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article imageHyped mixed reality firm Magic Leap 'years' behind schedule

By James Walker     Dec 9, 2016 in Technology
Magic Leap, a Silicon Valley start-up that's attracted feverish attention for its eye-catching mixed reality tech, is reportedly "years" behind schedule. It has also published a fake demo and failed to miniaturise a critical component of its technology.
Magic Leap achieved half a billion dollars in investment funding in 2014, fuelling much of the hype since. The company has repeatedly uploaded YouTube videos of the "revolutionary" mixed reality technology it's heading towards. Magic Leap is famously secretive though and very little of its work has been publicly demoed. According to a damning report from The Information today, that's for good reason.
Magic Leap is said to have dramatically overhyped its product and made claims it can't actually achieve. Investors have put billions into the company based largely on its promotional videos and claims it can realistically create virtual objects for use in mixed reality worlds.
The company's efforts to miniaturise its helmet-sized headset into a pair of wearable glasses has stalled as the company struggles to compact its fibre scanning display. This component shines a laser through a fibre optic cable that rapidly oscillates back and forwards. The effect creates images out of light that form the basis of Magic Leap's mixed reality displays.
The company had previously thought it could fit the system into a pair of glasses for consumer use. It has since relegated it to a long-term research project with no clear target for completion.
According to The Information, Magic Leap created a misleading promotional video to act as a fake technology demo. One of the videos on its YouTube channel was created in collaboration with visual effects studio Weta Workshop. It was thought Weta had only been responsible for the visual assets used in the mixed reality game shown in the video. The company actually created the entire clip though, without any of Magic Leap's technology.
Magic Leap does clearly include Weta Workshop's logo as a persistent watermark throughout the video. However, it's accompanied by a misleading description that suggests "this is a game we're playing around the office right now."
The company allegedly used the video to recruit employees and attract investment, without fully disclosing Weta's involvement. Although Magic Leap doesn't state the video was recorded with its technology, it also leaves out any admission that it's entirely special effects.
Encumbered by problems, Magic Leap is now years behind schedule. Even worse, it's no longer the sole centre of attention in the mixed reality space and has lost its market-leading position. Microsoft's HoloLens is attracting a lot of positive attention and is now commercially available to developers. According to The Information, Magic Leap's tech is significantly inferior to Microsoft's.
While Magic Leap hasn't officially confirmed the claims, The Information did speak with CEO Rony Abovitz as part of its article. Abovitz effectively confirmed the company's inability to miniaturise its fibre scanning display, noting "you ultimately in engineering have to make tradeoffs."
Magic Leap is now working on a new prototype that does fit in a standard pair of glasses. It's using different technology to what it started out with though and the company refused to demonstrate the system to The Information. Abovitz denied it's based on technology similar to the HoloLens but did not reveal how it works.
More about magic leap, mixed reality, Virtual reality, augmented reality, headsets
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