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Publisher's Letter

Publisher's Letter: Taking A Closer Look At Magic Leap

Eric Barton, whose freelance contributions have won several nice prizes for our Gulfstream Media magazine group in the last year, is back this month with another contender. His piece on Rony Abovitz’s mysterious Magic Leap company was written without any direct input from Abovitz himself. The man rarely does interviews, at least not recently, and his entire operation in Plantation is run in confidence worthy of the darkest CIA operation.

Our photo of him is a stock shot. Readers understandably are curious about this fascinating, still relatively young man. Fortunately, a publication for which Barton used to work managed to come up with the kind of background most of us want to know about a guy who, while still in school, began developing a company that he would eventually sell for $1.2 billion.

New Times, the alternative weekly newspaper, for whom Barton was Broward/Palm Beach editor when it still had a Broward County office (and when its staff hung out at the equally closed Maguire’s Hill 16) reached out to former classmates and other associates, and came up with the answers to some obvious questions.

Abovitz is the son of 1960s Israeli immigrants who moved their family to South Florida (originally Hollywood) in 1983. His father was in real estate, his mother an artist. They had five kids. Abovitz was a precocious student who attracted exceptionally bright friends. He attended the prestigious Nova School and got a scholarship to the University of Miami, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree and a master’s in biomedical engineering.

If you would expect the man to be a thrillingly geeky nerd, he sort of is, but he also has a touch of the Renaissance man. At UM he talked his way onto the track team, despite athletic skills that were not Olympian. He trained relentlessly to improve his javelin throw. At the same time he embraced the counter-culture movement as a cartoonist for the student newspaper, and dabbled in freaky campus politics and rock music. New Times reported his involvement in a music project called SparkyDog & Friends, whose Facebook page said it was “traveling across the universe in our magic space bus.” He probably memorized entire passages of “Numerical Methods In Fortran” (co-authored by Dr. John McCormick) before he was five years old, but he later found time to enjoy camping and other outdoor pursuits. In college he also managed to get married. Today he certifies his credit-worthiness by living in a gated Weston complex.

Eric Barton also has a contrast between Japan’s famous “Bullet Train” and the soon-to-start high-speed service on the FEC tracks between Palm Beach and Miami, the first stage of a route to Orlando. Actually there is little to compare. The Japanese system began from scratch on highly secure rights of way where trains can hit 200 mph. South Florida’s train will run on an existing railroad that has permitted hundreds of dangerous grade crossings to be built over the last 100 years.

We have noted before that to realize its potential, the FEC system needs expensive modernization, eliminating as many grade crossings as possible, and (even more challenging) dealing with the drawbridges serving the busy waterway traffic along its route.

Still, it’s a start. Unlike Tri-Rail to the west, the FEC tracks are in exactly the right place, and there are stretches along the 60-mile corridor where trains could safely hit speeds up to 100 miles an hour. Brightline, as it is called, could become a very useful commuter service if it adds a few key stops in Boca Raton, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport and other hightraffic locations. It won’t be Japanese speed, but with Interstate 95 as competition, it would seem to be a sure winner.