If you've been on the internet today, you know exactly what the "Magic Leap" is...or rather, you know what it does - it is a set of VR glasses with something a little extra special. It places virtual objects in front of you in such a way that your eyes have to focus forward or backward in order to see them. This is different from other VR technologies that have everything in focus at the same time on a screen in front of you. The end effect is that virtual objects far away will actually seem far away as you have to physically focus your eyes just like in the real world.

How The Magic Leap Works

There is a little bit of speculation here, but I have a little bit of a clue. Wired did a short video for about them and gave three major clues: 1) One of the Magic Leap employees showed a clear "lens" that he described as a 3D photon wafer/chip, 2) They told us that your eye has to focus close/far depending on the virtual object, and 3) That "lens" has "structures" on it that bend photons.

 

So what does this tell us? Likely what we are seeing here is very similar technology to what Lytro uses in it's cameras.The way a Lytro camera works is it has a lens with infinite focus. In a nutshell, infinite focus is similar to what your eyes do if you gaze off into the distance - things in front of you get fuzzy and things far away get crisper. Behind the lens is the camera receptor. After you take a snapshot with a Lytro camera, you are then able to use a bit of math to digitally change your focus AFTER you take the picture. So, if you want to focus on something on the background, the algorithm will focus on the background. Something on the foreground, it will focus on that, and so on.

 

The Magic Leap "lens" (they don't really call it a lens) works nearly the same way. It is likely made of three layers - the first layer (closest to your eyes) is that infinite focus lens. It will have tiny, independent lenses for each pixel in the next layer, a transparent OLED screen. The third and final layer is another set of lenses.

 

Going back to the Lytro example, things that are close to you in infinite focus seem blurry while far-away objects seem crisp. There is an algorithm in the Magic Leap glasses that take advantage of this effect and will create an "inversely blurred" image that is then corrected by the first lens layer. How much you digitally "inverse blur" the image on the OLED screen will determine how close or far that image seems to you. And in order to see it clearly, your eyes will have to focus in or out to see the virtual object that is similarly close or far away from you.

 

So....what about the third layer?  In order to use augmented/mixed reality, you need to be able to see the rest of the world around you. That first layer (the one that creates an infinite focus for each OLED pixel) on its own would make everything incredibly blurry and hard to see. In order to counteract that, you have inverse optics on that third, outer layer that will bring items into a very tight focus so that once that light passes through the third layer, through the second, and then back through the first, you get the same image you started with.

 

Not sure if I have it right? Take a look at the video below. If you catch anything I miss, be sure to tell me in the comments 🙂