There’s no doubt about it – synthetic reality is the hot tech this year. It’s not mere hyperbole when the likes of WIRED call it “the next evolution of the Internet”. Where old-school interactions with a screen have given us the impression of witnessing something happen, synthetic reality makes things happen to you. We’ve got the potential to create a database of experiences. Put on a synthetic reality headset and you could be stepping through the looking glass into another world.
It’s exciting stuff. While much of the gaming world is preoccupied with advances in Virtual Reality (VR), which takes over the user’s entire visual field, a secretive startup in Florida is making waves by throwing the real world into the mix. Magic Leap is designing semi transparent glass to superimpose the synthetic imagery from VR onto your actual surroundings. They’re calling it Mixed Reality (MR). Imagine seeing a school of jellyfish pulsing across your bedroom, watching three dimensional maps rise up from your desk, or defending your own house from a zombie attack on your landing at home.
This is no mean feat of engineering. The founder of Magic Leap, Rony Abovitz, realised the importance of working with human biology early in the development process. Images in MR must align perfectly with their surroundings for the illusion to work. If the imagery is out of focus as your eyes adjust to different distances, it’s not quite as magical. Magic Leap worked closely with optics specialists to create a system for which your eyes focus far for distant objects, and near for close ones, converging or diverging at the right distances. Since the system works seamlessly with real world surrounding, users can switch between viewing things with Magic Leap optics and their own eyes with ease.
Although Magic Leap had one of the largest C-round investments in history – $793.5 million – Microsoft’s HoloLens and Meta are two fierce competitors in MR technology. Magic Leap closely guards the secrets of its technology, although they all function by projecting images onto nano-ridged glass and using the ridges to reflect those images into the eyes of the user. Abovitz is a perfectionist and doesn’t want to release until the product is perfect, so it’s unlikely Magic Leap will win the race to market.
We’ve gone beyond gimmickry and into fertile territory for rapid innovation
Perhaps Magic Leap will be the one to take the world by storm. Perhaps not. Google Cardboard is already making VR available to the masses, with many other headsets soon to hit shop shelves. What’s crystal clear, particularly from those who have experienced MR technology first-hand, is that this is a watershed moment for synthetic reality tech. We’ve gone beyond gimmickry and into fertile territory for rapid innovation. The potential for MR in both work and play is enormous and I, for one, look forward to what the future holds.