A local tech guru with an impressive track record is working on a mysterious new consumer product in Hollywood.
Rony Abovitz, former chief visionary officer and co-founder of Davie-based Mako Surgical Corp. — which recently sold for $1.65 billion — has a new company called Magic Leap.
He calls his product "Cinematic Reality." But what is it? Abovitz isn't ready yet to share details.
"Magic Leap is building a system and platform that will forever change the way people and computers work together," Abovitz said.
Could it be something along the lines of the new movie Her, where a man falls in love with his operating system? Or perhaps Star Trek, where characters are beamed up from another ship or planet?
"There are things in the movies that people have seen that they will associate with what we're doing," he said, vaguely.
All the 43-year-old Abovitz will say is that the product involves entertainment and personal computing, and will be "the most natural and human-friendly wearable computing interface in the world."
Like Google Glass?
Abovitz said Google Glass, a wearable computer, is actually old technology spiffed up from military use. In contrast, he calls Magic Leap's technology a "breakthrough" in physics and optics. A U.S. patent application description filed by Abovitz says the invention involves "virtual and augmented reality environments ... generated by computers."
The entrepreneur has been impressing investors. Magic Leap announced last week that it has raised a total of $50 million in initial funding. Abovitz said the company will use the funds to build its team to commercially develop the product and is getting ready to move into new Hollywood offices in the next two months.
Abovitz has shown the technology to some investors and confidantes. When they see the technology, "almost every cynical person who has come by becomes a 10-year-old kid again," he said.
Abovitz has been wildly successful before. At Mako Surgical, he was "instrumental in helping us define our vision and direction," said Dr. Maurice Ferre, co-founder of Mako Surgical, which developed robotic devices for use by surgeons in knee transplants.
With his new venture, "I think he's on to something that's very transformational," said Ferre, who said he has no financial investment in Magic Leap. "He's going to create a whole new industry here in South Florida.
"I predict it will be as big as when IBM came here in the '80s," he said.
Scott Banks, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida, is not surprised either by Abovitz's caginess or his grand plans.
"He's just a big thinker," said Banks, who worked with him beginning in 2004 when Abovitz was developing the robotics for what became Mako's surgical system.
Banks recalls getting an intriguing call in 2004, when he first joined UF, from Abovitz and a colleague. They visited, asked him to sign a confidentiality document, and then proceeded to amaze him.
"He was laying out the vision for what became Mako Surgical, to lever their expertise on the technology side of orthopedics and become an implant company.
"At the time it was an audacious plan. I think my response was, 'this is crazy, but when can we start?' "
Banks and his students began working with Abovitz and his team and continue to work with Mako. Meanwhile, Mako went public in 2008, grew to employ 400 people, and in December was acquired by a Fortune 500 medical manufacturer. Michigan-based Stryker Corp. paid $1.65 billion for the company — an 86 percent premium over Mako's stock price at the time — even though the company is not yet profitable.
Dr. Martin Roche, an orthopaedic surgeon at Holy Cross Hospital who has done about 800 knee transplants using the Mako device, said Abovitz comes across as the "mad professor," but "he's always five years ahead."
Roche said back in 2005, some in the scientific and business community cast doubts about Mako reaching its goals, but Abovitz had the business savvy and persistence to see it through. "He's a brilliant guy," Roche said.
The success of taking that company public and later selling it didn't hurt Abovitz in raising money for his new venture, he said. Abovitz began Magic Leap in 2011 while he still was a consultant at Mako.
"Magic Leap has the potential to be a larger company than Mako," Abovitz said. The company employs "under 100" now but he expects it to hire several hundred people as its products come on to the market.
But technophiles will have to wait to see the product: it will take at least another year to launch.
A slow release of information is Abovitz's style — he likes to build excitement about a product, say those who know him. And, like Mako, he hopes build the products in South Florida.
"We are exploring exactly what we need to build a full-fledged robot factory right here in Florida. I think it's important to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.," Abovitz said.
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