Two years ago, the secretive augmented reality company Magic Leap established a Seattle office nearly 3,300 miles away from its headquarters in Plantation, Fla. And since then, the company has been pretty tight-lipped about the goings-on at the outpost in the industrial but increasingly trendy Georgetown neighborhood south of downtown Seattle.
But with the release of its first product — the Magic Leap One Creator Edition — the company is opening up a little more than it had in the past. Magic Leap pulled back the curtain a bit on its Seattle office, giving a few details about the work coming out of the outpost.
The company wouldn’t say how many people it employs the office, but more than 50 people on LinkedIn list Magic Leap as their employer with a location of the Greater Seattle area. Magic Leap has another two open positions in Seattle on its jobs board.
The office is led by Neal Stephenson, the famed science fiction author who became Magic Leap’s chief futurist four years ago and also worked at Blue Origin and Intellectual Ventures Labs, and Brian Schowengerdt, a longtime University of Washington professor who is the company’s chief science and experience officer and co-founder.
The outpost is home to a group called SCEU, short for Self-Contained Existence Unit, a content-focused R&D squad led by Stephenson that works to push the limits on new things creators can build in virtual reality. Also known as Goat_Labs, the small team of about a dozen or has been tasked by CEO Rony Abovitz with sharing what they’ve learned with other developers.
The Goat_Labs moniker goes back to an attempt to transfer baby goat videos, which are extremely popular on YouTube, into mixed reality. The group’s learnings are not fully baked software development kits or anything like that, but they are sample code examples of the new frontiers Magic Leap’s R&D teams are exploring that other developers can replicate.
The Seattle office is also home to a developer relations team led by gaming veteran Tadhg Kelly. Tadhg manages relationships with key developers and creators across the Seattle region.
Magic Leap has generated a ton of interest over the years, and even more cash, raising more than $2.3 billion in its lifetime from heavy hitters like Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital and others. After going years without a product, skepticism of the much-hyped company began to creep in.
But then the company unveiled Magic Leap One Creator Edition. The $2,295 device is built for developers, designers and creatives, making it competitive with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset.
Magic Leap One is composed of three main devices. The “Lightwear” glasses have a unique look that stands out from other virtual reality headsets. The “Lightpack” is a pocket-size cylindrical computer that powers the device, allowing more mobility than most virtual reality headsets that are tethered to a computer. And a controller offers “six degrees of freedom” with a thumb-operated control pad.
The Magic Leap One is impressive, and it’s unlike any computer I’ve used before. I see a real future in being able to interact with digital screens inside the real world around us, but Magic Leap is going to need to convince everyone else of that, too. It also needs developers and creators to help build unique experiences, which is the entire purpose of the Magic Leap One.
I imagine we’re years away from the Magic Leap that’s ready for the rest of us. One where I don’t need my computer or phone at all, where there’s no limit on the field of view and where every TV channel and movie and game I want to play is all in that world, sort of like a mixed-reality version of the Oasis from “Ready Player One.”
Magic Leap hasn’t made a consumer-facing product yet. However, as part of a recent alliance with AT&T the Magic Leap One device will be available for consumers to experience at select AT&T stores in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco later this year, with more markets to follow.