*Magic Leap by Tony Molina
“I want to note that I am in no way affiliated or receiving compensation from any of the companies mentioned in this article. I simply want to share some of my experiences and joys from within the industry with you.” -Tony Molina
Shot Show is a fantastic place where all facets of the shooting industry come together. Walking the floor, there are seemingly unlimited amazing things to check out and get hands-on. Grenade launchers, competition race guns, body armor, optics, and training simulators are just a few of the grains of sand at the beach that is Shot Show. I was very aware of what I wanted to see and hoisted my sail to allow the winds of SHOT to pull me towards all of the things I did not know I wanted to see. Fortune would have it that one of those winds would guide me to the most fascinating booth at the show.
My colleague and I were covering ground when a lady holding some business cards made eye contact with us. She saw “training and schools” on our badges, made her approach, and handed us each a card saying we should come by and check out the booth for a demo. The name on the card said “Magic Leap” and the words “Augmented Reality”. Apparently, it also said “come by and shoot a tank”, but being familiar with VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) from video games and other media, my enthusiasm did not allow me to make it that far down the text. Ben and I quickly changed course and went to the bottom floor of the Venetian to search out this booth.
Tucked away in the back corner of the floor was a unique looking booth with some replica firearms. If you have been to a Shot Show, you may have handled some of these replicas at various training simulation booths. They feel like real firearms, but they have air tanks that simulate actual felt recoil without using any projectiles. These are incredible in their own right, but coupled with a projector screen, I’ve had some great experiences training and having fun with these on various 2D simulations.
Now this booth was pretty unique. It contained hallways with blind corners, however, there was nothing inside. After a quick discussion on the equipment, I put on a magical pair of glasses that allowed me to experience some augmented reality. For those unaware, AR allows you to see the world around you, but you can add digital content like vehicles, barrels, people, and yes even tanks. The wonderful people at the booth took me through the first demo area, which was a shooting range. Fun steel targets were set up in a bay, and a blowback pistol was in my hand. Needless to say, the steel never had a chance. After that I was brought to my favorite part of the demo, VITA.
VITA stands for Virtual Immersive Training Application. I was handed an AR-15 replica with the aforementioned gas recoil technology and told to “clear your way through the halls and watch out for threats”. I sliced the first corner and found a mean looking man who began pointing a gun at me. Seemed like a threat to me, so I gave him 3 shots high center of mass, which must have tired him out cause he took a nap right where he was standing. As I continued toward the left bend, I saw a man in a white shirt with his hands up. At first he appeared distraught, then I realized he was practicing his rain dance. He was clearly not a threat at the moment so I maneuvered around the next hall and saw a man with body armor and a rifle pointing at the rain dancer. He must have been hydrophobic. He began swinging his rifle at me, likely assuming I was a backup dancer. I had no choice and gave him two rounds to the upper chest and upon processing the armor I instinctively placed a couple more to the groin and head to be sure he would not continue to be a threat. I was happy with my training in that brief moment. As I continued my task, I cut the fatal corner and saw another angry adversary pointing a rifle at me. He quickly gained an additional 3 air holes in the middle of his chest and was no longer a threat to me or the rain dancer.
Before continuing you must be asking yourself what kind of person I am to have all these previously “stand up guys” pointing guns at me at first sight. I do my best to be a genuinely good person, so your guess is as good as mine. Since being a “bad person” isn’t a crime (yet) and pointing guns at people is, I deemed them as threats and prioritized self preservation.
Afterward, I got to speak with Angel Trudeau, Senior QA engineer, who showed me the master view of the whole event. I could watch a playback of my entire experience, where my gun was pointing, where my eyes were looking, where my shots landed, and much more. I was blown away and with my interest peaked, I began to fire tons of questions about Magic Leap technology and the people behind it. Angel happily gave me answers and more. He explained that they use the Unity game engine which has some impressive capabilities. One can scan any 3D area and replicate it elsewhere. They can code in NPCs (non-player characters), objects, and more and project them into the reality or replicated setting. I appreciated everything Angel was telling me and needed more information. That was when I was led over to Joe Nolan, their Senior Program Manager, Business Development.
