Virtual reality is about to get a whole lot more immersive. Speaking at the Collision tech conference in New Orleans Thursday, Leap Motion CEO Michael Buckwald told the audience that headsets with the ability to detect the user’s hands will be on sale before the end of 2016.
If we’re able to break down the barriers of hardware, where people can speak to each other across the world in virtual space, and manipulate that virtual space directly with their hands, “that’s the end of time and space,” said Buckwald.
“We think hands are really the only input that is always with someone,” said Buckwald. Instead of having to use separate controllers, Leap Motion would sense the user’s hands with cameras on the front of the device, capable of seeing in both extreme dark and light situations. People would be able to “reach out” and touch the world instead of having to push a button.
Buckwald dismissed current headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR that hold a smartphone over the user’s eyes. The phone will buzz and receive messages, forcing the user to pull themselves out of the experience to take the call. If headsets continue to depend on the user touching the side to interact with a pad of buttons, like the Gear VR does, “that would be a big shamble,” he said.
The company’s Leap Motion controller for Windows computers does a lot of what Buckwald is describing: Similar to a Kinect for the Xbox, it detects hand motions and renders them into meaningful software input. And the “VR Developer” version of the controller – one that snaps onto the front of the Oculus Rift – enables almost exactly the kind of hand-detection Buckwald says will eventually rule VR, though it so far only works with select games and demos that are compatible with the company’s Orion platform.
Here’s a demonstration of Leap Motion’s Orion on VR:
So, what we’re really waiting for is major VR companies to get on board with Leap Motion and Orion. The first devices to come with these hardware and software capabilities built in will be out by the end of the year, according to Buckwald. Established players like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive probably won’t feature a similar tech until the second generation, which could be a while away considering the first versions of both just launched (or are trying to launch).
In the case of Oculus, the developers are planning to launch new “touch controllers” later this year. These feature an array of buttons and respond to motion, showing a rough approximation of the user’s hands in the virtual world. It’s not quite as immersive as Leap Motion would be, of course, where intermediary hardware would be required. “I think that’s the VR that everyone deserves,” said Buckwald.