Magic Leap today announced the closure of a massive $793.5 million Series C investment led by Alibaba. The company has kept their supposedly revolutionary AR tech under wraps to the public, but seem to have no trouble convincing investors to pour cash into the company.

Magic Leap’s nearly $800 million Series C investment, announced today on their website, comes just 16 months after an equally impressive $524 million Series B investment back in October 2014. The company is now reportedly valued at $4.5 billion, placing it among the most valuable startups in the world.

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba led the latest investment, with Google Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures following on from the prior round. Also participating in the investment is Warner Bros., Fidelity Management and Research Company, J.P. Morgan Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., and Wellington Management Company.

Magic Leap says that the new capital will advance the timeline of adoption for the company’s AR technology.

“Here at Magic Leap we are creating a new world where digital and physical realities seamlessly blend together to enable amazing new experiences. This investment will accelerate bringing our new Mixed Reality Lightfield™ experience to everyone,” says Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz.

See Also: New Magic Leap Video Shows Explosive and Tantalising Concept Gameplay

Although the company has revealed almost no specifics about their technology, the vision seems to be an augmented reality headset with a proprietary light field display which mixes augmented elements into the real world in a more natural way than other display technologies.

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Spurious reports from those that have glimpsed the technology say that it’s impressive, but demonstrations have been given with a proof-of-concept system that’s in no way portable and might take a long time to reach the levels of miniaturization needed to fit it into an augmented reality headset.

Last year MIT Technology Review’s Katherine Bourzac wrote in an article titled Magic Leap Needs to Engineer a Miracle:

Whether Magic Leap can create [a revolutionary AR headset] will depend on whether it can scale up a new chip-making process for silicon photonics—something that’s a big undertaking even for semiconductor giants. The startup’s $592 million [Series B investment] is rich for an early-stage company, but it may need a lot more than that to make the leap to consumer products.

The extra $793.5 million the company picked up today might just be enough to buy the miracle they need. The company is indicating that they’ve crossed the gulf of R&D and are moving toward manufacturing at a large scale. Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz tells Fast Company:

We’ve developed what I call a photonics chip, which Includes the design of it, novel materials, even designing the fab that will make it. That’s fundamentally important for us to deliver the experience that’s the natural fit of how the eye-brain system works. We had to build something that accommodates what your eye-brain system is used to getting, which is not available in any off-the-shelf way.

We have achieved mass miniaturization. We’ve gone beyond the computer simulations and one-off prototypes. We’re not on the risk side. We’re on the other side. It’s like talking about making an Intel chip versus actually making them.

Abovitz waxes poetic on the potential of the technology in a new post to the company’s blog.

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“We want to make you smarter – not machines. We want you to feel empowered and connected to your friends and family and the world, in a way that feels much more natural than computing today,” he writes. “Today’s internet is one of data and information. Our vision at Magic Leap contemplates a connected, creative, and collective world of human experience.”

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but if the company can deliver the AR headset that sci-fi as dreamed of for years, what Abovitz says could very well become reality.

Concept art from Magic Leap show the sorts of experiences the company wants to make possible.
Concept art from Magic Leap show the sorts of experiences the company wants to make possible.

But with much public grandstanding and little to show, some aren’t convinced. Comparisons to Segway have been lobbed in the company’s direction, the highly-hyped but dreadfully received device that was purported to revolutionize human locomotion.

The most concrete evidence that Magic Leap has revealed thus far is a short video released toward the end of last year which the company says was shot utilizing their technology.

  • Bob

    Woah that is some serious investment. Whatever they’re cooking up down there has definitely got the Chinese very interested and if you can get the Chinese interested then you got something big and shiny. Let’s hope the end-result is consumer friendly otherwise no matter how good the technology is you won’t get adoption if the product turns out to be a massive contraption.

  • CarlosTSG

    “Magic Leap says that the new capital will advance the timeline of adoption for the company’s AR technology.” roughly translate to: Yeah we’ve got enough money to last us so we don’t have to bother getting out of bed for another two years.

