Google, augmented reality startup Magic Leap strike partnership deal

Google, augmented reality startup Magic Leap strike partnership deal

Alphabet’s Google ( GOOGL.O ) and augmented reality startup Magic Leap are forming a strategic technology partnership and working to build immersive experiences that combine the physical and digital worlds.

Magic Leap said in a blog post on Thursday that the two companies have agreed to a partnership. A Google spokesperson confirmed the deal.

While short on details, the announcement adds to the signal that Google may be planning a return to the market for augmented reality (AR/VR) technology that has so far been largely ceded to rivals Meta ( META.O ) and Apple ( AAPL .O ).

The partnership will combine Florida-based Magic Leap’s expertise in optics and device manufacturing with Google’s technology platform, Magic Leap said.

“We’ve shipped several different versions of augmented reality devices so far, so we’re out there delivering something, and Google has a long history of platform thinking,” Magic Leap Chief Technology Officer Julie Larson-Green told Reuters in an interview before the announcement.

“So we thought, putting our expertise and their expertise together, there’s a lot we can do,” he said.

Google is an investor in Magic Leap, which is majority owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The startup was an early fan in the AR headset space, but struggled to find a consumer niche and recently began exploring arrangements to license its technology or produce components for others.

Magic Leap and Google both declined to say whether the partnership is expected to result in a consumer AR device. Google has also been working with Samsung Electronics ( 005930.KS ) since early last year to develop mixed reality technology, which a Google spokeswoman said did not change with the deal with Magic Leap.

Larson-Green said he’s very much looking forward to working with some of the “great AI ties” to augmented reality that Google announced at its annual developer conference earlier this month.

In a video at the event, Google demonstrated an AI agent called Project Astra by having someone wear prototype glasses and asking the agent questions about what the person was seeing. Agents provide answers in both audio form and as digital text superimposed on the lens.

The functionality is similar to what Meta plans for Ray-Ban’s Meta Smart Glasses, which added an AI assistant last year and in April received a software update that allows agents to identify objects the wearer is looking at in audio form.

First mover

If Google were to return to making AR glasses, it would be another dramatic shift in the company’s renewed relationship with the technology.

Google was the first mover in what was touted as the AR revolution more than a decade ago, when it introduced its Google Glass smart glasses. His enthusiasm at the time was so great that he unveiled the device in an elaborate 2012 demo involving a skydiver using goggles to live-stream a jump into a San Francisco building.

However, users recoiled at the product’s clunky design and privacy concerns, so much so that those who wear it are sometimes called “glass holes.” Google retreated from the consumer market in 2015 and then left the enterprise market as well.

However, two years ago, the company returned with a preview of a new set of glasses that it said would display real-time translation of conversations in English, Mandarin, Spanish and American Sign Language.

The project’s future was thrown into doubt in January, when Google laid off hundreds of workers in its hardware unit, including the majority of its AR team.

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