South Florida could become a hub for augmented reality, with businesses being the early adopters in the beginning, she says
Written by Doreen Hemlock
In our daily lives, we already use a combination of digital and physical reality when we follow a blue line on satellite maps on our mobile phones to drive or walk to a destination.
In the future, we’ll likely replace the phone with a headset that covers that blue line on our physical reality, while keeping our hands free for other tasks. Eventually, the headset will likely replace contact lenses, making augmented reality (AR) more convenient and ubiquitous for myriad tasks.
That was the vision outlined by Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, the Plantation-based company that makes augmented reality headsets, aimed primarily at the enterprise market of companies, hospitals, universities and government. She spoke at a luncheon organized by Opportunity Miami, a Miami-Dade Beacon Council program that looks to promote the long-term development of Miami-Dade County.
“It’s very sci-fi, but it’s coming,” Johnson told an audience of about 100 people at the University of Miami, which is led by Opportunity Miami’s Council of Academic Leaders. “Everything will get smaller, lighter, and have more computing power.”
Magic Leap just unveiled its second-generation AR headset, the Magic Leap 2, which is more compact, offers a wider field of view and now has dimmer features for better tuning in brightly lit settings. Among its many uses: overlaying digital images when a mechanic is looking at a broken machine, so that a worker can repair the machine more quickly; Or display a computer-generated 3D map of the brain, heart or other organs, so the medical team can plot surgical paths before an operation, Johnson said.
“I think at some point we’re going to look back and say, ‘Remember when we used to have surgeries without augmentation,'” she said, likening this futuristic shift to the way we look back now and wonder how we used to meet friends at prom before cellphones.
However, widespread consumer use of AR headsets is still a long way off, due in part to the high price of the units, Johnson acknowledges. The Magic Leap 2 retails for about $3,300, for example. However, as the technology matures and prices fall, consumers may be using them regularly in perhaps five years, with contact lenses coming out strongly in perhaps 10 years — possibly even longer, Johnson said.
Johnson said that opportunities abound now for computer programmers to develop applications for augmented reality technology, and local schools can help in this regard by training the required talent. In fact, Magic Leap, which was started by Ronnie Abovitz at the University of Miami, has an agreement with the university to help the company develop new uses. Students already use Magic Leap headphones in class, for example, to simulate training.
“This is the beginning of a new medium,” Johnson said, noting that Apple, Amazon, Meta (formerly Facebook) and others are all pursuing augmented reality and related fields. “We can make South Florida a hub for mixed reality, augmented reality, virtual reality… We need content builders. We need more people working on next-gen products too, so we have the hardware and software needs.”
Try the Magic Leap 2 headphones
The luncheon gave participants the chance to try out the new Magic Leap 2 headset, and venture capitalist Cat Wilson, for one, was impressed. “The visuals looked like a video game,” said the Miami Angels’ managing director. “You get a lot of data to use for quick decision making.”
Computer engineering student Marcos Morales, a sophomore at UM, liked how the colors are more vibrant and the peripheral vision is much wider than the Magic Leap 1 kit he now uses at school. Working on campus, he helps develop new applications for the augmented reality product, such as vector visualization to help civil engineers see the direction and strength of forces that can affect buildings. “It’s really cool that I actually have functional coding,” said the 20-year-old from Tampa, who is glad he’s already working with AR.
Matt Hagman, a former journalist and leader of the Knight Foundation who now heads Opportunity Miami, led the conversation with Johnson and opened the floor for questions. In her responses, Johnson said Magic Leap now employs about 1,100 people, with headquarters and manufacturing in South Florida and offices in US locations such as Boulder and Austin and abroad in Israel. She added that with more than $2 billion in financing to date, the 12-year-old company has the funds to operate for two years without raising additional capital.
An attendee asked about Johnson’s personal transition to CEO for a smaller venture after heading business development at Microsoft and working for 24 years at Qualcomm, starting as an engineer. She took over the leadership of Magic Leap in 2020 after the company laid off workers and began a shift from consumer focus.
Her answer elicited applause: “There are very few female CEOs out there. It was very helpful for me to show my daughter, that you can be a CEO, you can be a tech CEO.”
Read more about the MIAMI update: Magic Leap 2 hit the market, and the UM community got a first look