Closely-watched augmented reality company Magic Leap of Plantation, Fla., has opened a new office in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, south of downtown, as a larger dispute between the company and two of its former executives provides new clues about what may be happening inside.
The company, which is developing augmented reality hardware and content, has raised nearly $1.4 billion from investors including Google, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz, and others. Magic Leap has quickly become legendary in the industry for its secrecy.
With its new office, Magic Leap becomes the latest big tech company to set up shop in Seattle to tap into the region’s talent pool. It’s part of a growing wave of augmented reality and virtual reality companies in the region, building on a critical mass of software and gaming companies.
Plans for the new Seattle office were first reported by GeekWire in June, and we revisited the location this week to confirm that the company has completed renovations and moved into the space. The Magic Leap logo has been installed in the lobby, without the company’s name.
People working at the new Magic Leap office in Seattle said they weren’t able to talk with us at this point. We’ve contacted Magic Leap HQ for more information.
In the meantime, Business Insider is reporting on a legal dispute between Magic Leap and two of its former executives, which includes information about advanced technology teams at Magic Leap called “N+1,” which explore future projects beyond its initial device, which has yet to be released. One of the former executives saw the assignment to the N+1 initiative “as something of a demotion,” according to the Business Insider report, which describes “a major disconnect” between the company’s Florida headquarters and its Silicon Valley operations.
Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz described the N+1 initiatives in a November 2015 message republished by Business Insider this week:
“N+1 (a step beyond the critical path of Magic Leap One) teams exist in Magic Leap to maintain Magic Leap’s creative and innovative edge. Output includes new filed patents with significant portfolio value (inventing the future), working code and prototypes, trade secrets, scientific publications (following Magic Leap’s IP and PR processes), scientific talks, and overall thought leadership within our fields of light-field technology, capture, sensing, intelligence, and CR applications/experiences.”
“CR” is a reference to “cinematic reality,” a phrase that Magic Leap previously used to describe its technology. The company prefers “mixed reality” now.
At least two Magic Leap executives involved in N+1 projects are based in the Seattle office, according to another recent Business Insider report: Neal Stephenson, the famed science fiction author who became Magic Leap’s chief futurist two years ago; and Brian Schowengerdt, a longtime University of Washington professor who is the company’s chief science officer and co-founder.
Stephenson is listed in the CEO’s message with the cryptic acronym “SCEU,” which isn’t explained elsewhere. One of his landmark novels is “Snow Crash,” which deals heavily in virtual and augmented reality, possibly accounting for part of the acronym.
LinkedIn currently shows 14 people who work for Magic Leap in the Seattle region. The company’s jobs page (“wizards wanted”) lists 11 open positions in Seattle, including several engineering positions on “an advanced technology development team, developing prototype display, sensor, and user interface devices.”
We’ll continue to provide additional information about the Magic Leap operations as we learn more.