Leap Motion will come embedded in Razer’s new OSVR headsets

25 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

In Virtual Reality, Are Your Hands the Best Controller?.

In 2013, I reviewed Leap Motion’s controller—a steak-fry-sized $80 USB gizmo that let you control PC games, reading and creativity apps, and other software by waving your hands as if you were Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The open-source OSVR virtual reality headset is getting one of its first peripherals in the form of an optional faceplate that brings hand tracking to virtual reality projects via an embedded camera.

Razer announced their new OSVR Hacker Dev Kit at CES back in January and now Leap Motion has announced that they have teamed up with Razer on the device.When I first wrote about Leap Motion’s virtual reality ambitions, I said its hand-tracking sensor offered a means of controlling apps and games that normal people, not just geeky VR developers, might want to use. In the absence of polished consumer units, the only real hardware language available to hobbyists is a pidgin of devkits and kludgy peripherals; VR meetups and developer jams are still a chaotic sea of cobbled-together controllers. Powered by ‘s sensors and software, the add-on will support projects that previously took built on the Leap Motion SDK using the company’s Controller.

Today, Leap Motion announced that it would be adding its hand-tracking technology to the OSVR Hacker Development Kit, a piece of open source hardware that will be released this summer. But it was also obvious that the technology would fail or flourish based on whether third-party developers came up with uses for it that had wide appeal.

It’ll also let developers pass video from the camera on to the display, making it easier to give users some idea of the space around them while still wearing the headset. Having to learn how to use additional hardware on top of that is harder still, particularly if you’re not a gamer and already familiar with an Xbox or PlayStation-esque controller. This morning, Leap Motion and the OSVR open-source ecosystem announced a partnership that would allow Razer’s OSVR HDK (hacker development kit) to ship later this year with a Leap Motion sensor embedded in its faceplate.

OSVR is a partnership between various VR and gaming companies, but it’s better known for its headset, a rougher, cheaper, and more modular alternative to the Oculus Rift development kit. The sensor, which allows for nearly latency-free hand- and finger-tracking in 3-D space, has been a longstanding favorite among VR developers for its elegant controller-free solution—so much so that last fall Leap Motion began shipping a $20 mount that could attach its sensor to the front of an Oculus Rift devkit.

The importance of embedding motion control technology is twofold: developers can write code for a single platform that works across multiple hardware devices, and consumers get a consistently smooth experience. But by becoming an official partner of the OSVR’s modular headset, Leap Motion hopes to clear the playing field a bit. “Being embedded is just a better experience,” says Leap Motion CEO Michael Buckwald. “For developers, there’s no fragmentation, and it’s better for users. That’s always the end goal.” Leap Motion’s sensor is already embedded in laptops and desktops from both Asus and HP; this is simply their first official partnership in the VR space, where input is still very much an open question. The virtual and augmented reality markets—together, let’s just call it “immersive tech”—has seemingly trifurcated into three primary categories: desktop PC, mobile, and console. Given the OSVR’s $199 price tag, grabbing both will probably cost less than purchasing a $350 Oculus Rift developer kit and Leap Motion’s controller and headset mount if you’ve got an idea for a VR experience that could benefit from precision hand gestures.

We don’t know how much it will cost, but the OSVR headset will sell for $199, and a standalone Leap Motion is currently $79 (plus another $19 for a mount.) OSVR’s headset isn’t supposed to directly compete with consumer headsets from Sony, Oculus, or Valve. New developers that want to incorporate fundamental 3D motion input can count on a standard set of functions, such as six-degrees of freedom inputs (move in X, rotate around Y), and write experiences that are device agnostic. On the console side, PlayStation has made its Project Morpheus prototype compatible with two of its existing controllers, the PlayStation Move and the Dualshock 4 gamepad. On the other hand, the Rift’s display supports a 75hz refresh rate compared to the OSVR’s 60, so those prone to motion sickness should probably go the Oculus route. Things are muddier in the desktop segment; while Valve software is creating custom controllers for the Vive headset it produced in collaboration with HTC, Oculus still hasn’t announced any input solutions for the forthcoming consumer version of its Rift. (While Oculus purchased Leap Motion competitor Nimble Sense last year, it hasn’t yet confirmed whether the fruits of that acquisition would appear in the Rift.) And Samsung’s Gear VR—currently the most full-featured mobile solution, and one seeing a full consumer release this year–utilizes a small touchpad located on the headset, while also allowing the use of Bluetooth Android-friendly game controllers.

