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At Leap Motion, we envision a future where the physical and virtual worlds blend together into a single magical experience. At the heart of this experience is hand tracking, which unlocks interactions uniquely suited to virtual and augmented reality. To explore the boundaries of interactive design in AR, we created Project North Star, which drove us to push beyond the limitations of existing systems.

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When we embarked on this journey, there were many things we didn’t know.

What does hand tracking need to be like for an augmented reality headset? How fast does it need to be; do we need a hundred frames per second tracking or a thousand frames per second?

How does the field of view impact the interaction paradigm? How do we interact with things when we only have the central field, or a wider field? At what point does physical interaction become commonplace? How does the comfort of the interactions themselves relate to the headset’s field of view?

What are the artistic aspects that need to be considered in augmented interfaces? Can we simply throw things on as-is and make our hands occlude things and call it a day? Or are there fundamentally different styles of everything that suddenly come out when we have a display that can only ‘add light’ but not subtract it?

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Leap Motion is a company that has always been focused on human-computer interfaces.

The fundamental limit in technology is not its size or its cost or its speed, but how we interact with it. Click To TweetWe believe that the fundamental limit in technology is not its size or its cost or its speed, but how we interact with it. These interactions define what we create, how we learn, how we communicate with each other. It would be no stretch of the imagination to say that the way we interact with the world around us is perhaps the very fabric of the human experience.

We believe that this human experience is on the precipice of a great change.

The coming of virtual reality has signaled a great moment in the history of our civilization. We have found in ourselves the ability to break down the very substrate of reality and create ones anew, entirely of our own design and of our own imaginations.

As we explore this newfound ability, it becomes increasingly clear that this power will not be limited to some ‘virtual world’ separate from our own. It will spill out like a great flood, uniting what has been held apart for so long: our digital and physical realities.

In preparation for the coming flood, we at Leap Motion have built a ship, and we call it Project North Star.

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With virtual and augmented reality on the rise, so is the number of available platforms, input standards, and design paradigms. To harness the force of this horizontal expansion, we have to fundamentally rethink how we interact with VR/AR, in ways that often violate how the physical world works, but align with human expectations on a more fundamental level.

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There’s something magical about building in VR. Imagine being able to assemble weightless car engines, arrange dynamic virtual workspaces, or create imaginary castles with infinite bricks. Arranging or assembling virtual objects is a common scenario across a range of experiences, particularly in education, enterprise, and industrial training – not to mention tabletop and real-time strategy gaming.

Imagine being able to assemble weightless car engines, arrange dynamic virtual workspaces, or create imaginary castles with infinite bricks. Click To TweetFor our latest interaction sprint, we explored how building and stacking interactions could feel seamless, responsive, and stable. How could we place, stack, and assemble virtual objects quickly and accurately while preserving the nuance and richness of full physics simulation? Check out our results below or download the example demo from the Leap Motion Gallery.

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One of the core design philosophies at Leap Motion is that the most intuitive and natural interactions are direct and physical. Manipulating objects with our bare hands lets us leverage a lifetime of physical experience, minimizing the learning curve for users. But there are times when virtual objects will be farther away than arm’s reach, beyond the user’s range of direct manipulation. We can force users to walk over to access those objects – or we could give them superpowers!

For our latest interaction design sprint, we prototyped three ways of summoning distant objects to bring them within arm’s reach. The first is a simple animated summoning technique, well-suited to interacting with single objects. The second gives you telekinetic powers, while the third virtually augments your body’s capabilities.

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Physical interaction design for VR starts with fundamentally rethinking how objects should behave. Click To TweetWhen you reach out and grab a virtual object or surface, there’s nothing stopping your physical hand in the real world. To make physical interactions in VR feel compelling and natural, we have to play with some fundamental assumptions about how digital objects should behave. The Leap Motion Interaction Engine handles these scenarios by having the virtual hand penetrate the geometry of that object/surface, resulting in visual clipping.

With our recent interaction sprints, we’ve set out to identify areas of interaction that developers and users often encounter, and set specific design challenges. After prototyping possible solutions, we share our results to help developers tackle similar challenges in your own projects.

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As mainstream VR/AR input continues to evolve – from the early days of gaze-only input to wand-style controllers and fully articulated hand tracking – so too are the virtual user interfaces we interact with. Slowly but surely we’re moving beyond flat UIs ported over from 2D screens and toward a future filled with spatial interface paradigms that take advantage of depth and volume.

Last week, Barrett Fox described his process in pushing the new Graphic Renderer and the Interaction Engine’s Hover callbacks to their limits by creating a kinetic sculpture with tons of tweakable input parameters. Today I’ll detail my exploration of several ways spatial UIs could be used to control aspects of that sculpture – or any piece of complex content – by creating a playful set of physical-like user interfaces.

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Last time, we looked at how an interactive VR sculpture could be created with the Leap Motion Graphic Renderer as part of an experiment in interaction design. With the sculpture’s shapes rendering, we can now craft and code the layout and control of this 3D shape pool and the reactive behaviors of the individual objects.

The Leap Motion Interaction Engine provides the foundation for hand-centric VR interaction design. Click To TweetBy adding the Interaction Engine to our scene and InteractionBehavior components to each object, we have the basis for grasping, touching and other interactions. But for our VR sculpture, we can also use the Interaction Engine’s robust and performant awareness of hand proximity. With this foundation, we can experiment quickly with different reactions to hand presence, pinching, and touching specific objects. Let’s dive in!

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Today we’re excited to announce the opening of our new design research studio in London with visionary VR/AR filmmaker Keiichi Matsuda, who will lead the new office and assume the role of VP of Design and Global Creative Director.

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