Augmented (or "mixed") reality startup Magic Leap is maybe, theoretically, possibly getting closer to showing off its nearly mythical but reportedly amazing technology. At a Q&A session that he attended via telepresence robot, CEO Rony Abovitz announced a program that would let 10 outside developers come work with Magic Leap devices, over the course of an unspecified timeframe. "We'll build a 'Hello world, this is how you do stuff,'" said Abovitz, "and then you guys build something with us and be amongst the first people in the world to get your hands on what we're doing and make really cool things."
One of these developers will be picked through a contest at communications startup Twilio's Signal developer conference, where Abovitz was speaking. We don't know when they'll get their hands on the headset — if it is a headset — or precisely how the other nine will be selected, although Twilio is supposed to have a hand in it. Magic Leap has also announced a partnership with Twilio to integrate its software, which lets app developers add things like phone calls or text messaging, to the system. While Magic Leap has acquired plenty of talent in various areas, like game developer Graeme Devine, this is the first time we've seen it publicly partner with another company.
There's a "good possibility" of more people seeing Magic Leap next year
Does this mean anything? Who knows. Theoretically, it could be a sign that Magic Leap is getting closer to showing off its work in more than the vaguest possible ways. When Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson asked whether next year's Signal audience might be able to use Magic Leap, Abovitz gave a self-described "Cheshire Cat grin" and a promising message: "There's a very [or 'really,' according to another listener I checked with] good possibility." Then again, Magic Leap also said it would be releasing a software development kit "soon" back in mid-2015, and we know so little about the company's product that it's hard to say what kind of prototype the 10 developers will see.
Magic Leap, which has received over a billion dollars in funding from Google and other investors, has reportedly developed what the company calls a "mixed reality lightfield" — a form of eyewear that allows for incredibly realistic hologram-like images. Through a series of videos, it's demonstrated uses like an augmented reality game about robots, a pop-up computing display, and a floating brood of jellyfish. During today's talk, held at communications startup Twilio's developer conference, Abovitz gave a couple of more theoretical examples. The first, seen above, is a Star Wars-esque communication system that we've also seen from Microsoft's competing HoloLens headset — instead of Princess Leia, Abovitz says, it's "almost like a spiritual essence of your mom is there." The second is an augmented reality work environment, where two people examine a projected object while a third actually appears beside them as her own hologram.
Like Magic Leap's previous demos, this doesn't tell us anything about the tech that Magic Leap is actually using — nobody is wearing any kind of headset or other device, and we don't know how you'd capture and stream an image of the person being projected. But it's very ambitious stuff, and Abovitz has never been shy about talking up its value. "We wanted to go back to a place where there were just people, and technology would be this thing hovering there, almost like magic. Where it's the primal social relationships that your ancestors had," he said. "Technology's not in the way, it's not interfering, it's not taking over your life. It's simply assisting your ability to make human connections."