Welcome back to Spatial Beats. where we round up all the top news and happenings from around the spatial computing spectrum, including its escalating infusions with AI and other letters. Let’s dive in…
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund pours another $590 million into Magic Leap. This is happening just as Apple prepares to go head-to-head with Magic Leap with the February 2 launch of the Apple Vision Pro. Exactly one year ago, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned sovereign wealth fund added $450 million to its previous investment, giving it a fifty percent stake and overall control. This investment was not about control, it was about staying alive. Having awkwardly straddled the prosumer segment with limited success, in mid-2020 founder and CEO Abovitz laid off half the company and fell on his sword (resigned). Microsoft’s Executive VP of Business Development, Peggy Johnson, took the reins as CEO soon thereafter, and $500 million of fresh funding flowed into the company. She supervised the launch of its critically acclaimed Magic Leap 2 and shifted the company’s focus to all business. The company is mainly focused on medical applications now, while seeking to expand in other verticals. Johnson resigned in mid-2023, saying she had accomplished her mission there.
In an interview with VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi, new CEO Ross Rosenberg said “We’ve been thinking a lot about the third chapter in Magic Leap’s history. Chapter one was about invention and the breakthroughs that were created under Rony. Chapter two was about productizing those inventions. We now have Magic Leap Two. Chapter three is about the commercial adoption of that technology, which goes to customer use cases.” Yikes. That’s putting lipstick on a pig if I’ve ever heard it. They’ve been trying to commercialize the new Magic Leap 2 headset for three years now. Johnson left because they were not making enough money. Rosenberg’s no fool. He wouldn’t have taken that job without new funding. My read is that this is some of the worst funding news in tech. [Full disclosure, Abovitz is co-host of my “This Week in XR” podcast. He never breathes a word about Magic Leap. The topic is a third rail. He’s shared nothing, and I don’t ask. I’m just a guy who reads the news and has opinions all on my own.]
The AI Desk
The Singaporean artist who calls herself @niceaunties made this mind-blowing cinematic AI artwork. “Because I do not have film background I feel it is more like a collage of things I like, animated, and with music. I remember people being confused with my work, ‘is it a music video? Is it a film? Is it art?’ Someone called it ‘entertainment art’. I am thinking maybe ‘reenacted dreams’, what do you think?” @Niceaunties explained the evolution of her work in an email. “I started my IG [Instagram] in January 2023 with the idea of a club in a faraway universe where aunties meet to tell stories of their adventures in many parallel universes. That was the original structure to organize all the content in a way that allowed me to explore all kinds of artistic directions within this format, without fear of inconsistency.” @Niceaunties’ other short AI experience, “How I Got Here” was a finalist in RunwayML’s recent GenAI film competition.
Eugene YK Chung, founder of Penrose Studios, made this AI Film for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” 50th Anniversary animation competition. He’s the award-winning director of VR films “Allumette” and “Arden’s Wake”. Chung is also invited to give a talk on Cinematic AI at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which starts today. Using Runway ML and Midjourney, Chung said he made this film in a couple of hours after dinner. It’s hard to believe until you consider he made this one-minute AI scene on a Park City ski lift in February 2023.
Dave Clark sent me the short AI film “Borrowing Time,” below. He says it’s his “most involved narrative short yet.” Clark is a professional film director who applies his trade in southern California and has spent the last year pushing the limits of the medium to tell relevant stories with minimal resources. “This is based on a true story from My Father’s life during the 1960s dealing with the hardships of being Black and in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Hardware is Hard
LG confirms it’s releasing an XR headset. Virtually nothing is known about the device yet, given that the only official word so far is a quote from the LG CEO Cho Joo-wan to a South Korean media outlet saying the company will “launch an XR device as early as next year.” It was announced last year that Meta was teaming with the company to help design and build its newest headset, with the first product from this collaboration expected for 2025, so that may be, in the end, what we are talking about here.
Moves & Maneuvers
Kopin [KOPN] Rings Bell at NASDAQ To Signal New Direction. They are now focusing on the software and AI behind the AR hardware. CEO Michael Murray joined Kopin in late 2022, replacing founder Dr. John Fan, long a fixture in the AR industry. Kopin has undergone some significant changes, which Murray shared in an interview earlier today. Fan stepped down as CEO two years ago and now heads a Chinese spin-off in which Kopin owns a minority stake. This enabled the company to compete for defense contracts and collaborate with other contractors to provide what is now much more than an optical system. It’s software that can work with any system, even competitors’. Kopin’s NeuralDisplay architecture uses eye tracking and AI to make AR/VR solutions more useful by automatically adapting to the user’s unique vision requirements in high-stress situations. Kopin’s NeuralDisplay architecture can deploy on any optical system, not just Kopin’s, opening up a world of defense applications.
Leia Inc. Announces Fabio Esposito as Chief Executive Officer. Founder David Faatal will become CTO. The company showed off a bevy of 3D laptops at CES. No glasses required. Instead, this new breed of display uses eye tracking to create the effect and it is, well, effective. In early 2023 Leia acquired its biggest competitor, Dimenco, which was taking a similar approach to PCs as Leia was with laptops. Esposito joins the company as 3D without glasses becomes more of a thing, as this year’s CES certainly demonstrated. Leia must be in good shape since they don’t appear to need a $500M investment to attract a new CEO.
Vuzix To Cut 25% of Its Workforce of ~100 people. “Vuzix today announced that it will be focusing its efforts on select AR smart glasses products, technology development, and its OEM business. As such, the Company is implementing efficiencies, including a significant cost reduction program, that are designed to better streamline operations.” said Vuzix in a release. As with the news from Magic Leap, no one is saying “we’re not selling enough XR devices.” That seems to be precisely the problem here. If you’ve never been through a RIF (reduction in force) it has two delicious flavors of humiliation for non-executive participants. On a Friday (it’s always a Friday), everyone gets an email from HR about a meeting. Conference room A, you’re fired. B, safe. You know which you are right away by who’s in the room with you; which batch you’ve been mixed with, so to speak. Not much of an ego-booster. In the second delicious flavor of RIF, you wake to find out you are locked out of your company email account.
Walkabout Mini Golf just dropped its 24th VR mini-golf course, based on Jules Verne’s “80 Days Around the World.” This course, like all the others, will have you playing mini-golf in imagination – and gravity-defying spaces. For this experience, you’re transported to a Gilded Age airport for lighter-than-air ships docked high above Paris as it hosts the 1889 World’s Fair.
Listen & Learn
This Week in XR is also a podcast hosted by Paramount’s Futurist Ted Schilowitz, Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz, and Charlie Fink, the author of this weekly column. You can find it on podcasting platforms Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube.
Charlie Fink is an author and futurist focused on spatial computing. See his books here. Spatial Beats contains insights and inputs from Fink’s collaborators including Paramount Pictures futurist Ted Shilowitz.