Google Inc is making a big bet on augmented reality, leading a US$542 million investment in a shadowy startup called Magic Leap Inc, based in Dania Beach, Florida.
The investment, one of the largest ever made by Google, values Magic Leap at about US$2 billion, according to people briefed on the matter, but not authorized to discuss the deal publicly. Other investors in the round include Qualcomm Ventures, Legendary Entertainment, private equity firm KKR, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz and Obvious Ventures.
Google’s role as the lead investor is significant. Just seven months ago, Facebook Inc stunned Silicon Valley with a US$2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR Inc, a virtual reality company. Facebook believes that Oculus can be a new sort of operating system as people continue to find new ways to interact with computers.
Google views Magic Leap in much the same way, according to people briefed on the company’s thinking. As people become more comfortable with wearable technology, technologies like Magic Leap — which superimposes animated digital imagery over what someone sees with the naked eye — is likely to become more commonplace.
Already, Google makes a similar technology on its own, Google Glass. Though nascent, Google Glass has attracted enthusiastic early adopters, who use the glasses — which have small computer displays embedded in the lenses — to do simple tasks like search the Internet, take photographs and send messages.
Magic Leap has broader ambitions. On its Web site, the little-known company outlines an ambitious vision for displaying rich interactive graphics alongside what people see naturally, using what it calls a “dynamic digitized lightfield signal.”
“Magic Leap is an eclectic group of visionaries, rocket scientists, wizards and gurus from the fields of film, robotics, visualization, software, computing and user experience,” the company says on its Web site.
As part of the deal, Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, will join the Magic Leap board.
“We are looking forward to Magic Leap’s next stage of growth, and to seeing how it will shape the future of visual computing,” Pichai said.
Qualcomm executive chairman Paul Jacobs and Google vice president of corporate development Don Harrison are to take observer roles on the board.
“We are excited and honored to have such an extraordinary group of investors to help us bring our vision and products to the world,” Magic Leap chief executive Rony Abovitz said.
“Magic Leap is going beyond the current perception of mobile computing, augmented reality and virtual reality. We are transcending all three and will revolutionize the way people communicate, purchase, learn, share and play,” Abovitz added.
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