With a recent pivot toward virtual reality, Leap Motion is continuing to discover useful ways to use their motion input controller for virtual reality. The company has devised a new gesture which activates and deactivates passthrough camera functionality with a simple swipe of the hand.

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Trying to get through an intense session of demo testing and need a quick refreshment? If you’ve experienced the unpleasant feeling of slipping off the Oculus Rift and balancing it on your head to grab a soft drink or bag of chips, you know this is a less than ideal situation which essentially breaks the spell of presence and adds unnecessary frustration. Now Leap Motion is addressing the issue by repurposing its infrared-sensing cameras for a more ordinary use as a rudimentary passthrough camera—so you’re just a hand swipe away from the outside world.

oculus rift dk2 vr mount leap motion
Leap Motion attaches to the front of the Oculus Rift DK2 and other VR headsets with a specially made mount.

The company is calling it Quick Switch, a mode that will soon be compatible with any app going forward that chooses to integrate Leap Motion’s core assets for Unity.

“We designed Quick Switch to be fast, simple, and easy to use, while not interfering with your apps,” writes Leap Motion. “Because the hand passes so close to the controller, Quick Switch actually detects the gesture directly using the Image API. This means that the gesture is extremely unlikely to be used by a regular VR app, since it is closer than the typical interaction zone.”

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The ability to use external cameras is only the first of many steps to creating a convincing graphical overlay that blends with the external world, inexorably linking virtual and augmented realities. Gear VR owners know this well, as access to the passthrough camera has been an onboard function since its December 8th release, making it possible to eat, drink, and bowl, and then immediately snap back to gameplay with the touch of a button. The transition is quick, but not at all linked in a way that might allow you to play ping pong with a little dancing elephant, or clink glasses with Mayor McCheese in the real world.

Another product, the Japan based Ovrvision camera, has also addressed the issue of passthrough cameras for Oculus Rift owners, but due to an apparent lack of consumer confidence the device has yet to see the scale of adoption necessary to call attention in the developer community.

Road to VR’s Ben Lang and Paul James said they were impressed with how seamless Quick Switch was when they got to test the new feature during a meeting with Leap Motion at CES 2015 last week. More to come from that meeting soon, stay tuned.

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  • Hopsonator

    So is it a true to life pass through feed like the gear or that kind of ghost like overlay?

  • kijutsu

    With all due respect to Leap Motion (and the likes) you need buttons to play games. With the proper controller setup anything the Leap does a good controller can do better and then some. Sorry if I sound grumpy but I’m just not sold yet of button-less way of controlling games.

  • Druss

    Buttons are the last thing we need in VR, we are trying to simulate as close to real life experiences as possible. Pushing a button on a controller to open a door vs. pushing open a door. VR is in it’s infancy and so are VR controls, but as long as we keep using controllers a HMD will never be more than a glorified monitor.

    • kijutsu

      OK then, how would you play a game like WoW without buttons? How would you start conversations? Accept or refuse quests, summon mounts, use the action house, trade items, use 20+ spells one after the other, all with gestures?

      Nothing against motion controls but they are way too limited as the ideal input.

      • Conor

        I agree that a game like wow, which relies heavily on interfaces, would not work practical well for this kind of control. However, there are many ways you could allow a player to interact with things like accepting a quests and start conversations. Simple making a virtual interface that you press buttons with your virtual hands would allow this to happen. Although, I feel game creators will really have to work on making new game designs, since previous game models rely so much on the vast amount of inputs people have with keyboards and controls.