There are few things I admire as much as much as a company that can pivot with the blows of market changes. Apple is probably the best example. They went from making desktop computers to being one of the most popular smartphone makers in the world. This is a feat companies like HP and IBM have yet to accomplish.
LEAP Motion is a little like that. They’re a company founded on ingenious, brilliant invention. Unfortunately, it was a solution looking for a problem. Their Leap Motion sensor was and still is an incredible piece of technology. Essentially just off the shelf hardware combined with software secret sauce, it was a cheap motion capture device with amazing performance and fidelity.
Initially, the company was marketing it as something you could use to sculpt 3D objects or control your mouse using hand gestures. Both of these things are true, but hardly killer features.
Then the VR revolution happened and quickly people started strapping Leap Motion sensors to the front of their HMDs. This allowed real-time digitization of the user’s hands or objects they’re holding. A device-free motion system is a brilliant idea and some HMDs now come with a Leap Motion bracket option.
Following Your Star
Having finally found a great use case for their technology, Leap Motion has changed tack. In April 2018 the company announced Project North Star. This is a mixed-reality HMD to challenge the likes of the ANTVR MIX, Microsoft Hololens and the Magic Leap.
It’s a pretty impressive piece of kit, but Leap Motion went even further by making the HMD Open Source. Staggeringly, Leap Motion claims that under mass production it costs less than a hundred dollars to make one North Star.
As an AR/MR headset, they’re also pushing several boundaries at once. It has a 1600×1440 120Hz display with a 100-degree field of view. That’s far in advance of the on-paper specs the Hololens has at a tiny fraction of its 30K price tag.
As great as the headset looks on paper, we haven’t seen much in the intervening months. Then a few days ago we were treated to an amazing demo filmed through the North Star. You have to see it to believe it.
Video Credit: Leap Motion
The video above might not seem all that impressive at first glance, but a closer look shows us all sorts of technical wizardry in action. There is no ball, obviously, yet the tracking and rendering loop is fast enough that the user can play in what seems to be a natural way.
The system smoothly identifies the user’s bare hand, the paddle peripheral and does it well enough to figure out the trajectory for the AI returning the ball. I’d love to see two human players in the same shared AR space, but this is a great proof of concept. A cheap MR headset with these specs and that performance? Leap Motion might have a winner on its hands.