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This secretive company backed by Google is in the spotlight again

Magic Leap has been working on its own augmented reality headset for a while, but it’s slowly revealing what it can do.

IF YOU NEVER heard of Magic Leap before, you can be forgiven as it’s a company that keeps quiet about what it does.

Secrecy on its own wouldn’t be interesting if it weren’t for the fact it’s promising to change how we interact with the world and has Alphabet/Google as a backer – it invested €477 million into the company this time last year.

Last night, it released its second demo, generating further interest in the company, but what exactly is it trying to do?

Magic Leap article gif Magic Leap / YouTube Magic Leap / YouTube / YouTube

But what is it?

Magic Leap is an augmented reality headset similar to Microsoft’s Hololens. It superimposes virtual images in the space in front of you through a lens, making it look like they’re really there.

While Hololens looks like a bulky headset and is designed for home and work use, Magic Leap’s CEO Rony Abovitz said at WSJ.D Live that its device would be small and something that people would feel comfortable using in public.

In general, he has been bullish about his company’s chances of making an impact but defended its hush-hush approach telling Wired back in April “A little bit of reveal is important, but it’s also important for us to preserve the ability to perfect the device”.

In the same interview, he described a situation where its technology would seamlessly integrate with the world around you, helping you without you realising it.

“Imagine you are walking in China and all the billboards are in English. And at the restaurants, as the people are talking to you, there are live subtitles… You don’t even realize you are in a computer; it’s just happening.”

Sounds good if true. So what does it look like?

For now, nobody knows. So far, it has only released two concept videos, the second one last night, and both of them only showed footage as seen through a Magic Leap user.

The first one, released earlier this year, depicted someone playing a shooting game in their office. This one had the help of Weta Workshop, a design studio that is building games for the platform.

Magic Leap / YouTube

The second one, released yesterday at WSJ.D Live, was a short demo of what it claims to be direct footage from its headset without special effects.

The first clip shows a floating robot named Gimbal hiding under a desk while the second clip shows a model solar system hovering in an office.

Magic Leap / YouTube

Isn’t this a little too good to be true?

Many would seem to think so, especially since we’ve seen numerous hyped projects fizzle out shortly after being hyped (think Google Glass).

The company’s secretive nature brings up its own problems like not knowing what it looks like, the hardware powering it and whether it can live up to its claims.

The first video brought with it a lot of scepticism since it looked more like a concept video (again similar to when Google Glass was first being hyped) than a real demo. The second video tries to dispel this by putting a disclaimer at the bottom saying it’s real footage, but many remain unconvinced.

So who are its competitors?

The biggest rival (for now) is Microsoft’s Hololens. Both focus on augmented reality, but Microsoft has been open about what the technology can do, showing it off at any major event it holds.

But even that approach hasn’t shielded it from criticism with early previews saying the field of vision is narrower than expected. A little less impressive when you consider the type of demos it’s been showing, but there is still excitement surrounding it.

Microsoft announced it would be releasing its developer kit early next year for $3,000 (€2,642) but no public release date as of yet. No details about Magic Leap have been revealed and it will likely stay that way for the near future.

TechSolid / YouTube

And while they’re not the same thing, it’s hard to ignore the attention virtual reality devices like Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Sony’s Project Morpheus, Samsung’s Gear VR, and HTC’s Vive have received.

While they’re headsets, they aren’t the same thing as all five immerse you in a virtual world. Magic Leap and Hololens use the real world as its setting and imposes virtual objects in front of it.

For now, the potential behind both devices are exciting, but all it is right now is potential. While Magic Leap is confident it can deliver, others might take more convincing.

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