Leap Motion's Hand-Driven VR Interaction Engine Is Now in Beta

Leap Motion released a public beta on Tuesday of its Interaction Engine, a powerful system that will help virtual reality users reach out, grab, and interact with virtual objects using only their hands.

The company’s hand sensing technology has been around for a while, but products like the Interaction Engine could help bring it a new lease of life in virtual reality. Initial Leap Motion products were small cubes that sat in front of a user’s computer, allowing for hands-free interaction by waving in front of the screen. That’s cool and all, but now Leap Motion wants to put that technology inside VR headsets.

At the moment, most VR wearers are using handheld controllers to interact with the world. The Oculus Rift bundles in an Xbox One controller, but a motion-sensing device for each hand is in the pipeline. HTC Vive and Playstation VR have similar options, but none of these allow wearers to use their hands and reach out. If Leap Motion’s system takes off, it could be the next major breakthrough in virtual reality immersion.

Leap Motion suggests a number of tasks that would be near-impossible without the Interaction Engine, like stacking blocks, picking up objects and moving hands through rigid structures without breaking them. Watch this ball throwing demo:

The engine interacts with the Unity game engine and defines a new set of rules for when a hand is inside an object. These rules wouldn’t be possible in reality (like putting your hand through a grabbed object) but make the world feel more natural in VR. “Without the Interaction Engine, hands in VR can feel like one of those late-night infomercials where people can’t tie their own shoes,” Leap Motion said in a blog post.

It may not be long before the Interaction Engine hits the high streets: Leap Motion CEO Michael Buckwald said in April that he expects the first hand-driven headsets to go on sale before the end of the year.