Up Magic Leap Gets Cozy With Lucasfilm

We still don't know when consumers will get their hands on Magic Leap augmented reality (AR) headsets, but the ultimate stealth start-up's founder and CEO Rony Abovitz today revealed that his company is turning on the first production line in its Florida factory this summer. He also provided a firsthand look at the mixed reality tech combined with one of the world's most iconic media properties: Star Wars.

Abovitz was joined onstage at the Wired Business Conference in New York by Lucasfilm's Rob Bredow and John Gaeta of ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm's immersive entertainment lab. The companies will partner to create original Star Wars content for the "mixed reality experience." In a new Silicon Valley laboratory, they will experiment with Magic Leap's AR technology and Star Wars media to create immersive experiences.

"It's about the integration of fantasy into your everyday life," said Gaeta. "The reason Lucasfilm and ILM are interested in this is because for 40 years we've been combining fantasy with reality, and with Magic Leap we're evolving towards making the world our canvas where your eyes are the camera. We need to understand that overlap of the logic of a fan's universe with the logic of our world."

How might this play out? Abovitz talked about creating a "sweet spot of neurologic truth" combined with the grand escapism of Star Wars to turn a coffee shop into a cantina or "if you're a kid in Kansas and the Mos Eisley spaceport was now in the back of your school." Lucasfilm and Magic Leap showed a short demo video of R2-D2, C3PO, and a whirl of stormtrooper and fighter ship holograms whirling around an everyday office.

But When Will We Actually See Magic Leap?

As you might expect from a mysterious start-up that nabbed more than a billion dollars from Google, Andreesen Horowitz, and others before those investors even saw the company's patented headset, we didn't learn a whole lot about the consumer release. But Abovitz did give the audience an idea of the scale of the start-up's Florida-based operations.

"We're building a state-of-the-art SpaceX-type factory with a giant aircraft carrier-sized clean room where we're producing our photonics," said Abovitz.

Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz.

He explained the technology as a way to "control how the visual world interfaces with your brain" by using digital light fields to mimic the process, with your brain acting as the display. Abovitz said the mixed-reality hardware itself is broken down into three components: a mobile computing drive for real-time awareness of the world around the headset, a powerful CPU/GPU, and a cloud-computing component for security and privacy.

Together, Abovitz said, the mixed-reality experience blends reality and virtual elements together to convince your brain the combination is real—tricking it into believing what it's seeing. While AR platforms like Microsoft's HoloLens are beating Magic Leap to market, Abovitz said his company is aiming to be "more Jedi than Sith," and is taking the time to show a positive view of the future and put some guideposts and tools up for businesses, developers, and users as this technology evolves.

When asked if Magic Leap will demo the product for consumers more often in consumers, Abovitz simply said "yes."

"We want to get to a billion people on the planet doing mixed reality," said Abovitz. "The mixed media and games we're seeing now are like the dessert. People want to eat the dessert first, but when [Magic Leap launches] we'll have the salad, the steak, all the courses."

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