Over the last few weeks, Leap Motion has been teasing some very compelling AR interface prototypes, demonstrated on an unknown headset. Today the company reveals that the headset is a prototype dev kit, designed in-house, offering a combined 100 degree field of view, low latency, and high resolution. Leap Motion plans to open-source the design of the device, which they’re calling Project North Star.

Founded in 2010, Leap Motion develops leading hand-tracking hardware and software. Though their first piece of hardware was designed for desktop input, the company pivoted into VR, and more recently the AR space, exploring how their hand-tracking tech can enable new and intuitive means of interacting with virtual and augmented information.

With AR hardware still in its infancy, the company sought to build their own in-house prototype AR headset, targeting specifications far beyond what’s available to consumers today. This was so they could design AR interfaces, based on their hand tracking tech, targeting the capabilities of future AR headsets. They’re calling this work Project North Star, and plan to open-source the design next week, saying that such a headset could cost “under $100 dollars to produce at scale.”

Image courtesy Leap Motion

The prototype headset uses side-mounted displays with large ‘bird bath’ style optics (similar to the Meta 2 approach), which afford the device a 1,600 × 1,400 per-eye resolution at 120 FPS, with over 100 degrees of combined field of view, and hand-tracking from the company’s latest hardware which tracks at 150Hz over a 180 × 180 degree area.

The version of Project North Star which Leap Motion plans to open-source is actually a pared back version of an earlier prototype which boasted greater specs, but was quite a burden to wear. The team at Leap Motion constructed this earlier version as a baseline of what could be achieved.

An earlier Project North Star prototype aimed to embody top specs, but wasn’t very concerned with form factor. | Image courtesy Leap Motion

“[…] we wanted to create something with the highest possible technical specifications, and then work our way down until we had something that struck a balance between performance and form-factor,” the company shared on its blog today. “[…] The vertical field of view struck us most of all; we could now look down with our eyes, put our hands at our chests and still see augmented information overlaid on top of our hands. This was not the minimal functionality required for a compelling experience, this was luxury.”

With a good look at what could be achieved, the team used masking tape over the lenses to crop down the field of view to get a feel for how much they could reduce the size of the lenses before losing some of the essential experience due to the lower field of view. Once they found that balance they began the process of cutting smaller optics and shrinking the headset, moving from cell phone displays to a custom display system using a pair of 3.5″ fast-switching LCD displays.

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“We ended up with something roughly the size of a virtual reality headset. In whole it has fewer parts and preserves most of our natural field of view. The combination of the open air design and the transparency generally made it feel immediately more comfortable than virtual reality systems (which was actually a bit surprising to everyone who used it),” the company writes. “[…] Putting this headset on, the resolution, latency, and field of view limitations of today’s [AR] systems melt away and you’re suddenly confronted with the question that lies at the heart of this endeavor: What shall we build?”

Indeed, with hardware in hand, the company has been focusing on that question; using a wearable camera, it was the Project North Star prototype through which Leap Motion’s VP of Design, Keiichi Matsuda, shot those tantalizing ‘virtual wearable’ prototype videos which we recently called “a potent glimpse at the future of your smartphone.”

Image courtesy Leap Motion

Leap Motion says they have a few tweaks left to do before open-sourcing the Project North Star design next week, including “room for enclosed sensors and electronics, better cable management, cleaner ergonomics and better curves […] and support for off the shelf head-gear mounting systems.”

There’s also a number of areas where Leap Motion says that Project North Star is ripe for further development:

  • Inward-facing embedded cameras for automatic and precise alignment of the augmented image with the user’s eyes as well as eye and face tracking.
  • Head mounted ambient light sensors for 360 degree lighting estimation.
  • Directional speakers near the ears for discrete, localized audio feedback
  • Electrochromatic coatings on the reflectors for electrically controllable variable transparency
  • Micro-actuators that move the displays by fractions of a millimeter to allow for variable and dynamic depth of field based on eye convergence

With the open-sourcing of the Project North Star hardware and software, Leap Motion hopes that the design will “spawn further endeavors that will become available to the rest of the world.”

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  • jean thompson

    Awesome!!!!

  • gothicvillas

    is thats a ps4 camera attached on top of the headset?

    • Johannes Bühler

      I believe that is Leap Motion’s handtracking unit.

  • Laurence Nairne

    Glad they’re not putting this on sale and calling it a product. Very prokising tech under the hood though if it can live up to expectations in the real world.

    I also like LMs approach in that they are always looking at their hardware from a content point of view.

