Leap Motion, a veteran player in the virtual reality sector (having been founded two years ahead of Oculus), has announced the closure of a Series C investment round totaling $50 million.

Led by JP Morgan Asset management, Leap Motion’s Series C investment brings the company’s total public capital raise to just over $94 million, according to Crunchbase.

Founded in 2010, Leap Motion would release its initial product (today called the ‘Leap Motion Controller‘) in 2012, a desktop-focused peripheral which offered touchless hand-tracking. Though an interesting and functional device, the Leap Motion Controller had trouble finding a niche—seemingly a solution in search of a problem as far as desktop input was concerned. As virtual reality began to heat up, it became clear that there were major opportunities for novel input in the sector, and over time Leap Motion pivoted its focus from desktop to VR, offering a bespoke mount to allow developers to attach the device to VR headsets like the Rift DK2 development kit.

And while this application of the Leap Motion Controller felt more natural and produced plenty of cool demos, it became clear that high-end VR systems like the Rift and Vive would need equally high performance controllers—notably ones that would continue tracking even when the user’s hands weren’t held out in front of their face—and for that, those systems turned to VR controllers based on the same outside-in tracking technology as the the respective headsets.

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Leap Motion Open-sources Project North Star, An AR Headset Prototype With Impressive Specs

However, one place in VR still seems like a potential sweet spot for Leap Motion’s hand-tracking tech: mobile. The ‘controllerless’ nature of the system makes it a natural fit for mobile VR headsets which aim to be portable and easy to use, and could substantially benefit from natural input without the need to tote extra devices. Mobile VR content—which is slower, and more focused on consumption—is also more suited to the limitations of Leap Motion compared to a dedicated VR controller.

See Also: Leap Motion’s New 180-degree Hand-tracking Comes to Qualcomm’s Latest VRDK Headset | Photo by Road to VR

You won’t be surprised to learn then that mobile is exactly where Leap Motion has placed its bets in the last few years. In 2016 the company made a substantial upgrade to its tracking tech with the launch of the VR focused ‘Orion’ update, and later debuted a new hand-tracking module specially designed for mobile VR headsets, with a much improved 180 degree field of view sensor to help maintain hand-tracking over a wider area. The company also teamed up with Qualcomm to offer its hand-tracking tech to headsets based on Qualcomm’s VRDK reference headset.

Despite that progress over the last few years, it wasn’t clear if Leap Motion was gaining much traction, even with class-leading hand-tracking (or how much longer they’d be able to survive); we’ve yet to see any major headsets hit the shelf with the company’s hand-tracking on board.

Still, the company seems poised for big things, with mobile feeling like a truly natural fit (along with the potential for AR headsets in the future), and investors must have agreed, with Leap Motion closing a large $50 million Series C investment. As part of the round, Lawrence Unrein, Global Head of JP Morgan Asset Management’s Private Equity Group, joins Leap Motion’s board of directors.

SEE ALSO
Leap Motion 'Virtual Wearable' AR Prototype is a Potent Glimpse at the Future of Your Smartphone

With the new cash, Leap Motion says its primary goal will be a global expansion into Asia, with a new office opening in Shanghai, China. Furthermore, the company intends to “advance innovation and adoption of its groundbreaking hand and finger tracking technology; and broaden its reach into new commercial and enterprise applications including education, healthcare, and industrial training simulation.”

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  • Firestorm185

    Honestly I loved the Leap Motion when I first got it about two years ago…. but that was before I even had a Rift. And now that most major VR HMD developers are releasing (or have released) motion controllers for their headsets, I’m quite skeptical about what Leap Motion still has to offer (especially with all the tracking limitations their tech offers (low tracking field even with the update, jittery tracking in sunlight, etc.) and almost no content recently has been created for it specifically (that I know of). If they happen to get their tech in some high-end headsets (ones that lots of people would actually end up buying, not necessarily Rift or Vive level) then I could still see some use cases for this tech, but other than that it seems like free-hand tracking is currently just a bit before it’s time…

    Not to say that it can’t do extremely well in the mobile sector, like this article states, but like I stated above, the shaky tracking in sunlight still concerns me a bit, if people think they’ll be able to slap a mobile headset on in broad daylight and use they’re hands to play games or other content…

    • Raphael

      It feels like the bad old days when a company (Razer) would release a new type of controller and not get it into the hands of developers to build a good content support ecosystem. Razer Hydra gained support for a couple of games, found purpose in scientific community and then died out.

      • Firestorm185

        I totally agree. And the big problem is that Leap Motion wasn’t originally designed for VR, so I heard about it a long time ago as a desktop accessory, then I was a bit confused when it jumped to VR because the instability of it made it not make much sense. And because it wasn’t originally designed for VR but rather overhauled for it VR developers who used Leap Motion were far and in between. And like I said before, due to all the big companies have tracking systems of their own (which at least for the Rift the Motion actually interfered with Rift tracking, depending on where the mount was placed.) then to try and make it a VR-specific peripheral to already solved problems just seemed like a bad business move.

        • Sponge Bob

          relax
          touch screen never replaced optical mouse
          likewise leap motion will never replace hi-precision hand held controller
          hand tracking is not the same as hand held something tracking
          people have different hands and some are even missing

        • Adam Munich

          The loss of tracking instability is mostly fixed in the latest builds.

          • Firestorm185

            I literally just clean installed it from their site a week ago and could barely get both hands to track…

    • Sponge Bob

      it won;’t do too well in mobile
      something else will…

  • fuyou2

    WHAT A FUCKING WASTE OF MONEY!! LEAP OF SHIT

    • Jean-Sebastien Perron

      VR gloves were perfectly working in the early 90’s bring them back. But holding and grabing object is what we do with our hands and grabing air is not as immersive as grabing a touch controller. Mobile VR is a road to nowhere.

    • NooYawker

      You might be mixing up Leap Motion and Magic Leap. Leap Motion has products out and is pretty great. Magic Leap has lot’s of hype and investors.

  • I had some fun developing some Leap stuff with the Unreal 4 Engine. There’s two tracked hand/arm templates to play with buried inside the engine. I didn’t find it very reliable though.

    It’s AMAZING for social experiences, where instability isn’t an issue. Leap *NEEDS* to focus their tech on social VR experiences. When it comes to games though, it craps out at the worst times. For instance, in Altspace VR, a Leap is SO useful and amazing. But even a basic button pushing game can get frustrating with a Leap. Social interaction is where the Leap triumphs.

  • Lucidfeuer

    It would be good to know how Leap Motion fares against every other hand-tracking technology out there. They’ve done an amazing job for years, yet manufacturers have been to cheap to integrate their tech into headsets. I wish their mobile hardware kit had an Oculus/Gear/Vive compatible form-factor because the limited scope of a regular kit stuck onto an Headset is not ideal either, but adds lots of capabilities that should already be integrated with most headsets.

    Good investment. Leap Motion is not going away as long as they figure out how to adapt their software with regular mobile cameras.

  • Sponge Bob

    good tech but its not gonna replace hand held controllers..
    much like touchscreen never replaced computer mouse
    AND its dead outside in direct sunlight