Metavers. Metavers. Metavers.
Say it three times fast, and you’ll still be confused about the promise of this high-profile digital world where we apparently go to work, hang out and more.
However, Peggy Johnson, general manager of Magic Leap, sees it clearly. She doesn’t even need to put on the company’s high-tech headphones.
Mrs Johnson, who took the reins of the startup under siege in 2020, sees a future where we put on augmented reality glasses and view digital information projected into our real world. No longer would we be constantly sucked out of the world to stare at a screen in our hand or on our desk or wall.
(Reminder: While a virtual reality headset blocks out the world for your escape, augmented reality glasses add a layer of it. Think of the windshield heads-up display found in many cars today.)
After 25 years at
Inc., then six more at Microsoft Corp. as lead negotiator, the 60-year-old CEO redirected Magic Leap to focus on enterprise customers and business-use customers for its still nascent technology. The Magic Leap 2 headset, which is expected to ship later this year, is designed to be lighter than its predecessor, with better optics and sound.
The Wall Street Journal spoke to Ms. Johnson about the industries that are already making AR a reality and what it will take to get glasses that don’t look like a total nerd helmet.
Our lives are dominated by screens. Why do we need augmented reality glasses?
At the moment we are sitting in a fixed place and interacting via a keyboard with a PC. Augmented reality will change this whole paradigm. You will be able to look at your physical world and interact with the digital content that is in your physical world. The opportunity is to see the bigger picture and to be able to have helpful tools embedded in your physical world that will help you do your job. It will help you get things done in less time because you will have those number markers to help you.
Magic Leap headsets are already in use at work. Which sectors benefit from AR?
We have a number of healthcare companies using it because it can very precisely and precisely place digital content in front of their eyes.
For example, we have a company called Brainlab that uses it. They scan an image of your brain, and a 3D image of your brain is now in front of your eyes and can be used as a pre-surgical planning tool. You can draw the surgical path you want to take.
Another company called SentiAR creates interactive live 3D visuals of patients’ hearts during cardiac ablation procedures, which are performed to correct heart rhythm problems. Typically, this is done with a surgeon introducing the tube but looking at a 2D screen. Now they have the ability to map your heart – the real living heart – in front of your eyes as they insert the catheter, which just improves accuracy and navigation capabilities.
Beyond that, we have a variety of crafting scenarios. We believe it will be a real tool for the factory worker. You can almost think of it as a computer on their eyes. Their hands are still free to do their job but, for example, the worker can approach a physical machine. Above it can be digitally displayed the statistics of the machine: The operating time, the downtime, there may be a red flag which indicates that it is time for maintenance.
With Magic Leap 2, you’ve made hardware improvements, but it still requires you to wear a headset attached to a mini computer your size. What are the main barriers to getting stylish eyewear?
To a certain extent, we see this as an advantage. We’ve taken the heat and weight and put it on your belt or pocket. This allowed us to make a headset that weighed only around 250 grams, around 20% lighter than our Magic Leap 1.
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You can draw an analogy between augmented reality and cell phones. When they first came out they were big and they got smaller over time. A big part of that was component reduction and silicon integration. So these two things have to happen. It will be necessary to wait a few years before arriving at a format of glasses. But clearly it will open up a big consumer market and that’s definitely what we’re focusing on.
Speaking of consumers, what will be the killer app that will make us all want to put these types of devices in our faces?
Business customers were really the first users of mobile phones. I was in that industry at the time, and they wanted a longer, smaller, lighter battery, all those things. So we’re going to take all that feedback and use it when we start designing Magic Leap 3.
I really think – and especially because we’re coming out of a pandemic and living in a hybrid world – that this idea of 3D collaboration with other people who may be in the room or maybe on another continent is going to be an app that drives consumer usage. It could be talking to your grandmother on the other coast or talking to your colleagues. Bringing Meetings to life seems like the thing that will really drive usage into a mainstream format.
We hear a lot about the promise of the metaverse. What is your take on all of this?
There are great use cases for virtual reality. A lot of them revolve around entertainment, training, that sort of thing. It’s somewhat limited because when you’re fully occluded, you’re limited and you can’t move around as easily.
When you can see your physical world and interact with digital content, that’s the true promise of the metaverse. The technology should just fit in. I think the pandemic will push us more towards that because we’ve been head over heels for two years and on those little screens.
It’s 2030. What does your job and industry look like?
Maybe I don’t come to work. Maybe I put my glasses on and have meetings. We’ve all kind of been doing it now since the pandemic, but the experience would just be a lot more natural, like I was actually in the room with people. Technology is heading there.
I hope this is the world we will be in in 2030 and that we return to a heads-up world and not stare at a small screen in our hands. Our hands will be free to interact with this digital content in our physical world.
—Cordilia James contributed to this article.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Write to Joanna Stern at email@example.com
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