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Inside Magic Leap is the Over-the-Top Developer Conference

A giant astronaut tower over the crowd of keen participants who opposed registration at Magic Leap's first official developers conference this week. With lanyards around our throats, we all gave a ghostly glow from Colorful Devices attached to our name tags, as if we entered a rave circa 1988 or a house party on the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

When the line spoke into the Magic Box in downtown Los Angeles, you could feel the expectation. For the co-developed developers, this had been a long time.

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The trippy graphics everywhere reinforced a real "out there" theme. In fact, the whole morning was a strange unreal experience with speakers on the daisy and encouraged us to "open your mind". Video Game Designer Robin Hunicke reads a poem before it seemed like "Philosophy 101" lectures by Magic Leap, CEO Rony Abovitz and resident futurist Neal Stephenson. Stephenson later demonstrated an early prototype of a game where the goats nibbled a sofa.

If you have 3:15 hours (that's not a mistake), you can see the whole keynote below. I slipped out after 2.5 to check out the demo annex.

Enter the way into Magicverse

According to Abovitz and Stephenson, Magic Leap will make its legions of developers create content (because there's still not much of it or them yet) for "The Magicverse": A fierce mashup of Multiverse, Meta and The Matrix (of course).

This vision includes sensory field database, light fields, sound fields, haptics, high fidelity and presence (linked in our worlds while you have enlarged or virtual reality headsets) – a kind of digitally stored network washed out over our cities.

"Hi," Abovitz said on stage, summarizing his great ideas. "We need a burning man [of our own] so we can do a vision!"

The audience cheered wildlife. The term Burning Man, they understood, even though they have never been there. The was an idea they could get again.

Billion Dollar Bill?

Is Magic Leap One Creator Edition (now shipping for a cool $ 2300) worth $ 2.3 billion invested? I can not see any difference for Microsoft HoloLens to be honest, but read my greencoat Will Greenwald's excellent depth assessment of the device.

But more to that point, does reality increase, contrary to virtual reality, Next Data Pattern, as the conference speakers claimed?

Who knows? It can be.

Overlaying the real with unreal (AR) is an interesting prospect of money-making potential. As, let's face it, we have not seen so much of the VR world to date. However, it may not be so crazy exciting (or as mysterious) as Magic Leap has suggested.

I've tried some exciting AR solutions, from Kopins AR glasses to high performance cyclists to boot like Vuforia and Baobab. These examples of AR business activity. But they are not exciting. Everyone knows that you need some sparkling magic before the market gets very excited. This is where author George RR Martin comes in.

Climb aboard Navigator

While the keynote was limped towards its final hour, I glanced back and went out to the demos. This was where the good things were – the room at the party you were looking for. Behind a thick black floor to ceiling killing was a massive 3D-printed sculpture as something out of a dystopian future (in a good way).

There I met Jeff Fullerton, Partnership Manager at Meow Wolf, Santa Fe, New Mexico-based entertainment company that fascinated George RR Martin that he invested some of his Thrones games millions in the company. Fullerton showed me how to climb The Navigator, gave me a Magic Leap One, pointing at the luminous neon control panel and told me to "look forward".

 Meow Wolf at the Magic Leap Conference (Picture: Kate Russell)

(Image: Kate Russell)

An AR mesh layer appeared in my field of view that I followed story of a lost planet called Eemia. I'm not sure what it was really about, but I did not care about it. It looked cool, I felt transported, and that's what Xtended Reality (XR) is about.

The navigator "is our first priority in the next generation of technology," explained Fullerton. "We have been doing R & D over the last two years in a 70,000-foot production room in a former Santa Fe tractor factory, where we will use a powerful laser to cut out these large steel plates and bring in. This image is enhanced. [19659002]  Meow Wolf at Magic Leap Conference (Image: Kate Russell)

(Image: Kate Russell)

Meow Wolf was an early development partner with Magic Leap and can bring a whole new audience to the platform, especially with two unique places that open in Denver and Vegas by 2020.

But does it want to earn money?

Experiences like The Navigator can be this generation's version of video game arcades where I used a lot of my youth in Brighton, England. But I can not quite see how it will be enough of a real business for Magic Leap.

Meet the Virtual People

Finally, despite all the fabulous futuristic fantasy talks, the only ones are truly alive give the business models for AR than say the other "Rs") are military, production and medicine. As I saw with Kopin, who works with Raytheon, and ScopeAR, who has industrial contracts, layering on digital amplification on your IRL environment adds a real state of use.

On a panel at the conference, Dr. Skip Rizzo was from the USC Institute of Creative Technologies, and his development partner, Arno Hartholt. We have met before; I wrote about Dr. Rizzo's work with VR to help troops handling PTSD after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing virtual trainers to the US Veterans Initiative.

Like Meow Wolf, Dr. Rizzo's team at ICT was an early development partner on the Magic Leap platform and tried some cool new ideas. They portrayed their virtual human technology into the Magic Leap AR interface, and are currently trying it, in collaboration with the Dan Marino Foundation, to help people with autism find jobs. Check it out in the video below.

I spoke to Dr. Rizzo, via email, before the conference. Here is the edited and condensed extract of our conversation:

Dr. Rizzo, how long have you had access to the Magic Leaps dev kit?
We gained access to a Magic Leap prototype during spring 2018 after a wide range of collaboration discussions with the Magic Leap and Dan Marino Foundation.

What is your opinion about it?
Magic Leap One has been an impressive device to work with. It opens the eyes of the future of mixed reality systems that will continue to evolve over time! I believe that Magic Leap One (and the inevitable sequel versions) will be a real workhorse system, especially when it comes to using these kinds of pro-social applications.

How does it integrate your work on USC?
] We have developed the VITA system (VITA) for some years, but have been limited to presenting the virtual human content on a flat screen or TV. Now, we can actually place a virtual person in an actual environment that is relevant. We believe that by utilizing such a true world context, training effects can better transfer to actual performance when the user is prompted to actually interact in a job interview with a real person! This work focuses on helping people on the autism spectrum to improve their job interviews.

What have you built for the platform to date and what are your plans to use this in your work in the future?
We aim to extend this system to other populations, including military veterans, and to help people to be released from prison, where getting the job on release, is related to reduced relapse. Also, I want to expand the work of social skills training beyond just job interview skills … maybe building a social skills "obstacle course" that would be generally useful to many people beyond just those on the autism spectrum. The integration of virtual people with mixed reality systems provides incredible opportunities for many types of clinical and general training applications. We have some other ideas on the drawing board that I can not discuss now, but they are very exciting and have the same propagation direction as we have included in our work in the past.

Is Magic Leap Future of Computing?

What Dr. Rizzo made clear has a use-more, actual and business viability.

Amazing keynotes and goat demos aside, it was fun to be around developers who are clearly enthusiastic about the platform's potential. However, as Dr. Rizzo said, it is more likely that when all injectors have died, the useful parts of the AR platform become more workhorse and less show pony and deliver real business issues to military, medicine and production. [19659045] But at that time I have a feeling of Rony Abovitz, and his crew will have led to the desert of vision, and seek their next venture.

If you want the possibilities for "hacking (or editing) reality," search for Mixed Reality Hackathon, hosted by the new Magic Leap partner and investor AT & T, set for November 9-11 in San Francisco.

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