Magic Leap CEO on Building Future of 'Spatial Computing'

October 10, 2018

By Alex Heath

Magic Leap is ready to usher in the “spatial computing” revolution.

The incredibly well-funded, Florida-based start-up has come to Los Angeles this week to teach developers and media companies how to develop for its first AR headset, the Magic Leap One.

The company’s first-ever “LeapCon” event, or “Woodstock for Nerds” as CEO Rony Abovitz describes it, features two days of university-style classes and interactive demos centered around Magic Leap’s technology.

“We’re trying to teach people what spatial imagery is,” Abovitz told Cheddar in an exclusive interview at LeapCon on Wednesday. “So if you’re an aspiring creator in your garage or a giant media company, all over the spectrum you can see what’s possible.”

Magic Leap’s first headset is the $2,295 Magic Leap One “Creator Edition,” which was announced in August after years of anticipation and secrecy surrounding its development.

While obviously expensive and geared more towards professionals interested in developing for augmented reality, the headset represents Magic Leap’s first stab at taking AR hardware mainstream. And as of this week, the headset is available to ship across the United States instead of a few select cities.

A core part of Magic Leap’s technology is what Abovitz calls the “Magicverse,” a virtual world that will one day be overlaid on top of the physical world through the eventual prevalence of 5G wireless service. AT&T ($T) invested in Magic Leap a few months ago and will be the exclusive wireless provider for the headset. The carrier announced this week that it would also deploy a 5G network on Magic Leap’s Florida campus to help the technology be tested.

“A city might have a limited economy that’s physical, but digital economies are unlimited ー they amplify,” Abovitz said of the Magicverse. “We’re really excited about, and we think AT&T is basically building the infrastructure for all this to happen.”

Magic Leap has raised more than $2 billion, making it perhaps the most richly-funded startup in the AR space. But big tech companies like Apple ($AAPL), Facebook ($FB), and Microsoft ($MSFT) are all investing heavily in AR as a potential computing platform to replace mobile phones.

“I think we’re the largest scale start-up in what we’re doing, but we’re tiny compared to the people we’re competing against,” said Abovitz. “The amount of capital companies will put into this space dwarf our funding. So we’re a tiny little rebel going up against the biggest companies in the world.”

When asked if he wanted Magic Leap to eventually be a publicly traded company, Abovitz said, “I think that would be great.”

The CEO said that it will take at least a decade before one billion people are using spatial computing in their everyday lives. But he sees millions, or potentially “tens of millions,” of people using the technology everyday in two to five years.

“From my perspective, it seems almost impossible for spatial computing not to become an all-pervasive, all day, every day form,” he said.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

MALE_1: Hi everyone. I'm here with Rony Abovitz,

MALE_1: the CEO of Magic Leap. Hey Rony?

RONY ABOVITZ: Hey.

MALE_1: [OVERLAPPING] Thanks for joining us. So, you

MALE_1: just got off stage at leap con,

MALE_1: Magic Leap's first ever developer conference.

MALE_1: Ah, can you unpack

MALE_1: what is to- what is today is all about?

MALE_1: Why all these developers here today?

RONY ABOVITZ: It's- it's Woodstock for nerds.

MALE_1: [LAUGHTER].

RONY ABOVITZ: And geeks.

MALE_1: [LAUGHTER] Okay.

RONY ABOVITZ: That's the best way to describe it.

MALE_1: Okay, so magically you're- you're at

MALE_1: the forefront of AR argument reality.

MALE_1: We've got the Magic Leap one headset

MALE_1: here right between us.

MALE_1: Um, what are you hoping that attendees here at

MALE_1: the conference take away, uh,

MALE_1: for either developing in AR, thinking about AR,

MALE_1: you had a lot of philosophical, uh, comments today.

MALE_1: So, should we hear you unpack that.

RONY ABOVITZ: Well first we- we call off

RONY ABOVITZ: our broader field spatial computing.

MALE_1: Right.

