Leap Motion announced its plans to bring its hand tracking technology to the mobile market. The software company is working with partners to integrate second-generation Leap Motion sensors into mobile VR HMDs in 2017.
In November 2010, Michael Buckwald and David Holz founded Leap Motion, a software company devoted to building a robust hand tracking system for PC interaction. At the time, Buckwald and Holz had no idea that consumer virtual reality would hit the market half a decade later. They intended their product, a software package paired with an infrared camera system, to be used strictly for desktop interaction, but technology has a funny way of advancing in ways we couldn’t ever predict.
Leap Pivots To Virtual Reality
Not long after Oculus launched the Rift developer kits, software developers started to experiment with using the Leap Motion sensor to add hand tracking to their VR experiences. Leap Motion took note and quickly embraced the idea. The company released an official mount for the Oculus DK1 and DK2 headsets and proceeded to rewrite its software with VR in mind.
Earlier this year, Leap Motion launched the Orion software beta, which was created from the ground up for virtual reality integration. The company released the software to the public, but Orion was developed for a new sensor, not the Leap Motion peripheral.
New Sensor Hardware
When Orion launched in February, we spoke with Leap Motion’s founders about the new software and the future direction of the company. Michael Buckwald, Leap Motion’s CEO, told us that the company was working with multiple OEMs to bring hardware to market later this year. The year is fast coming to an end, but even if Buckwald missed the mark, he wasn’t far off.
Leap Motion revealed a reference design mobile VR HMD device with integrated second generation Leap sensors embedded in the faceplate. David Holz, Leap Motion’s CTO, explained that the reference hardware is a custom faceplate for the Samsung Gear VR HMD, which includes Leap Motion sensors and a USB cord to power it.
The faceplate features Leap Motion’s as-yet-unreleased second generation camera system. The improved sensor takes the camera’s field of view from 140 x 120 degrees (horizontal by vertical) to an incredible 180 x 180-degree tracking space, and new sensor hardware also has a larger depth of field to accommodate tall people with unusually long arms. Additionally, Leap Motion managed to reduce the sensor’s power draw by 50%.
Leap Motion is currently sending reference hardware to multiple manufacturing partners that plan to launch mobile VR HMDs in the new year. Leap wasn’t willing to give a date, but we were told we’d hear announcements “this year.”
Millions Of Units
Leap Motion believes that mobile VR is poised to take off in a big way next year, and apparently so do its partners. The company said there are many “first tier” hardware companies that are eager to launch VR HMDs, but they believe the mobile market is the key to mass adoption, and the lack of hand presence is the key ingredient that is missing from current mobile options. With Leap Motion’s sensors and software, these hardware companies are confident that they can sell “millions of units.”
“The thing that is going to be world changing--that is going to sell millions, if not billions of devices, is not going to be totally different than the devices we see now, but it will be different enough in a lot of subtle, nuanced ways,” said Buckwald. “And we think that has to be driven from input first, in the same way that the addition of the capacitive touch screens and direct physical input changed everything for smartphones and took them from a .1% device to an 80% of the population device.”
Leap Motion’s new sensor hardware is designed to work with any ARM-powered device, and Leap Motion said we could expect to see standalone HMDs as well as smartphone HMDs with Leap Motion sensors embedded in them. Leap Motion, understandably, can’t reveal its partner’s products, and by extension, it can’t reveal which companies it is working with, but Leap Motion’s founders are confident in their future.
“I think even people who are very plugged into VR will be very surprised at the magnitude and number of companies that are announcing not just Leap Motion integration, but that have serious projects underway that were kicked off years ago around VR and mobile VR,” said Buckwald.
Get A Demo
The Leap Motion Mobile Platform is available only for hardware developers, but Leap Motion plans to show off its reference hardware to developers, press, and the public over the next few months. Leap Motion didn’t give us a list of events, but the company plans to attend major VR events to let people experience what it’s like to have fully tracked hands in mobile VR.