South Florida can become an AR hub, with top business users departing, she says
By Doreen Hemlock
In our daily lives, we already use a mix of digital and physical reality when we follow a blue line on satellite maps on our cell phones to drive or walk to a destination.
In the future, we’ll likely replace the phone with a headset that superimposes that blue line over our physical reality, keeping our hands free for other tasks. Eventually, the headset will likely be replaced by contact lenses, making augmented reality (AR) even more convenient and ubiquitous for a myriad of tasks.
That was the vision sketched out on Friday by Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, the Plantation-based company that makes AR headsets, primarily aimed at the enterprise, hospital, university and government market. She spoke at a luncheon hosted by Opportunity Miami, the Beacon Council’s program to improve the long-term development of Miami-Dade County.
“It’s very science fiction, but it happens,” Johnson told an audience of nearly 100 people at the University of Miami, led by Opportunity Miami’s Council of Academic Leaders. “Everything will become smaller and lighter and have more computing power.”
Magic Leap has just unveiled its second-generation AR headset, Magic Leap 2, which is more compact, offers a wider field of view and now has dimming features to better adjust in brightly lit environments. Among its many uses: superimposing digital images when a mechanic looks at a broken machine, so that a worker can repair the machine more quickly; or showing a computer-generated 3D map of the brain, heart or other organs, so a medical team can map surgical pathways before an operation, Johnson said.
“I think at some point we’ll look back and say, ‘Remember when we used to have surgeries without augmentation,'” she said, comparing this future change to how we look back now and wonder how we met friends at a concert before cell phones.
Still, widespread consumer use of AR headsets remains a long way off, in part because of the high price of the units, Johnson concedes. The Magic Leap 2, for example, sells for nearly $3,300. Still, as the technology matures and prices come down, consumers could be using it regularly in perhaps five years, with contact lenses going strong in perhaps 10 years — maybe longer, Johnson said.
Still, opportunities now abound for computer programmers to develop applications for AR technology, and local schools can help in that regard by training the necessary talent, Johnson said. Indeed, Magic Leap, launched by former University of Miami Rony Abovitz, has an agreement with the university to help the company develop new uses. Students are already using Magic Leap headsets in the classroom, for example, for training simulations.
“It’s the start of a new medium,” Johnson said, noting that Apple, Amazon, Meta (formerly Facebook) and others are all pursuing AR and related fields. “We can make South Florida a center for mixed reality, augmented reality, virtual reality… We need content creators. We also need more people to work on next-gen products, so we have hardware and software needs.
Try Magic Leap 2 headsets
The lunch offered attendees a chance to try out the new Magic Leap 2 headset, and venture capitalist Kat Wilson, for her part, was impressed. “The visuals looked like a video game,” the Miami Angels general manager said. “You could get a lot of data to use to make a decision quickly.”
UM sophomore Marcos Morales, a computer engineering student, liked how the colors are more vivid and the peripheral vision much wider than the Magic Leap 1 set he now uses at school. ‘school. He works on campus, helping to develop new applications for the AR product, such as vector visualization to help civil engineers determine the direction and strength of forces that can affect buildings. “It’s really cool that I have a coding job,” said the 20-year-old from Tampa, excited to be working with AR already.
Matt Haggman, the former journalist and Knight Foundation leader who now runs Opportunity Miami, led the conversation with Johnson and opened the floor for questions. In his responses, Johnson said Magic Leap now employs some 1,100 people, with headquarters and manufacturing in South Florida and offices in US locations such as Boulder and Austin and overseas in Israel. With more than $2 billion in funding to date, the 12-year-old company has money to operate for two years without raising additional capital, she added.
A participant asked about Johnson’s personal transition to CEO of a small business after leading business development at Microsoft and working 24 years at Qualcomm, starting as an engineer. She took over as head of Magic Leap in 2020 after the company laid off and began to focus on the consumer. Her response was applauded: “There are so few female CEOs. It was very meaningful to me that I showed my daughter, you can be a CEO, and you can be a CEO in a technology field.
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