Leap Motion, a virtual reality and motion sensor development company based out of San Francisco has developed a controller for virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) that allows users to manipulate the digital environment with their hands. The Orion motion capture system is a mix of hardware and software that will be available for multiple PC-based VR systems. The technology is an expansion of a system that was originally developed for home computers. There hasn't been an in-depth teardown of the system yet, but it uses a lot of the same technology and components used in the original Leap Motion. Orion is essentially the same machine but modified and expanded for VR. Sparkfun did a teardown of Leap Motion back in 2013.
Although the version for home computers was not much of a success, Leap Motion thinks that Orion is a much better fit for VR. At this stage in the development of Orion's motion capture system, it's a good device for gaming but has a long way to go before it will be a productivity tool. This is due to a lack of tactile response when touching something in VR, as well as most computer users already being comfortable with the systems they're used to. Engadget did a review of the system back in January that elaborates on its strengths and weaknesses. It may be some time before we see 3D tactile digital keyboards like in Minority Report or Iron Man, but if you see the Orion in action, you can see the potential for productivity tools in the future.
Orion in action
Michael Buckwald, the CEO and co-founder of Leap Motion spoke about why they developed Orion for VR in an interview with Venture Beat:
“If you have no input, it’s more like watching a 3D movie... Or it would be like interacting with the world without fingers. The simplest things become so hard to do.”
Buckwald makes a great point; it's hard to be immersed in an enchanted forest or a haunted mansion when you're running around with an XBoxOne controller in your hands. Oculus and other companies are developing hand motion based controllers, but at the end of the day, they're still controllers that you have to hold. The whole experience isn't the same as being able to move and shape blocks with your hands, or picking up an object like a sword or a fishing pole.
The Oculus Touch
Orion is in early access beta for developers, and already has a few games developed on the Oculus Rift DK2. Orion's compatibility with multiple VR platforms should keep them commercially viable. Opting for compatibility and accessibility over exclusivity has served companies like Google and Oculus well. Other VR developers like Sony are keeping business models with vertical integration, where a company runs nearly every facit of the manufacturing and distributing process. It's too early to tell which business model will be more successful, but with a rapidly advancing technology like VR, it seems like the ability to collaborate with other developers gives a distinct advantage.
One such collaboration that could make Leap Motion a real game-changer is their compatibility with Glove One, a glove system for VR that imitates tactile response. Glove One recently received funding through Kickstarter, and already has a lot of people intrigued. Glove One's gloves contain small pouches that inflate with air when your hands digitally collide with an object, putting resistance on the user's hands as if they were touching a real object. With these systems working in tandem, a player can grasp an object and actually feel resistance on their hands. Glove One has already made a tutorial for making a game using both systems on the Unity3D game engine.
The Oculus Rift DK2, Orion, and Glove One make a formidable trio
The combination of motion tracking and touch simulation might just be the development that takes VR from being an entertaining device, to legitimate productivity equipment. Imagine being able to summon a keyboard out of thin air and feel the keys on your fingers as you hit them. Virtual reality will also allow users to have a nearly unlimited number of monitors they can interact with and move around. All the sudden that guy at your office with 3 monitors seems ill-equipped. We'll have to wait and see where VR technology takes us, but it's an exciting time for this budding technology.