Ultraleap, the company behind the Leap Motion hand-tracking module, informed staff on Wednesday that it was proposing a layoff amid a potential restructuring of the business that could see the company split in two.

The Bristol, UK-based company acquired Leap Motion in 2019, prompting a rebrand from its original name Ultrahaptics to Ultraleap. Prior to the acquisition, the company was best known for pioneering its mid-air haptic technology, which uses ultrasound to project tactile sensations onto the user’s hands.

As reported by Sky News, Ultraleap is allegedly now seeking to sell off its hand-tracking business entirely, and spin out its mid-air haptics division into a new company, which would be owned by Ultraleap’s existing shareholders and also seek additional external funding.

Leap Motion 2 in front of its predecessor | courtesy Ultraleap

The company hasn’t publicly confirmed the sale of Leap Motion or the specifics surrounding the restructuring of its haptics business, however it has confirmed layoffs are coming:

“After much consideration, we have made the difficult decision to reshape some of our divisions and reduce the size of our team,” an Ultraleap spokesperson told Sky News. “This decision has not been taken lightly, but it is necessary for us to adapt our business to better serve our market and our customers.

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Initially released in 2013, Leap Motion was one of the first viable hand-tracking modules to come to market. While it was originally created to work as an input method for PCs, a few years later the then still independent company would hard pivot into the VR space, providing hand-tracking to headsets which at the time had none.

Fast-forward to today, and many standalone headsets pack in their own onboard hand-tracking thanks to the requisite bank of optical sensors that are also used for tracking the user in room-scale environments. The shift has made bespoke modules like Leap Motion less desirable for consumers overall, leaving the company to focus on integrating its tech with boutique headset manufacturers such as Varjo, Pimax, and Vrgineers.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • ViRGiN

    You use ultraleap when you're incapable of delivering solid hand tracking through vision.

    years of it's existence, and it's pretty much only known for being fully obsolete pimax addon.

    • ViRGiN 4 a ReasON

      wow! you clearly don't know what you are talking about! Not bad (clap clap)

      • ViRGiN

        Of course i don’t, and of course you don’t have anything to prove wrong

        • ViRGiN 4 a reasON

          You just admitted you don't what you are saying, nothing else to prove.

          • ViRGiN

            You just said you’re poor

  • To be honest, saw this coming. Leap Motion was doing amazing stuff with it's tech prior to acquisition and the name change totally lost it's brand image. I didn't even know there was a new version of the Leap Motion tracker until about a month ago when I looked them up out of curiosity. Hope someone buys it that can get Leap Motion back in the public eye better :D

    • Richard Cownie

      The hand-tracking is world-class and the open-source Project Northstar AR headset is extraordinary, though it was developed by a tiny team on a shoestring budget. David Holz went on to found Midjourney so he will probably be putting money into more amazing projects.

      Great tech and vision. The problem was finding revenue.

      • Richard Cownie

        With respect to Ultrahaptics and the merger, I'll only say that I greatly enjoyed working for David Holz before the merger. Then I was transferred to work under the Ultrahaptics management structure when the merger happened in May 2019. And I resigned in March 2020.

        • Richard Cownie

          I have a lot of stories I can't share LOL

  • XRC

    Their new Hyperion runtime sounds incredible, now running on headsets own tracking cameras and not requiring the stereo controller which was mounted externally or integrated.

    The Skarredghost recently tried Hyperion and their new "event camera" prototype at AWE, well worth checking out his findings….

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    Leap Motion gambled, and lost. Their initial use case went nowhere, but VR came just at the right time with enough hype to push their evaluation over USD 300mn in 2013, despite basically selling nothing.

    I impressed a lot of people with Leap Motion on DK1, and was myself impressed how much tracking improved with the Orion update in 2016. But not much happened after that, and the announced Android support never came.Technically their tracking module is just two lowres nIR cameras plus IR projectors, similar to what is now used in HMDs for tracking. All the magic was in their advanced software, and their best chance would have been licensing it to large players, similar to Tobii helping Sony to run their eye tracking software on PS5 and PSVR2 hardware.

    They instead improved the hardware modules, still only saw moderate adaption, and very late cooperated with Qualcomm on XR2 support. Licensing is often cheaper than creating you own, but apparently Leap Motion asked for too much money, so everyone created their own hand tracking. Apple offered to buy the company in 2017 for ~10% of its 2013 evaluation, a deal that fell through only for Leap Motion to be sold a year later to Ultrahaptics for a very similar amount. Ultrahaptics/Ultraleap again sold the tech as an add-on, but the hardware is mostly redundant today, and the window for becoming the dominant hand tracking provider by licensing their (once) superior software to everyone has closed.

    • Richard Cownie

      I worked for Leap Motion (then Ultraleap) in 2018-2020. It's a complicated story. They sold a lot of Leap Motion devices – though at the low price point around $80, that didn't generate a lot of profit. There were technical obstacles to getting the software working on varied sensor hardware (in different VR headset designs) and on cellphone/headset-class chipsets as opposed to PC/workstation. The current high-quality hand-tracking is the outcome of multiple complete rewrites and a large and expensive ML development. This is a hard problem! Meta had their own hand-tracking effort and the politics of persuading a company to kill its own project and pay money for something else gets delicate.

      I didn't make much money at it, but there's value in working on something that's of world-class quality. And I still believe Leap Motion played an important role in demonstrating the technical feasibility of high-quality low-latency hand-tracking. Sometimes you do the very best you can and the business side doesn't quite work out.

      • Richard Cownie

        I would also push back against the claim that they cooperated with Qualcomm on support for XR2 "very late". I was working on precisely that from around Oct 2018, and we had a demo working as soon as we could get a prototype XR2-based headset, intended to be shown at MWC Barcelona in March 2020 … but the pandemic and issues not related to hand-tracking got in the way of that. [Various stories and details that I won't share in a public forum.]

  • What a pity. This is the company with the best hand tracking out there…

    • Arno van Wingerde

      A small niche market in what is already a niche market… what could possibly go wrong?

      • Richard Cownie

        VR/AR never takes off as quickly as its advocates hope, but Meta has sold about 20M Quest 2 headsets.