Magic Leap VR headset patent
An early design patent for Magic Leap's headset USPTO

Augmented reality (AR) start-up Magic Leap has once again been forced to defend its technology after a leaked photo of its hardware drew some raised eyebrows. Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovizt took to Twitter on Sunday to play down the legitimacy of an image showing a bulky backpack-style device with shoulder straps tethered to a headset.

The source of the image told Business Insider that the device shown was representative of Magic Leap's latest "product equivalent" prototype, known internally as PEQ0. The product depicted is a far cry from the Microsoft HoloLens, which Magic Leap has drawn comparisons to in the past and even suggested is inferior to its own device.

The source claimed the company was desperately trying to cobble together a working prototype ahead of a critical board meeting scheduled for this week. After the photo emerged, Abovizt moved to defend his company's work and said the photographed hardware was actually an R&D test rig used for collecting spatial data for its "machine vision/ machine learning work." The CEO added that the photo was "not what you think it is" in a series of Tweets to followers.

Magic Leap has been forced to defend its work before. In December 2016, the company broke its typical wall of silence after a report suggested the company was struggling to scale down its technology into something portable, having massively overstated its abilities to investors. The company was also accused of using CGI "product demos" to create false representations of its work, masking its underlying problems.

This was based on an article by The Information reporter Reed Albergotti, who claimed to have been granted a hands-on with Magic Leap's coveted tech and conversations with Magic Leap employees. Abovizt responded to these claims by suggesting that only Magic Leap staff had seen recent PEQ devices and insisting that devices one the production line were "small, sleek, cool".

Just days after The Information's report was published, the company lost its vice-president of PR – a departure that came months after its chief marketing officer left the company. Google, Warner brothers and Alibaba – which combined have invested billions in Magic Leap – will no doubt be watching the company closely until a consumer-ready version breaks cover.