Here's the fundamental problem with your typical virtual- or augmented-reality glasses: they rely on trickery. Your eyes are each shown separate images of an object from different angles, creating the illusion of depth, while at the same time being forced to look at a flat screen in the distance. This disconnect - the stationary flat screen and the seeming-to-move images - make for dizziness, nausea, headaches and worst of all: crappy images...despite all hype and over-the-top promises of "stereoscopic" 3-D technologies that are typical.
But typical is something Magic Leap is not.
Instead of using illusions to disrupt the way your eyes normally see things, Magic Leap works with the way you actually see things. How? By using a teensy projector to shine light into your eyes that blends seamlessly with the light your eyes are already receiving from the real world. "As I see crisply rendered images of monsters, robots and cadaver heads in Magic Leap’s offices, I can envision someday having a video chat with faraway family members who look as if they’re actually sitting in my living room while, on their end, I appear to be sitting in theirs," writes the MIT Technology Review journalist who was given the opportunity to visit the company's offices in Florida. "Or walking around New York City with a virtual tour guide, the sides of buildings overlaid with images that reveal how the structures looked in the past. Or watching movies where the characters appear to be right in front of me, letting me follow them around as the plot unfolds." (image)
Who knows what Magic Leap will be used for, but used it will be given its tech-unicorn valuation of $2 billion and recent heavyweight financial backing. As in a massive $542 million investment round secured in October 2014 from KPCB, Andreessen Horowitz, Obvious Ventures, Qualcomm and Legendary Entertainment - and lead by Google.
“If you think about what mobile computing is right now, it’s portable, it’s great, and I call it ‘making your hand happy,’ in that you can hold it and it’s great,” says Magic Leap's CEO, Rony Abovitz. “Your hand is happy, but your eye is not. What I mean by your eye is not happy, if you step outside your office and look at San Francisco Bay, it’s just this visual feast, and there’s no movie theater, there’s no television display, there’s nothing that will ever match the grandeur of what our own brains can create in terms of visual experience.”
Driven by the question: Why can't computing feel completely natural?, Magic Leap is swimming against the tide of what most of current technologies do when accessing the digital world: take us away from the real world. "The future of computing should be derived from respecting human biology, physiology, creativity, and community," continues Abovitz. "It's an idea based in the belief that people should not have to choose between technology or safety, technology or privacy, the virtual world or the real world. An idea that computing should be shaped and forged to work for us: our life, our physiology, our connected relationships. That exploring human creativity is as great an adventure as exploring space."
Or even just the less lofty issue of how in hell to make these devices look a whole lot less derpy. Google Glass has been plagued by this problem - anyone who has tried the device tends to love it, but its offputting look has kept it from really taking off. Which led them to take the prototype off the market for tweaking. And now that they've acquired a huge stake in Magic Leap, it's not much of a leap to guess at the direction of these tweaks.
One thing I do know for sure is that no one wants to walk around 3D-enhancing their world using "a pair of lenses attached to what looks like metal scaffolding that towers over my head and contains a bunch of electronics and lenses," as the MIT Tech Review writer describes the prototype she tried. Rather, we want cool. And cool is what designers specialize in.
I think the recipe for the success of 3D augmented-reality glasses/devices is to start with Magic Leap's philosophical approach of working with reality rather than taking you away from it. Then add a hefty helping of Google's mighty resources. Finally, pour it all into a design as fun to wear as one of these fabulous, retro-futuristic Steampunk creations from Hi Tek Webstore. The end result, I think, will be an awesome accessory no self-respecting fashionista (or even non-fashion derp) would ever want to leave home without again.
- Lesley Scott
Actively embracing the future - from technology to traditional gender roles - with a desire to make it fashionable and timely is a signature of the Futurenetic Fashion Tribe. For more of my posts and podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.