This week, Magic Leap revealed details of their long-anticipated smart glasses. While application developers will have to wait until next year to get their hands on developer kits, it has become much more clear how Magic Leap’s new mixed reality (“MR”) smart glasses will transform key business functions through enabling a new era of spatial computing.
How Magic Leap’s Smart Glasses Work
The Magic Leap “Lightwear” headset may look like a set of steampunk goggles, but they are based on two important innovations that work together. Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz calls the first one “Digital Lightfield technology, which is our digital version of an analog lightfield signal,” according to a Rolling Stone article. In the science of optics, a “light field” describes the amount of light flowing in every direction through every point in a 3D space.
Magic Leap’s lightfield technology is embodied in two translucent rectangles that Abovitz calls “photonic wafers”, which Magic Leap produces in their in-house semiconductor fab. The wafers seem to act as a sort of lense that recreates the appearance of a natural light field, where mixed reality content appears to really be in your view of the world through the headset. Instead of processing and reproducing the entire light field, the cameras take in the real world scene, then the wafers sense, process and deliver the key visual elements that will trick the user’s visual cortex into seeing the MR content as really being part of their world.
The second innovation behind Magic Leap’s Smart Glasses is its virtual retinal display. There has been speculation that the Magic Leap headset may be based partially on the Virtual Retinal Display developed by Tom Furness in 1992. With this approach, photons are projected directly onto the retina. By projecting photons directly into your eye, Magic Leap could leap past traditional displays to provide a wider field of view, a clearer image and possibly a greater sense of depth.
Combined with virtual retinal display technology, light fields can capture and direct every beam of light to the user’s eyes, including the direction and amount of light. This would provide a sense of depth to the images that are projected onto the retina.
Greenlight's View: Magic Leap Smart Glasses Permit Persistent Mixed Reality Content, Enabling Next Era of Spatial Computing
The true promise of Magic Leap’s Lightwear is that the Smart Glasses allows you to place MR content and virtual display monitors anywhere you like. Through its map of the environment, Lightwear remembers their location and keeps them fixed in your mixed reality space. They remain there until you move or delete them. This will provide the basis for virtual screens, virtually anywhere.
Given Magic Leap’s design imperatives around comfort, specifically its adjustable forehead pad, temple pads, and nose piece aimed to provide users with a comfortable fit, it is likely that users will be able to wear and use them every day. Abovitz says, “So our goal is to ultimately build spatial computing into something that a lot of people in the world can use all day every day all the time everywhere.”
To learn more about the development of the AR marketplace and Greenlight Insights' outlook on the future of the augmented reality technology sector, order the 2017 Augmented Reality Industry Report.