UPCOMING TECHNOLOGY – Remember in the film Minority Report when the operators are fiddling around with their systems in a 3D space? And remember how there were those virtual reality things that put you straight in to an immersive environment? Both of those things are right round the corner – the Leap Motion device, an incredibly precise 3D tracking suite, and the Oculus Rift, a next-generation head-tracking stereoscopic virtual reality headset, are going to completely change the world. Here’s an introduction to both of them, and an explanation of how they will work together to revolutionise computing.
What is Leap Motion?
In the video above, you can notice that Leap Motion is a device not much larger than an iPod. It sits wirelessly on a desk and creates a virtual cubic metre of point tracking space. That means it can detect your hands, your body or any object you suspend in a cubic metre of 3D space before it. It can track well over a million points at once – over a thousand times more accurately than current tracking technology such as the Microsoft Kinect – and can discriminate between a finger, a pencil and palms. It supports whole new ways to interact with your computer, from using chopsticks to pull Google Earth about to using a playground-style pistol-shaped fist to play first-person shooters. Leap Motion – Founded in 2010 as OcuSpec, the startup raised a $1.3M seed financing round in June 2011 with investments from venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund as well as several angel investors – An excerpt from Wikipedia.
What is Oculus Rift?
The Oculus Rift is revolutionary too, but in a completely different way. Current virtual reality headsets suffer from two main problems. The first is the speed of head tracking: as the head moves, the view shifts with noticeable latency. The second is the field of view: users of VR headsets currently have about an 40 degree field of vision, well below the 130-degree field of vision (average) of normal sight.
The Rift solves both of those problems. It contains revolutionary head-tracking technology enabling virtually instant view transitioning based on the user’s movements. It also ups the field of vision to 110 degrees – just off that of normal sight. It is, in both senses, totally immersive.
The company announced a Kickstarter campaign on 1 August 2012. Within four hours of the announcement, Oculus secured its objective of $250,000 to further develop the headset. In less than 36 hours, the Kickstarter campaign surpassed $1 million dollars in funding, eventually ending with $2,437,429 in funding – An excerpt from Wikipedia.
So what about the two together?
There’s the most exciting part. Leap claimed that the original idea for the Motion came out of the difficulty of 3D modelling. Something so simple in real life, they believe, should not be so difficult on a computer. And so, the Leap allows you to manipulate virtual clay in to any sort of structure you want – incredibly realistically. Oculus Rift slots straight into this, of course. Manipulating a 3D model on-screen is all very good and well, but real sculptors need to be able to see the shape they create before them.
One of the unexpected benefits of the Motion and the Rift is that the device a program is being run on will become less important. This could see the end of desktop computers altogether – both devices are so portable that fully-immersive computing will be possible using a quality, powerful notebook or laptop. Remove the static media, and you remove the static category – perhaps this will be the catalyst the notebook industry needs to continue its meteoric rise.
The Oculus Rift will be available as Developer Kits from January 2013, with the Leap Motion Dev Kits already shipping. End-user products are available to pre-order from both company websites.