Beyoncé may not care too much for Magic Leap’s augmented reality headset, but years after I started reading the company’s patent filings, I remain completely obsessed with them. They’re usually quirky design fiction shoehorned into filings for light diffusion methods or something equally abstract, featuring coffee shops turning into jungles or gargoyles bursting out of your cereal box. But the latest patent, filed in June and published today, covers a system that seems so useful I’m surprised I don’t remember seeing it already. It’s a comparison shopping tool for augmented reality glasses, bringing up price comparisons and related products along supermarket aisles.
As usual, this filing is supposed to be a blanket cover for lots of different potential applications, and Magic Leap isn’t necessarily developing any of them. But the basic (and most compelling) iteration is that when you visit a physical store, your augmented reality headset will scan products you’re looking at with a camera or RFID reader, then cross-reference them with offers from other merchants, and tell you if something is available cheaper somewhere else. It’s like exploring a mall or comparison-shopping with your phone, but totally frictionless and without (as the filing mentions) feeling rude about checking prices directly in front of salespeople.
I’ve seen plenty of similar ideas and tools. Amazon Flow was a smartphone-based scanning tool that recognized physical products and let you buy them on Amazon instead. An IBM phone app let you compare products within a store. The short film Hyperreality showed a nightmare augmented reality shopping experience full of ads and cutesy “gamification” elements to encourage spending.
But at least in the version above, what Magic Leap is describing inverts that. Instead of giving a retailer the power to aggressively push products on hapless shoppers, this would help buyers understand their options and encourage competition. And one of the interesting things about Magic Leap is that it’s not directly tied to a big advertising or sales business like Google or Amazon, although it’s got outside investment from the former. The company is in a position to be truly agnostic, if it decides that’s a priority.
Obviously, there are many logistical problems here, including the fact that Magic Leap’s glasses are still quite bulky and possibly barely functional. But my single remaining question is this: where did Magic Leap nab those drawings from? It’s got a long (and totally legal) history of tracing concept art or movie stills for patent illustrations, and again, I’m genuinely surprised that I can’t pinpoint an existing example of this concept. If you remember it cropping up somewhere, refresh my memory in the comments.