Joe answered all of my questions (sorry, there were so many, Joe!). He gave me incredible insight into the possibilities of this AR for firearm instructors like myself. One thing instructors in all industries work hard to do is give students practice with stress inoculation to replicate real world performance. While instructing on the range I use tools like shot timers and get creative like slapping students across the glasses (and face) with wet paper towels to help them apply fundamentals under pressure. Now that will only go so far. Magic Leap allows a much deeper level of replicating the “real world” part of training pressure. You can scan any 3D that evokes powerful and familiar settings. Scan their house, and they can actually engage in training with all the familiarity of their living room. It gets better because you can get “drop-in” kits for your home defense firearms that render them inoperable but simulate full recoil and function.
Let’s say a firearms instructor like myself wants to prepare somebody for home defense. Imagine how real the training becomes when you see a violent attacker coming through your living room. Being forced to fire and witnessing them bleed out on your couch. For those intense mental moments, the gravity of actually having to use deadly force in self-defense becomes particularly real. It might even give unexpected answers about if somebody is really ready to take a life in order to protect themselves or others.
Now in Wyoming we teach quite a few “bear defense” classes to hunters, fishers, hikers, and anybody else spending time in bear territory. I even wrote a book about it, Handgun Selection for Grizzly Bear Defense (shameless plug). I would love to code in a grizzly bear attack with a bear charging the student with live fire at the range. Few people truly realize how hard it is to hit a moving target, especially one as formidable and fast as a bear. After the adrenaline and stress fade from the staggering realism, we can dissect performance indicators. You can track performance like paper targets never could. Find out how long it takes you to see a threat emerge, how many seconds it took from holster to target, where each shot landed, and what angle the projectiles hit the anatomy all while the hulking mass threw its claws and teeth directly at you. One could even scan a local school or church that they are responsible for protecting and learn the layout with real time threats and innocent bystanders. The list of possibilities seems endless to my imagination.
I knew Joe was a busy man and couldn’t spend another 20 minutes talking to somebody so full of energy and excitement, so I let him continue on his way to another important meeting. My colleague and I were preparing to hoist the sails again when a warm and friendly lady with Magic Leap asked, “So, what did you guys think?”. We clearly overflowed with excitement, and her response shocked us. “That’s awesome! You are the only people I’ve seen that are this excited about it.” We were floored at the comment and thanked her for her time. As we set sail into the Shot Show Sea once more both of us had the same question. “How could anybody NOT be this ecstatic about Magic Leap?”
We saw a great many other things at that show including celebrities in the industry, amazing new firearms, tools, gadgets, ideas, companies, and the people behind the products. However, nothing quite approached the amazement we experienced at the Magic Leap booth. It was truly the highlight of our trip. To be fair, the Inveris booth had technical difficulties, and we couldn’t utilize their AR demo. When I asked, “How does it stack up to the Magic Leap technology?” Their representative pointed up at a shelf and said, “That’s exactly what we have.” I was thrilled to see the potential for this technology getting some backing.
Alas, I will be following this technology very closely. The training potential is incredible and refreshing to see in my favorite industry. I am excited to get hands on and pass the experiences to students, instructors, and friends alike. Aside from practicality, I love shooting sports and video games. This is a combination of two realms that have claimed untold countless hours, days, and years of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to see AR coming to fruition. If not for a friendly lady picking us out of a flowing river of people, I might not have had the great pleasure of knowing this technology exists. With our limited time engaging this wonderful woman, I failed to get her name written down and only recall that she was an event manager. You have our sincere thanks. My hope is to spread the word about Magic Leap, Inveris, and AR in the industry and beyond.
by Tony Molina
Range Operations Manager, Senior Lead Instructor
Jackson Hole Shooting Experience – Jackson, WY, February 4, 2023