RONY ABOVITZ: Ah, because it's, um,

RONY ABOVITZ: people think sometimes AR might just be a phone and

RONY ABOVITZ: an overlay and we're

RONY ABOVITZ: thinking a lot more broad about like,

RONY ABOVITZ: our system can detect the world around you,

RONY ABOVITZ: detect you and provide spatial imagery.

RONY ABOVITZ: So, we're trying to steach

RONY ABOVITZ: people about spatial computing.

RONY ABOVITZ: Um, we want them to learn

RONY ABOVITZ: all kinds of cool tools and techniques,

RONY ABOVITZ: is a lot of like most university type classes

RONY ABOVITZ: and how to decode in framework design,

RONY ABOVITZ: in UI design and

RONY ABOVITZ: the most fun thing is all the experiences.

RONY ABOVITZ: You've got to do some yesterday but see what some of

RONY ABOVITZ: the best studios Academy Award

RONY ABOVITZ: winning people in the world can make.

RONY ABOVITZ: So, if you're an aspiring creator in your garage or

RONY ABOVITZ: you're a giant media company,

RONY ABOVITZ: um, all ends of

RONY ABOVITZ: the spectrum you could see what's possible.

MALE_1: What is the promise of spatial computing in your mind?

MALE_1: What is the main, I mean,

MALE_1: obviously you want this to go mainstream.

MALE_1: Um, do you see it being

MALE_1: the next real computing platform

MALE_1: to re- replace mobile phones, I guess?

RONY ABOVITZ: Um, I don't just see it

RONY ABOVITZ: replacing a particular kind of device.

RONY ABOVITZ: I think it's the competing,

RONY ABOVITZ: all of us will do everyday, all day,

RONY ABOVITZ: one day. It's a journey.

RONY ABOVITZ: This is like our very first conference.

RONY ABOVITZ: It's kind of like day one.

RONY ABOVITZ: And it took time for

RONY ABOVITZ: cellular phones to become mobile phones,

RONY ABOVITZ: for PCs to become pervasive.

RONY ABOVITZ: So, this is the very beginning of that.

RONY ABOVITZ: Um, and I think we're the world in like two years,

RONY ABOVITZ: five years, 10 years, 15 years.

RONY ABOVITZ: But from my perspective,

RONY ABOVITZ: it seems almost impossible for spatial computing not to

RONY ABOVITZ: become an all pervasive, all day-everyday form.

RONY ABOVITZ: There'll be different devices,

RONY ABOVITZ: different components of it but it seems like

RONY ABOVITZ: the most natural thing that

RONY ABOVITZ: people will use in their- in their lives.

RONY ABOVITZ: Do you have a year in mind or a time frame,

RONY ABOVITZ: uh, in mind of when that will happen?

RONY ABOVITZ: When that reality will be here?

RONY ABOVITZ: I think when you- if you think about like,

RONY ABOVITZ: when are a billion people doing this?

RONY ABOVITZ: You know, you're in the- you're

RONY ABOVITZ: probably within or mounted like a decade.

RONY ABOVITZ: You know, you have to give things time to grow and

RONY ABOVITZ: incubate but there's already

RONY ABOVITZ: a lot of SOQ around other mobile computing,

RONY ABOVITZ: so people have a lot of things, um, already in place.

RONY ABOVITZ: They really understand computing

RONY ABOVITZ: whereas in the 70s when PCs came out,

RONY ABOVITZ: they didn't know what that was.

RONY ABOVITZ: So it's a lot more rich understanding

RONY ABOVITZ: of the world rather like

RONY ABOVITZ: high speed Internet and

RONY ABOVITZ: all kinds of cool networks that are getting built.

RONY ABOVITZ: That will accelerate this but I think you're in

RONY ABOVITZ: the decade maybe 15 years

RONY ABOVITZ: before we start to get to the billions.

RONY ABOVITZ: I think in the two to five years, you know,

RONY ABOVITZ: hopefully it's millions and tens of millions.

MALE_1: Got it. So you brought up 5G.

MALE_1: AT&T is a huge partner with you guys.

MALE_1: Um, you talked a little bit about

MALE_1: the magic first today and what that

MALE_1: means with 5G being able to create

MALE_1: these virtual worlds wherever we are.

