Virtual reality has an interface problem. In fact, if you asked the team at Leap Motion, they'd say all of modern technology does. But Leap Motion's sensor-based controller could change all of that by allowing us to interact in the digital world using the world's oldest and most user-friendly mode of input – our bare hands.
“We're still enslaved to the same interactions with computers as we were a decade ago,” Mira Murati, Leap Motion's VP of Product, told Design News . “When we interact with technology we are extremely input bandwidth limited.” Murati said San Francisco-based Leap Motion was founded on a simple question: Why should things be that way? “Our hands are a universal form of input. We build things, play chess, throw balls, but when it comes to technology we are limited by the touchscreen," she said.
As convenient and ubiquitous as the touchscreen has become the engineers at Leap Motion still find it too limiting because it only responds to a set of pre-programmed gestures and controls, some of which have to be learned by the user. “We didn't really want to make gestures the focus of interaction,” Murati said. “We wanted really rich physical interaction, no sign language or things you have to learn and remember. We're tracking fingers because we want people to interact with digital objects as they would with physical ones.”
|Leap Motion's latest controller (center) can be directly embedded into any OEMs VR or AR headset. (Image source: Leap Motion)|
Anyone who has tried a VR-specific controller like the Oculus Touch or HTC Vive controller has experienced the pros and cons. On one hand (no pun intended) they offer a more intuitive and functional VR input experience than a keyboard and mouse or even a game controller, but on the other hand they fall just short enough of real, intuitive hand gesture control to make tasks like CAD design feel awkward at times, especially for users who may not be well versed in using the controllers already.
The first Leap Motion controller, released back in 2013 was PC-based, but Murati said Leap Motion has always seen VR as the goal. “VR was always on our mind. This lack of a natural input is really the most critical missing piece preventing VR and AR from having a rapid take off,” Murati said. “The moment you see your hands in the digital world you have a sense of embodiment and a sense of self. In many ways VR is probably the most human-centric platform today. It's really about the wearer. By bringing in hands as the main form of interaction for VR we're really designing for the human platform rather for computers.”
We had a chance to try Leap Motions sensor, which can be mounted into any Windows-based VR headset, at the VRLA conference and expo earlier this year. Following a recent partnership with Qualcomm, the company was demonstrating its sensor in conjunction with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 mobile VR development platform. The demo was a simple program that allowed users to manipulate various sized