Augmented reality startup Magic Leap raises $542M from Google, Qualcomm and others

Magic Leap, a startup focused on augmented reality technology, said it raised $542 million in funding from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and other venture capital investors. The company plans to use the funds to speed up the development of its products, develop software and content elements and commercialize its wearable computing system.

The fact that Magic Leap raised so much money from such major players, despite not having a commercial product, indicates that the firm's backers believe strongly in its potential. Google led the funding round, but Magic Leap said it also received investments from Legendary Entertainment, including a personal investment from CEO Thomas Tull, KKR, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz, Obvious Ventures and other investors. According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter, the deal values the company at just under $2 billion.

Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, will join Magic Leap's board. Qualcomm Chairman Paul Jacobs and Don Harrison, vice president of corporate development at Google, will join the board as observers.

Magic Leap was founded in 2011 and is based in Hollywood, Fla., though it has offices in Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Mountain View, Calif., as well as in Seattle, New Zealand and Austin, Texas. Magic Leap has been fairly secretive about its intentions and products. The company's CEO, Rony Abovitz, sold his last company, a robotics medical device firm called Mako Surgical Corp., for $1.65 billion to Stryker Corp. in 2013. Magic Leap's website shows a small yet realistic-looking virtual elephant bouncing on two hands, followed by a trademarked slogan, "It's time to bring magic back into the world."

Source: Magic Leap

The company's website states that the firm believes that "current technologies we use to access the digital world limit, or even take us away, from the real world." The company also thinks "the future of computing should be derived from respecting human biology, physiology, creativity, and community. Why can't computing feel completely natural?"

"With our founding principles our team dug deep into the physics of the visual world, and dug deep into the physics and processes of our visual and sensory perception," the company states. "We created something new. We call it a Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal™ (you can call it a Digital Lightfield™). It is biomimetic, meaning it respects how we function naturally as humans (we are humans after all, not machines)."

Abovitz told the Journal that Magic Leap could provide a new interface to replace PCs and smartphones and provide a new format for movies and video games. The company is working on a wearable device for the eyes, which will project accurate images onto the eyes and produce virtual 3D objects that seem real.

According to Re/code, which cited unnamed sources, Magic Leap also plans to use an infrared camera similar to the Microsoft Kinect to create a 3D map of the world around the user so that virtual objects can be placed both in front and behind objects. As a result of the technology, Magic Leap may need to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the report added.

Google is pushing into 3D mapping and augmented reality via its Project Tango, which is using phone and tablets to test the technologies. Re/code reported that Google does not plan match Magic Leap's products up with Google Glass.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Re/code article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article

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