The power and potential of mixed reality

Robert C. Jones Jr., 12-07-2019

With remarks by entrepreneur and alumnus Rony Abovitz, a recent event at the Kislak Center showcased the future of ‘the transformative partnership’ between the University and Magic Leap.
Magic Leap Executive Leadership forum
Rony Abovitz, alumnus and CEO and founder of Magic Leap, demonstrates a UM-developed application designed for the Magic Leap One headset. Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami


Laura Kohn-Wood slipped on the pair of mixed reality glasses and within a few seconds her face lit up like a youngster opening a chest chock-full of presents on Christmas Day. 

With a few clicks of a hand-held trigger device, she was in downtown Los Angeles, accessing information on automobile traffic patterns and the locations of area construction sites. A few moments later, she was suddenly comparing the demographics—everything from income and educational levels—of different cities. 

“Fascinating,” said Kohn-Wood, dean of the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development. “An interesting way to explore multiple sources of information about urban spaces around the globe. The sheer comprehensiveness of data available in an interactive format is incredible. And I am not a techie.” 

Kohn-Wood was singing the praises of Smart City, a data visualization application designed by Magic Leap, the Plantation, Florida-based company founded by alumnus Rony Abovitz that is partnering with the University of Miami on what’s being called Project Alexandria. 

As part of that alliance, the University is serving as the testing ground for the company’s first-generation mixed reality headsets called Magic Leap One, which move computing from a 2-D environment to the 3-D world. 

Last Wednesday at the Kislak Center in the Otto G. Richter Library, not only was the potential of that technology displayed in the form of Magic Leap- and UM-developed applications designed for the headsets, but Abovitz spoke on the future of the collaboration between his alma mater and the company he started, saying that he is excited about the projects that are being developed and is looking forward to what the next five to ten years hold. 

“What happens when hundreds or thousands of students start to live this? What happens when it’s actually a part of life? For us, this is super exciting,” he said. 

Super exciting for the University community as well. 

In fact, more than 70 potential project requests have been submitted to the Office of the Provost by faculty and staff who have ideas on how to integrate Magic Leap’s mixed reality technology into their classrooms and research. The alliance is also enhanced by the November announcement that the University will be the first college campus to deploy AT&T 5G+ and AT&T Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) technology, which will seamlessly integrate with Magic Leap’s spatial computing platform. 

“This widespread enthusiasm from faculty from all schools and colleges of the University of Miami shows the transformative power of Magic Leap in higher education,” said Jean-Pierre Bardet, vice provost for strategic projects in the Office of the Provost, noting that in the month of September alone the University opened a Magic Leap lab inside the Richter Library. 

Kohn-Wood said she is interested in using Magic Leap technology to create “classrooms of tomorrow.” 

“I envision innovative ways to teach STEM with K-12 students, particularly those students in our community who do not typically have access to cutting-edge technology,” she said. 

Faculty are finding the help they need at the XR Garage on the fifth floor of the McArthur Engineering Building, where Max Cacchione, director of innovation for Information Technology, and his team of tech-savvy students employ their technical know-how to assist them in developing their ideas for augmented and mixed reality projects that blend physical and virtual settings. 

Cacchione called the pace at which the partnership with Magic Leap has been developing “extraordinary,” a sentiment echoed by UM President Julio Frenk last Wednesday. 

Other than the pact the University established with Coral Gables developers in 1925 to create a space in the city that would serve as the institution’s home, the alliance with Magic Leap is “potentially the most transformative partnership the University has ever established in its existence,” Frenk said. 

“For everything we are doing, Magic Leap has enormous value,” he added, referring specifically to three pillars—lifelong learning, mission-driven research and healthcare—of the institution’s strategic plan for its next century.

Abovitz said the University is exceeding his expectations. 

But what was it about UM that made him feel it would be a good place to initiate such a partnership, Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, asked the entrepreneur on Wednesday during a Q&A session that followed the technology demonstrations. 

“My thought was the University represents all walks of life—art, engineering, physics, sociology, law, medicine,” explained Abovitz. “And I thought what we’re doing could cut across all walks of life. Where else could you find that condensation among place?” 

At Wednesday’s event, UM students were among the stars of the show, demoing some of the University-developed applications created using Magic Leap technology. 

With one of the event attendees looking through a pair of the special headsets, software engineering major Rachel De Paz described how the Vectors in Space application she helped develop works, explaining that the visualization tool helps mechanical and civil engineering students visualize vectors for a Mechanics of Solids class they are required to take. 

“This is my dream,” said De Paz about the opportunity to do programming for the application, “and I’d like to continue doing mixed reality projects after I graduate.” 

Among the other UM-developed applications on display: 

  • Multi-World, a model for mixed-reality exhibitions. The application complements exhibits with interactive virtual content such as text, images, videos, and 3-D models. Multi-Worlds would be used in traditional gallery and museum spaces as well as at convention halls, fairs, and conferences.
  • ARchitect, which allows users to create floor plans for a home or other indoor setting based on the scanning capabilities of Magic Leap One. 
  • The U Experience, an immersive application that explores UM’s Coral Gables campus. 
  • Airway Fire, which allows the user to visualize combustion when dealing with intubated patients who are receiving high concentrations of oxygen while undergoing surgery.
  • VR Duel, a mixed reality sword fight built with the latest “transmission” toolkit published by Magic Leap on the creator portal.