Leap Motion Dives Into Virtual Reality
Leap Motion has continued to improve the software on its gesture-based controller, which allows you to interact with computers purely through hand motions, by adding more accurate and responsive hand tracking.
Now, the company is using those improvements to propel itself into a new category: virtual reality.
Leap Motion unveiled new hardware and software updates Thursday that allow the motion controller to be used with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift.
Leap Motion’s controller tracks users’ hand movements so they can interact with their Mac or PC without ever touching a keyboard, mouse or screen.
The company’s new $19.99 VR Developer Mount allows developers to attach a Leap Motion controller to their existing virtual reality headset, including the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift. This allows the wearer to take advantage of the powerful sensors within Leap’s motion controller so the person wearing the headset can see the people and objects around them while also seeing the headset’s display.
“As a rule anything you’re looking at, you’ll be able to interact with,” said Leap Motion CEO and cofounder Michael Buckwald.
An example of what a user might see when a Leap Motion controller is mounted to a virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift.
Image: Leap Motion
Developers have already been using Leap’s motion controller with virtual reality headsets, but the two haven’t worked together efficiently until now as the controller either had to remain in a fixed position on a surface in front of the user— limiting their range of motion— or developers would resort to makeshift solutions such as duct tape.
But Leap’s first steps into virtual reality are powered by much more than a mounting system. Much of what makes the two compatible is the company’s recently-released raw image API, which opens up access to the raw infrared images captured by the controller’s sensors.
“What it sees, you see,” explains cofounder and Chief Technology Officer David Holz in a blog post. “This expands the tracking space to be in any direction you’re facing. You can reach forward, turn around, look up and down, and the tracking follows you wherever you go.”
The company is also updating its software with top-down tracking.
Until now, Leap only officially supported bottom-up tracking, meaning the controller could only track hand movements when the sensor was facing up. The latest update includes a new top-down tracking mode so the controller can track movements when the sensor is pointed down, such as when mounted on a heads up display.
Buckwald said virtual reality is a natural progression for Leap Motion and is something that has been in the works for a long time.
“It [virtual reality] does align really well with the original vision for the company, which was a deep frustration with the disconnection of people with computers and a desire to bridge the gap that exists between us and our computers by letting us reach into them with our hands,” Buckwald said.
The company also teased a new, unreleased module, codenamed “Dragonfly.” The module, which is designed to eventually be embedded by VR headset manufacturers, has a larger field of view and color resolution that is higher than HD quality.
“That opens up almost unlimited opportunities for developers to commingle the virtual world with the physical one,” Buckwald said.
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