Hollywood, Silicon Valley make $542-million bet on curious Magic Leap
Virtual-reality headsets block out the real world and transport them into a digitally created one. But what if the digital stuff could simply pop into people’s normal view of the reality?
That’s the goal of a Florida company that said Tuesday it has raised $542 million in investment because of Hollywood’s -- and the tech industry’s -- fascination with virtual-reality technology.
The amount is stunning for a company that hasn’t tested its product publicly or released details about it, but Magic Leap Inc. has been more forthcoming to industry leaders. Investors in Magic Leap, which has an office in Los Angeles, include film producer Legendary Entertainment, its Chief Executive Thomas Tull, Google Inc., Qualcomm Ventures, KKR, Vulcan Capital and Obvious Ventures, a firm founded by Twitter’s cofounders. Silicon Valley venture capital giants Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers were also involved.
“Magic Leap is going beyond the current perception of mobile computing, augmented reality and virtual reality. We are transcending all three and will revolutionize the way people communicate, purchase, learn, share and play,” said Rony Abovitz, president, chief executive and founder of Magic Leap.
Abovitz previously co-founded Mako Surgical Corp., which made robotic arms for surgeons among other medical devices and sold for $1.65 billion to Stryker Corp. in December 2013.
He’s told reporters that the Magic Leap product will be lightweight. In that sense, it sounds more like Google Glass and less like the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset technology that Facebook acquired for $2 billion this year. Magic Leap’s website features a pair of hands cupping a miniature elephant that appears to be created in animation software.
“Playing videos games can be awesome, but it can also lack the immediacy of playing football in the mud, or of building a snow fort with your friends,” Abovitz said in a blog post last week. “I wondered for many years what it would take to close the gap, to integrate and synthesize all of the things I love. Why couldn’t visceral experience combine with computing? Why can’t I see a dragon?”
Filmmakers and video game developers view virtual reality as the next frontier for storytelling, a place where they can create content that could potentially make viewers part of the experience.
They aren’t alone in their excitement. About 64% of millennials said they would be stoked to try a wearable from an entertainment or media brand, according to a PwC report issued Tuesday.
The numbers are less rosy among all U.S. adults, though the survey showed another reason why Magic Leap might benefit from Google’s backing. More than half of all U.S. adults surveyed said they would be somewhat or very excited by wearable products from the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google and even Microsoft while about a third said the same for Disney, Pixar and Warner Bros.
“The bottom line for media and entertainment companies when it comes to wearable technology is this: If you build it, they will come — but only if it’s useful, interesting and/or fun,” the report said.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome and apps, said Magic Leap fit into the field of “visual computing.” He’s joining the start-up’s board along with Paul Jacobs, the executive chairman of Qualcomm.
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