From day one, my favorite thing about the Magic Leap One has been its portability. It's so well designed that it just screams to be taken out for a walk through the city. Alas, Magic Leap says the device is (currently) designed to be used indoors, preferably in settings containing few windows or black surfaces.
Based on some of the difficulties I've had scanning some indoor spaces, I understand this guideline. But I couldn't ignore the extreme mobile friendliness of the device, so I decided to take a chance and see what the Magic Leap One is capable of when used outdoors.
But I had to be strategic. I couldn't just walk out into the middle of the day and start using it on any corner and expect good results. Without walls (or wall-like structures) and with too much light, I couldn't even get started (I've already tried this briefly, and the device's sensors were unable to pick anything up). So I looked for a piece of New York City that's technically outside, but with the characteristics of a room.
It took some searching, but I finally settled upon a beautiful little nook in Central Park — the Conservatory Garden. Google Maps showed me that the garden had an area with stone benches and a leafy canopy, both of which I figured might be good enough to give me my room-like environment in nature.
In addition to location, I was also strategic about the time of day. I didn't want too much sunlight, so I went out with just a couple of hours of sunlight left in the day. The garden was pretty crowded at the time, but after my last experience in public with the device, I was convinced that I wouldn't be interrupted by questions from passers-by (New Yorkers have, apparently, seen it all), and I was right.
Launching the menu to open the Create app was easy, the toughest part was getting the Magic Leap One to find anything to scan. My initial assumption was that the device would attempt to use my previously saved WorldMesh scanning data from the last room I was in, but instead it prompted me to scan the outdoor space. We're in business!
At first it didn't pick anything up, but once I managed to scan a small portion of the ground, I was off to the races, and the device began picking up some of the characteristics of the canopy area, including the stone benches, leaf-lined columns with irregular shapes, and the approximation of a ceiling (albeit with many holes with sunlight shining through).
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Once that was done, I began populating the outside space with Create's animated characters, objects, gadgets, and tree life. This all happened as visitors continued to walk past and through my virtual objects, none of which were disturbed in any way as I continued to add to the scene. Of course, the WorldMesh scanning data wasn't perfect due to the lack of solid walls and the brightness of the outside environment, but it was good enough.
There's something oddly pleasant about experiencing the spatial audio emitted by the creatures in Create while at the same time processing the very real sounds of nature in the garden all around you.
Perhaps the biggest difference between using the Magic Leap One outside versus inside is that when you're outside, the virtual objects are more translucent (hobbling some of the occlusion aspects of virtual objects) and, as I mentioned before, object tracking to the real world wasn't always accurate due to the less than perfect environment the device's sensors had to work with when establishing the WorldMesh.
The official documentation from Magic Leap states "outdoor environments or environments with significant or continuous change should be avoided as they may lead to holes or incorrect geometry in the internal model." Nevertheless, the Magic Leap One's sensors were still up to the task.
After rolling a few virtual balls on the ground and even creating a vortex leading to the bottom of Central Park, I was satisfied that using the Magic Leap One outside, in very specific conditions, isn't just possible, it can be enjoyable. Now it's time to push this AR system even further to see what else it can do.
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