Patents hint at Magic Leap’s new approach to augmented reality

There is a tremendous amount of hype around Oculus Rift. But it only takes one try to understand why. We may be in the early stages of virtual reality, but its power is already obvious. It’s easy to forgive the remaining technical challenges because the experience is already so arresting.

Meanwhile, augmented reality, a seemingly similar technology, is limping along. Startups have promised us a real-life “Iron Man” experience, but the demos I have seen have been nothing but disappointing. Blending the virtual world with reality is a much less forgiving technological challenge that we appear to be years from solving.

That is what makes the incredible amount of money pouring into Florida-based startup Magic Leap so shocking. Last month it announced $542 million in Series B funding, dwarfing the tiny seed rounds of competitors Atheer and Meta and even Oculus’ $75 million Series B. What do investors know that we don’t?

Is Magic Leap real or a giant fail whale?

Is Magic Leap real or a giant fail whale?

Gizmodo’s Sean Hollister took a deep dive into Magic Leap’s patents and job postings and uncovered more evidence for what the New York Times found in July: Magic Leap is projecting light onto users’ eyes — a totally different approach than the transparent screen other augmented reality companies have been integrating into glasses.

The patents show that making it a convincing experience is more complicated than just aiming a projector directly at your eyeballs. One patent covers blocking the light in the exact spot where a virtual object would go, which would create the look that the object is real instead of a semi-transparent image placed over the real world. Another describes how to allow the eye to focus and un-focus on a virtual object in a more realistic way.

Magic Leap’s job postings revealed some more surprising hints, such as ambitions to a first-person shooter game, interest in applicants with experience working on drones and plans to build everything in Android.

Like Hollister, I really want to believe that augmented reality is finally here for real. In the meantime, I’ll hold onto this phrase trademarked by Leap Motion, which clearly has been hanging out with Willow and Jaden Smith: Imagine if the imagination could imagine.

Image by Magic Leap.