    • Thiago Braga

      Is it me or people are calling them lazy asses when a product was not even shown to the public? Can we wait a little in order to bash them?

    • Kyle Nau

      Could be an opportunity since “adoption” of the tech is different than “development” of it. Adoption traditionally means “content”, so if you’re in the field here’s a company with some money to throw at a killer app. Maybe.

  • From research EnGadget did, they have a reverse-endoscope technology that produces high rez visuals using a single moving piece of fiber optics, which paints your eyeball with an rapidly scanning image, kinda like an electron gun in an old glass TV. It should make for a remarkably crisp image from a very tiny display device. –BUT– they don’t have any magical technology that lets them render high-rez images out of thin air. This would still have to be driven by a cellphone or computer… so that whale isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Also they don’t have an super-duper environmental scanning software or hardware, so they can’t track your head any better then a Gear VR or DK1, nor can they do real-time occlusion. So these floating images can’t be blocked by the environment, nor be tracked in space with much accuracy. Whatever ACTUAL tech they are selling isn’t much more then a *slightly* better version of Google Glass. Nothing these guys have access to suggests they can do any of the stuff they claim in their many, to-good-to-be-true videos.

    Secrecy in the tech community almost never ends with a happy surprise. I fear this will be known in the future as the biggest tech scam of the early 21st century.

    • BlackMage

      Well, maybe they’ll also sell the display technology? If it actually produces a wonderful wide angled image that nobody else can do, it could probably replace the display on the Hololens where all the room scanning stuff apparently works quite well.

    • Thiago Braga

      Just to be a photonic chip I think is a pretty breakthrough for a consumer device. Can you tell us which products actually uses light in the circuit instead of electrons? Is this a wrong idea of a photonic chip? It would totally justify the investments and I think it’s even cheap for what they’re trying to do.

      • You should read the hyperbole that has come from that company. They have a long standing tradition at this point of doublespeak and exaggeration. This is rare in the tech community, as most hardcore nerds are very erest people. These guys border on “con artist”. I’m certain their description of Photonic would include anything from the OLED elements in a micro-display, to the mirrors in DLP chips. They are not making processors that use only light.

        A “photonic chip” would be the same as a quantum computer, which they are NOT making.

    • hobel

      HoloLens does all those things (including spacial mappping and real time occlusion), and does them very well, according to hands on reports. Images are very sharp (text is readable) and firmly integrated into the real spacial surrrondings (objects sitting on tables, falling to the ground, …). Journalists say the virtual objects look almost indistinguishable from real ones (not necessarily design-wise, but in terms of resolution and spacial stability). Occlusion doesnt seem to be that impressive on HoloLens though, compared to what Magic Leap shows in their video – for example you can have a physical desk and PC occlude a virtual scene in the background on HoloLens, but we haven’t seen the kind of complex and precise occlusion as in the Magic Leap video yet, so I don’t know if Hololens can do that. All I know is that when you put your hand in front of your face with HoloLens, the Hand doesn’t occlude virtual images. The processing is done within the headset, which is basically a wearable Windows PC with additional processing units for spacial recognition and for rendering.

      • I didn’t know they tucked in a depth camera into the HoloLens. That is interesting. But it is worth noting that in NO demo they’ve shown, has any instance of the Hololens ever actually demonstrated physical world occlusion of a virtual object. I’ve done some internet searches, I know they like to throw out real-world light occlusion. This just means the pixel on the display can become fully opaque. This does not mean you can put your hand over a virtual object and expect to see it disappear. No Table-Leg from that Magic Leap demo video.

        Occlusion isn’t a small issue, but a massive processing problem. You have the create a 3D model of your environment, from the floor and walls, right down to the hands in front of your face, in order to know what should and should not be seen. From what I’ve seen, I believe this takes quite a bit of processing power.

        • hobel

          Theres one HoloLens application that does it, it’s the Mars project in cooperation with NASA. They showed it to journalists running on earlier prototype hardware and those journalists said it looks just like it does in the promotional videos, which means you can see the actual PC sitting on mars, occluding the image in the background, so you can move the mouse cursor from the PC monitor off into the virtual landscape.

