Leap Motion Launches Overhauled Hand Tracking Engine That’s Made for VR


Leap Motion formed prior to the VR craze, but it turns out that their goal of allowing you to use your own hands as a way to interact with computers jived quite nicely with virtual reality. In recent years the company has made a major pivot toward VR and it culminates today with ‘Orion’, an overhauled hand tracking engine built from the ground up for VR.

When Leap Motion first dreamed up their gesture tracking device, the intended use case was that the unit would sit on a desk facing upward and detect a user’s hands as they held them above the device, using it to control activity on a computer monitor.

Fast forward a few years and the company says they are “100% focused on VR”, moving the major use-case to a head mounted gesture tracking device which of course sees hands from a different angle entirely (and has a tracking space that’s dependent on where the user is looking).


The company says that Orion, their new made-for-VR hand tracking engine, has been in the works for at least a year and that the engine is a major improvement, calling it “radically smoother, faster, more reliable, and far more capable than even the best of what’s existed before.” The company summaries some of the improvements:

  • Orion starts tracking faster, and keeps tracking farther, with lower latency, and in situations where no previous software could keep up.
  • Unprecedented sensitivity allows us to maintain reliable hand tracking even in high angle, high occlusion scenarios.
  • Incredible progress has also been made in separating the hand out from cluttered backgrounds, allowing you to bring your hand close to or even in contact with other surfaces. This advance has also improved performance in all lighting conditions, making it extremely difficult to find an environment where you won’t have high precision hand tracking.
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The Orion engine can be experienced on the company’s existing hand tracking camera (which they call ‘The Peripheral’) through a beta release of the software made available today at the Leap Motion developer portal.

leap motion CEO Michael Buckwald
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Orion also sets the stage for a new sensor that the company says will be embedded in VR headset this year. The tiny commodity chip is easy to build into such devices, though the company maintains, “99% of the value comes in the [hand-tracking] software.”

Last month at CES, we got to preview the company’s new ‘interaction engine’ which was designed to enhance user interaction within the virtual world. The interaction engine sought to improve understanding of user intent, leading to more consistent actions like grabbing, releasing, and throwing objects. We were impressed by the improvements it brought to the table and fortunately Leap Motion says that Orion will have the same capabilities, along with a number of other performance enhancements.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Steve B

    Well, there goes my Wednesday.

  • Zobeid

    I think the word you’re looking for is “jibed”, not “jived”. Jive is doubletalk or BS.

    • George Vieira IV

      I personally have always used jived, but wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not right either.

  • DonGateley

    If that were only a simulation of a design goal it would still be impressive for demonstrating their grasp of the problem and potential solution. That it is for real and here now is almost overwhelming to this enthusiast.

  • Mark Batcheler

    Having tried this last night I can confirm that the Leap Motion is finally usable in VR.

    It always worked relatively well for me as a table device though ultimately it became a gimmick and found itself in a draw after a few weeks.

    Once VR appeared I thought I’d give it a go but up until now it would always lose my hands or freeze, do something obscure or just be completely inaccurate.

    For the first time yesterday I saw this being an awesome piece of technology with genuine use cases in VR and it was great fun to use.

    I tried it with the blocks demo above and with sightline the chair and it worked extremely well in both demos.

    It still struggled when my hands were in some positions but all in all I agree with what they are saying. It was able to see my hands up close and far away and there was no noticeable latency.

    I’m really glad I didn’t put it on Ebay now like I had intended to do!

    • Mik Lisiecki

      I tried it on Saturday as well and is was great! The only thing that was not clear was how do you move around without a controller?

      • Chris Wren

        Positional tracking for Vive and Oculus work great for walkaround. Gesture based character movement is good too, like flying superman style. If you’ve got a DK2 and Leap check out: https://www.wearvr.com/apps/rainbow-jellies