Leap Motion gets a head
It's been about a year since we first put our hands on the Leap Motion Controller, the infrared input device that sits on your desk and tracks the movements and gestures your hands make. At the time, we were simultaneously impressed and frustrated-the device seemed to have so much potential, but everything about its software and early app integration felt designed to annoy rather than enable. It came so close to being amazing without actually crossing that threshold.
Hotly anticipated gesture-recognizing device doesn't quite do it for us yet.
Over the past year, though, I've come to rely on the Leap pretty heavily-not as a game controller but as a way to execute scripts with gestures, using BetterTouchTool. Wave my hand one way, and all the Hue lights in the house turn off. Wave my hand another, and my computer display locks and turns off. I even have a gesture that just sends a 'spacebar' command to the active application, enabling me to scroll webpages and pause or unpause video by flicking a couple of fingers at the screen in a crowd-pleasing gesture that never fails to draw a 'Whoa!' from observers. It's cool, and it works reliably well.
And Leap has not spent the last year idle. Work continues on API and software updates for the existing Leap Motion Controller (as well as on the company's follow-up device, codenamed 'Dragonfly'). In a blog post this morning, Leap cofounder David Holz talked through the latest improvement that the company has bolted onto its existing product: a small mounting device that, coupled with a software update, enables the Leap to function as a full-fledged virtual reality controller.
The Leap VR Developer Mount is a small set of brackets that stick onto the front of a VR headset like an Oculus Rift DK1 or DK2. The mount allows you to affix a Leap Motion Controller looking outward from the headset, projecting its infrared sensor field out in front of the wearer. New additions to the SDK enable the sensor to function in a new 'top-down' tracking mode, which optimizes the Leap sensors to function in this new orientation (instead of looking up from the desktop with the user's hands moving over it).
Once attached and enabled, the Leap is able to recognize your hands-including the position and state of all ten fingers and whether or not your hands are palm-up or palm-down. It effectively gives you VR gloves-without you needing to put on gloves. The Leap's field of view is wider than the Rift's, too, so it can map your hands to anywhere within the Rift's visual space. If you can see your hands in real life, you'll be able to see them in any app written with support for the new functionality.
Additionally, the Leap gains the ability to transmit not just hand-tracking info, but actual raw sensor data-which means that instead of just tracking your two hands, you can see the infrared LED-lit image picked up by the Leap sensor. Of course, it will be up to developers to make use of this new feature in apps-if nothing else, it gives you some limited 'X-ray' vision, letting you see the world outside your VR headset without having to take the headset off.
How well does it work in practice? My Oculus Rift DK2 should be shipping shortly (Gaming Editor Kyle Orland already has his-curse him and his early ordering), and I'll have a hands-on update as soon as I receive it.
All of the new functionality is available today by signing up for and downloading the V2 Beta version of Leap's SDK. The mount itself is $19.99 at the Leap Motion store.