Mixed Reality Faces Bright Prospects for Consumer Acceptance
Magic Leap, Microsoft Technologies Could Lead the Way.
While augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been getting much attention this year, it is mixed reality (MR) that could have the easiest road to mainstream consumer adoption, according to some forecasts (here and here).
Combining the best of AR and VR, MR aims to allow users to see the real world and virtual objects and integrate into the real world in an interactive way. Although seen by many as consumer technology’s next big wave, real-world applications for MR are in their early stages.
Only recently has the technology become sophisticated enough to create the software and hardware components that drive MR and much of the developments are happening outside public view.
Microsoft has been developing its HoloLens MR platform and Apple has quietly acquired startup Metaio. Other key players include Facebook, Samsung, HTC, Seiko Epson and Recon Instruments.
However, much of the buzz revolves around Magic Leap, a secretive yet high-profile company that has received $1.4 billion in investments from Google and others.
According to Tim Merel, founder and CEO of Digi-Capital, Florida-based Magic Leap is now valued at $4.5 billion although the company has yet to publicly reveal a consumer-ready version of its MR technology.
“Mixed Reality using light field is the ultimate expression of what is possible with today’s technology, as it convinces users’ eyes and brains that the virtual objects they are shown in the world around them are real,” Merel says. “The light field prototypes I have seen do a pretty convincing job of this, so the potential for Magic Leap is clear.”
While Magic Leap has not provided many details about how its technology works, it is believed to go well beyond Google Glass, from which it takes inspiration. It will come in two parts – a pair of glasses and small pocket projector/compute unit. The pocket unit will be connected via cable to the glasses, which will be similar in size and design to eyeglasses worn today.
The technology that sets Magic Leap apart from the competition is called Digital Lightfield for short. Essentially, it projects images directly into the retina, tricking the brain into thinking they’re real.
“Our system basically replicates how your eyes and brain work, how our neuro-visual system is designed to work, and it turns your brain into this kind of display,” says CEO Rony Abovitz. “So the idea is not to have a display that you look at, but to use the display that nature gave us and talk directly to it.”
Magic Leap won’t say when it will release a product or how much it will cost, beyond that the price will be within the range of today’s consumer mobile devices.
While early Magic Leap applications will be for gaming or entertainment, the company is also looking at business applications and commerce-related features.
Not to be outdone, Microsoft recently announced that it would make available to its hardware partners the Windows Holographic platform that powers its own HoloLens product, enabling them to bring to market compatible Windows 10-based hardware.
By bringing together the different hardware and software aspects of AR and VR, Microsoft aims to accelerate the pace of growth in mixed reality and the solutions that utilize it.
The impending arrival of the Magic Leap and HoloLens products promise to greatly accelerate the number of MR products headed to market.