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First Photos of Magic Leap Augmented Reality Prototype Leaked (Update)

February 11, 2017, 5:16 PM UTC

Anonymous sources have passed Business Insider what they say is the first public photo of a prototype version of the Magic Leap augmented reality device.

Magic Leap promises to seamlessly generate digital images that appear, to the user, to be in the ‘real’ world. The company has generated major interest among techies, along with over $1 billion in investment, and has been valued at $4.5 billion.

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However, Magic Leap has repeatedly faced accusations of promising too much or misrepresenting its progress. That included a 2015 promo video that eventually turned out to be a simulation created by a special effects house, not a real product in action. Late last year, a hands-on report by The Information found Magic Leap’s technology underwhelming.

In response, some even went so far as to wonder if Magic Leap was the “next Theranos,” on its way to crashing in a storm of unfulfilled hype.

The new leaked photo could help deflate Magic Leap’s hype further, in ways both unfair and totally legitimate. Some wags (including Business Insider’s tech editor) have taken shots at the ramshackle look of the thing—including a battery pack that the user is holding in his left hand.

But it is, after all, a prototype. Business Insider’s source indicated that a more refined setup, mounted on a belt instead of a backpack, will be ready for a private demonstration to the company’s board next week.

But the photo should still fuel legitimate concern about Magic Leap’s progress. It’s worrisome that the device requires so much hardware—backpack, belt pack, or otherwise. Google’s Glass, released in 2013, managed to pack a functional computer and image projector into a thumb-sized sliver. And Microsoft’s HoloLens AR device, already available in a developer edition, fits entirely into a moderately bulky headset.

For some of the promised uses of augmented reality, particularly in industry, wearing a headset with a beltpack wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. But Magic Leap’s promotional focus has largely been on creating immersive consumer experiences, and for that, seamless, lightweight hardware would be a must.

Update: Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz has stated on Twitter that the photo is of an “R&D test rig” used to gather environmental data, not a prototype.

This article was updated with a statement from Magic Leap’s CEO on February 12 at 10:31 AM.