I think it’s safe to say that 2017 was the year virtual reality (VR) finally hit its stride. Sure, the technology has been around for years, but only in the last couple has it been widely adopted by a broad swath of consumers, selling in the millions of units.
Augmented reality (AR), in which features are projected on top of the real world, however, has had a much tougher road to the marketplace, with substantial technological challenges and limitations causing it to lag behind its VR brethren.
The Google-funded upstart Magic Leap intents to move the technology forward in 2018 with their first commercial AR headset, the Magic Leap One. The bug-eyed pod-racing looking goggles are powered by a a small round computer that clips to your pants (so hopefully you’re wearing some), while the AR objects projected onto your retina are manipulated using a handheld controller.
You may remember the Microsoft HoloLens; a similar device that Microsoft launched in 2016. So how is the Magic Leap different? Well, Microsoft hasn’t really marketed the HoloLens to the consumer market; at $3,000 it’s still a fairly niche product, having only sold a few thousand units. Right now it’s still mainly in the domain of developers, as stated by Microsoft themselves. But Magic Leap is aiming for much broader consumer adoption; if not with their first version, almost certainly with their second (Magic Leap Two?).
The Magic Leap One also has some notable advantages over the HoloLens. As cnet.com has reported, the device is more effective at scanning the room and layering holographic objects. In fact, the technology even allows virtual objects to block real objects, just as they do in real life. If a person stands behind a virtual robot, for example, you will see the robot and not the person; just as it should be, but still pretty darn cool.
No price or release date just yet, beyond sometime in 2018. I’m hoping I can get my hands on one of these hallucinatory bug-eyed contraptions for less than Google Glass, which currently retails for $1,500. If they can get the cost down to around that of an iPhone or a high-end VR set, I think 2018 might just be AR’s break-out year.