Magic Leap is working on “mixed reality” technology so mind-blowing that the people who’ve seen it rave about it.
Magic Leap has raised over $1 billion in venture money to build a new kind of computer.
It’s a pair of glasses that project computer-generated images onto your field of vision. They look so real, your brain can’t tell the difference, founder and CEO Rony Abovitz told attendees of Fortune Brainstorm in Aspen, Colorado, on Tuesday.
The CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, who creates all kinds of amazing technology-infused experiences, lights up when he talks about Magic Leap.
“I stood in a room and had Tinker Bell fly up to me, around me,” Iger said on Monday at the conference. “It looked extremely real. I thought I could touch her. That starts to get very exciting.”
Disney’s Lucasfilm is one on a long list of companies working with Magic Leap to create content for the glasses. Magic Leap, based in Florida, has a “secret lab” at the Lucasfilm campus in the Bay Area, Abovitz told attendees.
Abovitz also said the company is getting very close to releasing its first products. The company now has over 600 employees and the “system is working,” he said. Magic Leap has “a big factory,” reconfigured from an old Motorola factory.
“We have Class 100 cleanrooms running now. We’re debugging a high production line this summer. We are in the go mode, soon-ish,” Abovitz said.
Magic Leap has been called one of the most secretive startups because it seems like almost nobody has actually tried the product.
But that’s not entirely true. Many have seen it, but they’ve been sworn to secrecy.
“We’ve had probably thousands [try it] under NDA. They can’t talk about it,” Abovitz said.
For instance, in addition to the secret lab at Lucasfilm, there’s a development center in Silicon Valley. Employees are asked to wear the glasses and live in this mixed reality world for their whole workday.
At the office, digital people roam around (they’ve been made a little brighter to indicate they are not real, Abovitz said), “X-wings” fly around, and other imaginary creatures roam.
Chief Marketing Officer Brian Wallace describes the office as “a Harry Potter world come alive.”
But it’s not all fantasy. In addition to games and entertainment, Magic Leap is working on office apps like a task list that follows you around.
Employees actually use the glasses and apps instead of laptops, which was the original vision for the device, Abovitz said. He wanted to create something where people weren’t constantly staring at a small screen.
That means lots of app developers are working on other work-related apps in everything from the medical industry to manufacturing and design.
“It’s a computer. People will build lots of things,” Abovitz said.
As for the need for secrecy, Abovitz implied that it’s really more of an Apple-like need for control because Magic Leap is building every part of the device itself, including the hardware, software, electronics, chip design, sensors, and the user interface.
“We’re like a baby Apple in the sense that we want to take on the whole problem. We want to deliver something that never existed before. We have to literally make everything from scratch to allow this future state of computing to exist,” Abovitz said.