          Basic occlusion should not be that hard to do, they already figured out how to do precise real time tracking of basic shapes such as tables (in one demo you can make a virtual ball roll off a table and drop on the floor). It does require lots of processing, which is why there’s an additional processing unit in HoloLens for those tasks.

          If you’re interested in how HoloLens works, I wrote an in depth summary of all the information that is out there in this post
          I wrote that a year ago, so some of the newer information is not in there.

        • hobel

          And regarding pixel occlusion for opacity – HoloLens can not do that (“at this point”), they said that in an official presentation. They can only add light, no block it. Don’t know if Magic Leap has a solution for that.

        • BlackMage

          A followup for you now that I have the Hololens development documentation. They can in fact do real time spatial occlusion. There is basically a Kinect tucked into the Hololens which provides the API with a live feed of a mesh of the viewing environment.

  • Sky Castle

    I’m not excited about AR as I am for VR. I find AR to be more practical
    for real world uses than gaming. It would be cool to have a virtual
    desktop and surf the web or check emails, etc. but for gaming I really
    don’t want to see robots or any digital objects overlaying our boring
    world. I’d much rather be completely immersed in a virtual world that
    can only be provided by VR.

    • JeanClaude

      I agree with you, but I’d say that the display tech advances for AR, will probably end up revolutionizing VR too.

      If a proper light field display that can fit your entire FOV is created, it can easily be used for VR too, and probably will work much much better then current VR, while also possibly being much lighter and smaller.

  • Charles Evans

    Not bad at all, especially considering that Magic Leap is based in Fort Lauderdale, a scant 20 miles north of Miami.

  • Robbie Cartwright

    Accel World. Calling it now.

  • hobel

    Judging from all that we know about it so far (including demo videos), magic leap’s technology seems to be roughly the same thing as HoloLens (AR with spacial mapping, some kind of light field display technology), except that it’s not a portable wearable product yet. I think both companies will eventually offer very similar experiences, and I would be surprised if Magic Leap’s device will not be running Windows. Microsoft has already said that they want other hardware manufacturers to support their Holographic platform, which is basically Windows for mixed reality devices, similar to how Dell or HP install Windows on their laptops. When Magic Leap’s product finally becomes available, Microsoft’s Holographic Windows platform will have been around for a while so it will be an obvious choice for Magic Leap to use Windows instead of creating a new OS.
    Five years down the road, we will probably have multiple companies making this kind of hardware, and a good amount of competition and hardware innovation. Assuming that mixed reality becomes a success, Apple and Google will probably try to get their OSs on mixed reality devices as well, although that will depend on how the mixed reality market develops and if those companies will be interested in it at all. Microsoft is certainly in a great position, being the first company to offer a complete ecosystem for what might be the next big thing in tech, and offering to partner with other manufacturers.

    • user

      why would magic leap use windows and not android? the game engines support android and google works on vulkan support for android.

      and take a look at this old article:

      >>The job descriptions also tell us a little more about the technology behind Magic Leap and, on the software side, point to developing an entire software/hardware stack, albeit one that is almost certainly based on Google’s Android Open Source Project. A large number of openings make mention of Android, including specific job titles “Android developer” and “Android core software engineering”.<<

      • hobel

        Interesting. Regarding game engines – game rendering and mixed reality are two different things – in mixed reality the spacial recognition thing is a big part of the whole thing, which is missing in game engines. The idea of Magic Leap building their own platform based on android is interesting though. I think it will all depend on how well Microsoft’s platform does within the next few years. If it becomes a success, it would be harder for Magic Leap to then catch up with their own new platform. The problem with these speculations is that we don’t really know how far Magic Leap has gone so far working on final hardware and software. My thoughts were based on the assumption that they’re still very early in the whole process.

        • user

          >>Magic Leap wants game makers, filmmakers, and other creators to build augmented reality experiences on its platform, and today on stage at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference, it announced how that will happen. Magic Leap is launching a development platform. It’s just opened a Developers section of its website where people can sign up for access to its SDK, which will work with the Unreal and Unity game engines.<<
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