How Can We Bring FOSS to the Virtual World?

Liam Broza

Is there room for FOSS in the AI, VR, AR, MR, ML and XR revolutions—or vice versa?

Will the free and open-source revolution end when our most personal computing happens inside the walled gardens of proprietary AI VR, AR, MR, ML and XR companies? I ask, because that's the plan.

I could see that plan when I met the Magic Leap One at IIW in October (only a few days ago as I write this). The ML1 (my abbreviation) gave me an MR (mixed reality) experience when I wore all of this:

  • Lightwear (a headset).
  • Control (a handset).
  • Lightpack (electronics in a smooth disc about the size of a saucer).

So far, all Magic Leap offers is a Creator Edition. That was the one I met. Its price is $2,295, revealed only at the end of a registration gauntlet that requires name, email address, birth date and agreement with two click-wrap contracts totaling more than 7,000 words apiece. Here's what the page with the price says you get:

Magic Leap One Creator Edition is a lightweight, wearable computer that seamlessly blends the digital and physical worlds, allowing digital content to coexist with real world objects and the people around you. It sees what you see and uses its understanding of surroundings and context to create unbelievably believable experiences.

Also recommended on the same page are a shoulder strap ($30), a USB (or USB-like) dongle ($60) and a "fit kit" ($40), bringing the full price to $2,425.

Buying all this is the cost of entry for chefs working in the kitchen, serving apps and experiences to customers paying to play inside Magic Leap's walled garden: a market Magic Leaps hopes will be massive, given an investment sum that now totals close to $2 billion.

The experience it created for me, thanks to the work of one early developer, was with a school of digital fish swimming virtually in my physical world. Think of a hologram without a screen. I could walk through them, reach out and make them scatter, and otherwise interact with them. It was a nice demo, but far from anything I might crave.

But I wondered, given Magic Leap's secretive and far-advanced tech, if it could eventually make me crave things. I ask because immersive doesn't cover what this tech does. A better adjective might be invasive.