Augmented reality company Magic Leap is solidifying its presence in Seattle, in its notoriously secretive style — adding an intriguing new twist to the region’s growing market for virtual and augmented reality startups.
The Dania Beach, Fla.-based company is building out an office at Sabey Corp.’s Brew House at 5900 Airport Way S. in the Georgetown neighborhood, according to permit records filed with the city of Seattle. Magic Leap is named on construction documents for an office and lab tenant improvement project for an approximately 7,900-square-foot space there.
On a visit to the site this week, Geekwire found a construction trailer near the south side of the building. An employee of a nearby company said the trailer was part of Magic Leap’s project.
Magic Leap’s past press releases say it has a Seattle location. Several executives with virtual reality startups in the Seattle region acknowledged privately that Magic Leap has a presence in the city, but declined to provide any details or even say if they’ve visited the company’s current location. Magic Leap is renowned for an extensive non-disclosure agreement, designed to keep details of its business and technology under wraps.
Magic Leap officials declined to comment. Paul Suzman, a commercial real estate agent who has represented Magic Leap, declined to comment when reached this week.
The Original Rainier Brewery includes several structures along Airport Way South that are more than a century old. The Brew House includes a four-story, 115-year-old structure that is home to Fran’s Chocolates’ headquarters as well as a newer warehouse building.
Today the warehouse is a single story with a 26-foot clear height, but permit documents show a mezzanine level will be added, giving Magic Leap two floors.
Magic Leap is hiring locally: its LinkedIn page lists eight engineer openings based in Seattle. LinkedIn also lists several current Magic Leap engineers based in the Seattle area.
In 2014, Magic Leap made headlines when it hired Seattle-based sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson to be its “chief futurist.”
Announcing his hiring in 2014, Stephenson wrote in a blog post: “what fascinated me wasn’t what Magic Leap had done but rather what it was about to start doing. Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques — some tried and true, others unbelievably advanced — to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment.”
So what is it about to start doing? Magic Leap is in the augmented reality game, and other than that, it is a mystery. In an announcement of a $793.5 million Series C funding round in February, Rony Abovitz, founder, president and CEO of Magic Leap, said in a statement: “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.”
Magic Leap has not publicly released a product yet, though The Verge earlier this month located patent filings that show what its potential augmented reality headset could look like.
Magic Leap’s enigmatic nature hasn’t stopped it from landing big-name investors and a valuation of $4.5 billion. Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group led the February funding round, but financial and entertainment companies joined the round as well, including Warner Bros., J.P. Morgan Investment Management and Morgan Stanley Investment Management. Those investors join Google and Qualcomm, who previously invested $542 million in 2014.
In addition to its Seattle office, Magic Leap says it has locations in Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Mountain View, California; Austin; the United Kingdom; New Zealand and Israel.
Magic Leap’s Seattle presence gives it a chance to bring in top talent from other virtual/augmented reality companies. Big local companies like Microsoft and Valve are developing devices like HoloLens and HTC Vive. Facebook-owned Oculus, which works on the Rift headset and Samsung’s Gear VR, is based in California but has an office in Sodo. The area is also home to numerous virtual reality startups and video game companies from which Magic Leap could attempt to pull talent.