The same sensors in its USB controller will be embedded in the faceplate, allowing for motion control similar to what Leap is also doing with Oculus, except without the stand-alone controller, mount, and additional cable. What all of these solutions are missing, of course, is Kinect-on-steroids experience of using your hands in VR—for navigation, selection, even control of three-dimensional objects in three-dimensional space. “We very much think the answer is going to be hands, and that we’re going to be providing that tracking,” Buckwald says.

Developers can include video pass-through for other applications, opening up a wide range of possibilities for computer vision apps. “OSVR brings game developers, gamers and hardware manufacturers together to solve challenges and make VR gaming a reality for the masses. OSVR, which is spearheaded by gaming PC company Razer among others, is an open-source platform that aims to become an Android-like force for VR: foundational technology that many companies can use to build products. And because the sensor’s computational strength lies in its software rather than its hardware, the company can push frequent updates to keep its capabilities cutting-edge long after the headset goes home with you.

Otherwise, “we’re essentially dooming developers to a world of fragmentation” as they pick between everything from Xbox controllers to exotic hardware like the omnidirectional treadmill. I’m not going to use the driving wheel for the gun game.” Holz demoed an early prototype of a future hand-tracking software update, an “interaction engine” that registers when the virtual version of the user’s hands have closed in enough to “grip” a non-existent object.

The OSVR HDK, which was first announced at CES and January and ships to developers in June, presents a much more modular approach than any other headset currently known about. During a recent visit to Leap Motion’s San Francisco office, I chatted with the company’s founders, David Holz and Michael Buckwald, and tried out some virtual-reality demos using both an OSVR headset and Oculus Rift. Not only might this nudge developers towards using its system, it will be on the radar if any major manufacturer decides to use OSVR’s kit as a reference design. “If they get excited about a full hardware product with input, they can have all the hardware done, and they just need to talk to us about the software,” says Buckwald.

I nudged spheres and cubes around with my fingers; controlled a torrent of stars a la Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and manipulated controls such as pushbuttons and sliders. This opens up exciting possibilities for Leap Motion’s growing developer community, which includes over 160,000 developers in more than 186 countries. They were just examples of things which Leap will help developers accomplish, not full-blown VR applications, and the experience wasn’t quite eerie in its realism. (Sometimes my fingertip would poke inside a cube, and I had to get used to the fact that I couldn’t feel the objects I touched.) But it sure felt more natural than using a conventional game controller while wearing a VR headset. Buckwald says the company has been talking to “pretty much all the major players” in the space. “Our goal is to be embedded everywhere,” he says. “This is not an experiment for us—we want to be the primary input for VR.” And at a virtual reality event in Los Angeles on Sunday, Sony Magic Lab’s Richard Marks said the PlayStation R&D division is toying with hand tracking along with many other input methods for VR.

Following the 2014 launch of Leap Motion’s V2 tracking software, capable of tracking individual joints and accounting for finger occlusion, the company continues to release significant software updates bimonthly. The proprietary technology, invented by co-founder David Holz, can track the in-air movement of both hands and all 10 fingers with incredible accuracy and no visible latency. Buckwald says there’s no hard timeline, but he thinks there’s a market there as well — he imagines a game where players use a controller as a gun in one hand, but throw physical punches with the other.

And the larger future, to him, seems bright. “We want people to feel like they are touching something digital and believe it is physical in five years,” he says. “I think with VR, we’re either there or very, very close to there.” OSVR™ is an ecosystem designed from the ground up to set an open standard for Virtual Reality input devices, games and output with the sole goal of providing the best possible game experience in the Virtual Reality space.

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