    That being said, it does currently look like Wall-E when he gets the bra stuck to his eyes.

    https://goo.gl/images/n9WYvW

  • Leap Motion v2 is very powerful, that’s why the UX next to the hand was very stable. But I have doubts about the possible market… all the other major headsets already have hand tracking and this one can’t cost $100 for a standalone device…

    • JJ

      well they have controller tracking not hand tracking and they want to integrate their leap hardware into other headsets as well not just with one. I agree that 100$ sounds way too good for a device thats better than sets that cost over 500$ currently

    • Andrew Jakobs

      uhh, what headsets have actual handtracking? none..

  • Who’s this?

    That thing is bloody huge, but for the price and capability, it’s the one thing we need. You are always supposed to start big and bulky, if you try to refine the concept and give away tech for that reason, it’ll flop and you have to wait ten more years. This is great for hobbyists.

  • Raphael

    Looks very similar to a mil pilot data helmet I once saw.

  • Firestorm185

    Awesome to see this finally released! Can’t wait for it to open-source, I wanna build one!

    • Andrew Jakobs

      This is LeapMotion, not Magic Leap…..

      • Firestorm185

        And your point is?

  • Sven Viking

    “Micro-actuators that move the displays by fractions of a millimeter to allow for variable and dynamic depth of field based on eye convergence”

    I hadn’t considered that before. If you’re not concerned about multiple simultaneous depths of field, you don’t need to bother with lightfields — as long as you know where the user is looking, you should be able to just refocus the entire image to match that virtual distance by moving the display. Clever.

  • Molmir

    Leap Motion open source:
    * 100 deg FoV
    * under 100 dollars to produce at scale

    Meanwhile at Magic Leap:
    * FoV: vhs tape held in front of you with arms half extended
    * priced as a premium computer

    • kontis

      You only listed the pros of the former and cons of the latter, so let me fill in the blanks:

      Leap Motion open source:
      * $100 BOM => $400+ final product (manufacturing, transport, profit margin etc.)
      * LCD screens absurdly protruding from your temples – the main reason it can be so cheap – fixing this problem creates expensive headset like Magic Leap
      * computing unit not included (can cost as much if not more than the HMD)
      * battery not included
      * no positional tracking
      * no environment tracking

      Magic Leap:
      * sleek form factor
      * self-contained positional tracking
      * environment tracking and analysis
      * computing unit and battery included

      • Molmir

        What I did was listing the 2 reasons why AR headset consumer adoption is low (fow too low, price too high), and in that regard the Leap Motions advantage is apparent.

        But you are correct that beyond those two aspects the Magic Leap probably is far superior, yes, but having all these shinies doesn’t really matter as long as the price is so high that not enough people buy it, and even if they do the experience will be bad because of the low fov no matter the sleek form factor, self-contained positional tracking, environment tracking and analysis, and computing unit and battery pack included.

        Magic Leap has been in development for many years and they have gone from equally huge sized prototypes as Leap Motion to almost glasses kind of form factor, which means they have settled with the chosen low fov core specs and have put effort into shrinking it successfully. So they are not going back to huge again anytime soon. Leap motion is doing it the other way around, maxing out the prototype and shrinking it only when it can be done with wide enough fov etc. maintained. So when (if) Leap Motion manages to shrink it to Magic Leap size, it will be far superior, assuming they put in the Magic Leap sensor shinies or equivalent (which isnt huge so should be relatively easy to add by a partnering company into the design)

  • Facts

    I’m a fan of vr/ar but that thing look so ridiculous sorry I’ll have to laugh at anyone I see wearing those things.

  • Lucidfeuer

    For once, I’m disappointed in LeapMotion. They’re going the wrong direction…

    I’d rather hope they release a LeapMotion 2 or an integrated VR headset since manufacturer having done their job of implementing it.

  • Gary

    Those FOV continue to disappoint though… when is it going to cover our whole vision?

    • Guest

      There were some space-helmet style one’s about 30 years ago. Never made anyone sick…

      • Gary

        lol

        • Guest

          Really, I think they were made in Japan. The graphics are projected on the dome from the inside. Today they could feasibly wrap the display across the dome or even a cylinder to cut down on the size, but just about every company is instead making your eyes fight each other in your brain…

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Hope some company will build them, and have it’s computer & battery built in. It would sell very well, as long as it’s not priced to high, cough hololens/magic leap 1 cough.

  • oompah

    100$ WOW
    Thats my kinda headset
    I want it asap now

  • Joe Strout

    It’s been well over a week since this was published. How about a follow-up delving into the open-source files that should have been released by now?