All posts in “Magic Leap”

Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


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5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

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Porgs make Magic Leap fun. The Internet of Things could make it useful.

The porg on the carpet looked up at me, its watery eyes pleading, tiny wings flapping uselessly. It wanted a snack. Or maybe a toy? In the background, C-3P0 droned on, occasionally interrupted by a bleating Chewbacca. 

This was mixed reality experienced through the Magic Leap One, the long-long-long-awaited AR headset now available for the robust price of $2,295. Here’s what you get for your money: a surprisingly comfortable headset, a controller, and a small computer called a Lightpack, which resembles a thick hockey puck you can clip into your pocket or wear on a strap. 

I was at the very first L.E.A.P Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, smiling my way through “Star Wars: Project Porg.” Created for Magic Leap by ILMxLAB, the emerging technologies arm of Lucasfilm, the “experiment” was slick, charming, and immersive. 

But it was the lamp that captured my attention. Not a virtual lamp. We’re talking about a physical, very ordinary desk lamp.

I pointed my controller at it, clicked, and the lights turned on. (The porgs were lit accordingly.) Later, when The Last Jedi began playing on a real-world TV, the porgs waddled over and watched until they (awww) fell asleep. 

ZOMG cute.

ZOMG cute.

Image: ILMxLAB

At L.E.A.P., the focus was often on the “wow” factor. Robots jumping out of portals. Virtual actors reciting Shakespeare. Sea turtles floating through the air. 

But the spectacle isn’t why Project Porg excited me. It was how ILMxLAB incorporated the Internet of Things (IoT) so seamlessly into its experience. To be clear, the IoT elements were not part of the official Star Wars-themed download, which is available for free now. Instead, they were were meant to “inspire developers about what could be possible in mixed reality,” ILMxLAB said.

From across the room, I clicked on a Sonos speaker, and music started playing, complete with a virtual display telling me the name of the song (the Star Wars theme, natch). Neat trick, but what’s the big deal? Well, if you hadn’t noticed, even your damn microwave is a connected device now. And 5G networks — which can transfer data more quickly and handle more devices than 4G networks —will only add fuel to the fire. 

Now, imagine if you could control every smart device with a stare or a flick of your wrist, and if those same devices revealed new information, controls, or animations in augmented reality. 

So expensive.

So expensive.

Image: Magic Leap

It’s an enticing vision of the future, and Magic Leap isn’t afraid of promising us the moon. Hell, it’s been hinting at AR miracles since it was founded in 2011 — and was mocked for not dropping an actual product until this year. 

The Magic Leap One is, um, not perfect. The resolution won’t blow anyone away. The biggest problem, however, is the field of vision. If you’re staring at a digital T. rex and you look up at your IRL friend, chances are the dinosaur will disappear.  It can really pull you out of an experience.

Still, some of the demos I tried on Tuesday morning were genuinely impressive. Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders reminded me of Oculus hit Robo Recall, but a little less claustrophobic and intense. 

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The big question: Are a few intriguing games and experiences enough? 

Right now, the Magic Leap One is only available in a few cities, but next month, you’ll be able to buy it in 50 cities across the United States. It’s meant mostly for developers, although curious consumers with $2,295 burning a hole in their pocket can buy one if they so wish. 

Magic Leap needs to spark excitement or developers won’t spend resources creating content, causing investor and consumer interest to wither and die. Oculus, loaded with Zuck bucks, was able to wander out of the content desert and will soon sell a $399 wireless headset that has a shot at competing with the Xbox and PlayStations of the world. 

Both Google and Apple are pushing their own AR platforms. But, for now, they’re mostly centered around the smartphone. Magic Leap has a chance to immerse us in a more seamless, interactive Internet of Things. It just needs to stop promising us the future, and actually deliver it. 

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Magic Leap buys mesh-computing startup Computes

Magic Leap has announced that they are acquiring Computes, a decentralized mesh computing startup. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

From Magic Leap’s blog post:

From the beginning, Chris Matthieu and Jade Meskill started Computes, Inc. based on the principle of enabling the next generation of computing. We believe Magic Leap is the perfect home to achieve this vision

Why would Magic Leap want to get their hands on this company? Well, it’s no secret that building a “digital layer” on top of the real world is more than a little compute-heavy, mesh computing offers an attractive future for leveraging the power of grouped systems to push resources to the devices that need it most.

From one of the company’s white papers:

The Lattice protocol allows authorized computers to self-organize into a mesh computer, limited only by the number and power of the members. Lattice will intelligently allocate work to the best members of the mesh, based on the requirements of the task.

