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Magic Leap Catches Flak Over Tricky Video

By Richard Adhikari
Dec 13, 2016 3:59 PM PT

It turns out the awe-inspiring video Magic Leap unveiled last year is not a demo of its still-secretive mixed reality technology, but a bit of sleight of hand from special effects firm Weta Workshop, which is credited at the beginning and end of the clip.

Magic Leap's post -- titled "Just another day in the office at Magic Leap" -- claims the video shows a game being played around the office.

The true nature of the video was exposed last week in a report published by The Information.

"Most of us thought that video was a demo of the technology -- not a film created by a special effects company," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"I expect some of the folks that invested in the company likely thought so as well, and that could be considered fraud," he told TechNewsWorld.

The ray guns shown in the video apparently are Dr. Grordbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators, which exist in designer Greg Broadmore's satirical parallel universe.

Weta CEO Richard Taylor, a founding director of Magic Leap, reportedly is collaborating with the firm on a mixed reality game set in the world of "Dr. Grordbort's Invaders."

Magic Leap's Response

Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz launched a tweetstorm in response to the piece in The Information.

Perception Is the Key

In the fashion industry, designers show pieces on the runway that "were never intended for real-world production, but that's made clear," observed Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"There's a difference between fact and being transparent that the [Magic Leap] video was meant to be aspirational," she told TechNewsWorld.

However, there's a precedent, suggested Enderle. Steve Jobs "fooled a lot of very smart people doing similar things, first with NeXT and then with the iPhone, which was basically a pretty brick when he first showed it."

Big Name Boosters

Magic Leap has raised US$1.4 billion in funding without anyone seeing its technology. Investors include Google and Andreessen Horowitz.

Google's Sundar Pichai and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson sit on its board, and Magic Leap has signed a deal with LucasFilm.

Why were companies with strong technical expertise attracted to Magic Leap?

"The people at the top who do the deals are often under pressure to do the deal before the required amount of due diligence can occur," said Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University.

"I doubt that the most senior people even personally had the time or the skills to do the due diligence needed," he told TechNewsWorld.

Potential Fallout

Microsoft's HoloLens and Facebook's Oculus currently lead the augmented reality market, and it's not clear whether Magic Leap can catch up.

On the other hand, the tech market "is quick to forgive if you can deliver something that's truly transformational," noted Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

"If Magic Leap can develop a compelling game that has at least some of the advertised functionality," he told TechNewsWorld, "they could still be successful."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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