MALE_1: Can- can you impact that a little bit?

RONY ABOVITZ: Sure. So you think about a world

RONY ABOVITZ: which is coming really soon,

RONY ABOVITZ: where in all the major cities,

RONY ABOVITZ: United States start to

RONY ABOVITZ: have incredible high speed network.

RONY ABOVITZ: So your indoor and outdoor have this persistent, um,

RONY ABOVITZ: access to edge compute persistent access to

RONY ABOVITZ: high speeds, you know, uh,

RONY ABOVITZ: capability that you might only have

RONY ABOVITZ: in certain places now it's pervasive everywhere.

RONY ABOVITZ: That allows new forms of computing to take place.

RONY ABOVITZ: So think about what we could do with

RONY ABOVITZ: our device if you have persistent access to data,

RONY ABOVITZ: super low latency, uh,

RONY ABOVITZ: that means that my home,

RONY ABOVITZ: my ride to work, um,

RONY ABOVITZ: the- the parks the schools am in,

RONY ABOVITZ: the whole city is a playground for developers.

RONY ABOVITZ: And that's what we wanted to put out today.

RONY ABOVITZ: The idea of a Magic versus,

RONY ABOVITZ: I have the physical city let's take Chicago.

RONY ABOVITZ: And then all of the amazing layers like

RONY ABOVITZ: me growing and built by developers,

RONY ABOVITZ: whether you're a school kid or

RONY ABOVITZ: recreation company that happened

RONY ABOVITZ: upon Chicago and the co-presence

RONY ABOVITZ: from all over the world that can come into

RONY ABOVITZ: Chicago and how you have the digital economic scaling.

RONY ABOVITZ: Because a city might have a limited economy,

RONY ABOVITZ: that's physical but digital economies

RONY ABOVITZ: are more unlimited. They amplify.

RONY ABOVITZ: So imagine whole systems like cities have

RONY ABOVITZ: these amplified digital economies that have

RONY ABOVITZ: real scale and presence of

RONY ABOVITZ: them and we're really excited about that.

RONY ABOVITZ: We think AT&T is basically

RONY ABOVITZ: building an infrastructure for all this to happen.

MALE_1: So virtual layers on top of the real world,

MALE_1: in whole new economies?

RONY ABOVITZ: Absolutely.

MALE_1: Wow. Okay. I want to ask you about competition.

MALE_1: You're very well funded. You've raised over $2 billion.

MALE_1: There is a lot of big tech companies that are looking

MALE_1: at this space maybe not exactly the way you guys are.

MALE_1: You have a unique outlook on it.

MALE_1: Where do you see Magic Leap fitting into

MALE_1: the competitive landscape with

MALE_1: all these other big time- tech companies

MALE_1: finally looking at that.

RONY ABOVITZ: [OVERLAPPING] I think we are the largest scale startup,

RONY ABOVITZ: uh, in what we're doing but we're

RONY ABOVITZ: tiny relative to the people we're competing against.

RONY ABOVITZ: The amount of capital big companies will put

RONY ABOVITZ: into this space dwarf our funding.

RONY ABOVITZ: Uh, so we're a tiny little rebel

RONY ABOVITZ: going up against the biggest company in the world.

RONY ABOVITZ: Thank God that we have some of them as our partners.

MALE_1: [LAUGHTER] Right.

RONY ABOVITZ: So, having friends like AT&T, um,

RONY ABOVITZ: allows us to- you know,

RONY ABOVITZ: we can't change that whole world on our own.

RONY ABOVITZ: You have to do it with friends and

RONY ABOVITZ: having really big friends sometimes helps.

MALE_1: Do you want Magic Leap to be a public company one day?

RONY ABOVITZ: I think it would be great.

MALE_1: [LAUGHTER] Okay.

MALE_1: Thanks so much. That's all the time we have.

RONY ABOVITZ: [OVERLAPPING] Thank you.

MALE_1: [OVERLAPPING] Rony Abovitz.

MALE_1: The CEO of Magic Leap. Thanks.