This is an interesting idea for AR headset systems where eventually most of them may be in standby on average and could theoretically push their compute power to another system. Perhaps more likely is offsite PCs with beefy internals offering the headsets a punch. On the far less sexy side, this could also just be a play for the startup to drill down some of its backend services.

If you’re still curious of what they do and interested in some mildly dubious explaining, check out this video from Computes’ CEO which only mildly resembles a video from the Dharma Initiative.

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Teardown of Magic Leap One reveals highly advanced placeholder tech

The screwdriver-happy dismantlers at iFixit have torn the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset all to pieces, and the takeaway seems to be that the device is very much a work in progress — but a highly advanced one. Its interesting optical assembly, described as “surprisingly ugly,” is laid bare for all to see.

The head-mounted display and accompanying computing unit are definitely meant for developers, as we know, but the basic methods and construction Magic Leap is pursuing are clear from this initial hardware. It’s unlikely that there will be major changes to how the gadget works except to make it cheaper, lighter, and more reliable.

At the heart of Magic Leap’s tech is its AR display, which overlays 3D images over and around the real world. This is accomplished through a stack of waveguides that allow light to pass along them invisibly, then bounce it out towards your eye from the proper angle to form the image you see.

The “ugly” assembly in question – pic courtesy of iFixit.

The waveguide assembly has 6 layers: one for each color channel (red, blue, and green) twice over, arranged so that by adjusting the image you can change the perceived distance and size of the object being displayed.

There isn’t a lot out there like this, and certainly nothing intended for consumer use, so we can forgive Magic Leap for shipping something a little bit inelegant by iFixit’s standards: “The insides of the lenses are surprisingly ugly, with prominent IR LEDs, a visibly striated waveguide “display” area, and some odd glue application.”

After all, the insides of devices like the iPhone X or Galaxy Note 9 should and do reflect a more mature hardware ecosystem and many iterations of design along the same lines. This is a unique, first-of-its-kind device and as a devkit the focus is squarely on getting the functionality out there. It will almost certainly be refined in numerous ways to avoid future chiding by hardware snobs.

That’s also evident from the eye-tracking setup, which from its position at the bottom of the eye will likely perform better when you’re looking down and straight ahead rather than upwards. Future versions may include more robust tracking systems.

Another interesting piece is the motion-tracking setup. A little box hanging off the edge of the headset is speculated to be the receiver for the magnetic field-based motion controller. I remember using magnetic interference motion controllers back in 2010 — no doubt there have been improvements, but this doesn’t seem to be particularly cutting edge tech. An improved control scheme can probably be expected in future iterations, as this little setup is pretty much independent of the rest of the device’s operation.

Let’s not judge Magic Leap on this interesting public prototype — let us instead judge them on the farcically ostentatious promises and eye-popping funding of the last few years. If they haven’t burned through all that cash, there are years of development left in the creation of a practical and affordable consumer device using these principles and equipment. Many more teardowns to come!

iFixit cracks open the $2,295 Magic Leap One to inspect its guts

The folks at iFixit have finally got their hands on Magic Leap’s long-awaited augmented reality headset. And as usual they’re taking it apart to check out what powers this device, except this time they’re saving you a hefty $2,295 in the process.

Magic Leap was founded in 2010 and has raised more than a billion dollars from some heavy-hitters in the tech industry like Google, Qualcomm, and Alibaba. But it wasn’t until just this month that the company started shipping its first product, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. 

“The Magic Leap One’s mixed-reality tech has been so much pie in the sky for so long, we can hardly believe we have it on our teardown table” points out iFixit in their breakdown. “Based on the amount of money raised for this project, we’re hoping it’s powered by pixie dust—but only a teardown will tell.”

iFixit’s breakdown of the headset finds 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, as well as the Nvidia Tegra X2 SoC, which they point out is most often found in self-driving cars. Infrared sensors to track eye movement as well as lenses with 6 layers — one for each color channel on two separate focal planes.

The Magic Leap One’s “Lightpack,” which is a small wearable computer that powers the headset, is also dissected unveiling its battery, cooling power, and a number of chips by companies such as NVIDIA and Samsung. iFixit also breaks down how the headset tracks the location of the device’s handheld controller via magnetic copper coils.

The experts at iFixit ended up settling on a fairly low grade for the device citing things such as “intense glue barriers,” battery location, and lack of upgradability. With all this in mind, iFixit saddled the Magic Leap One with a 3 out of 10 repairability score. But, as we’ve previously pointed out, at this price level, the device is clearly aimed at developers interested in building on the Magic Leap platform.

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