From The Editors Technology

Leap Motion’s NORTH STAR Project Has the Potential to Make Affordable AR Headsets a Reality

Leap Motion’s co-founder David Holz yesterday announced in a blogpost that his San Francisco-based start-up has developed a prototype of a more than pocket-friendly augmented reality headset.

Codenamed North Star, the project is basically aimed at incorporating top-quality AR gear in a relatively cheap housing.

“As we explore this newfound ability, it becomes increasingly clear that this power will not be limited to some ‘virtual world’ separate from our own. It will spill out like a great flood, uniting what has been held apart for so long: our digital and physical realities,” says Holz. “In preparation for the coming flood, we at Leap Motion have built a ship, and we call it Project North Star.”

Leap Motion is the same company that gave you the wireless hand-tracking device for PCs that made it possible for people to type using hand gestures, effectively taking the keyboard out of the equation.

While some reviewers were impressed with what they thought was a potential game changer, others did not see any practicality in the gesture-sensitive device, considering it more of a distracting gimmick than anything else.

Well, Leap Motion has since diversified a bit and has been working relentlessly on using its skeleton tracking technology on augmented reality controllers, which is apparently on the verge of fruition if Holz’s April 9 blogpost is to be taken seriously.

However, in the blogpost captioned “Our Journey to the North Star,” Holz does acknowledge the fact that a lot is still left to be achieved in terms of further perfecting the headset.

Some of the areas of improvement he lists are as follows.

  • “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.”

Vaguely similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens, a bit heftier though, and a lot cheaper-looking too, Leap Motion’s AR headset, in its current form, basically incorporates a pair of low-persistence 1600×1440 displays with a 120 fps capability and a 100-degree field of vision that, together with a 180-degree motion-compatible sensor, give you the North Star prototype.

It’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen before, claims Holz in another blogpost entitled “Unveiling Project North Star.”

Absolutely vital in the augmented reality ecosystem, low-persistence technology is a combination of some very potent technologies and techniques that reduce, if not eliminate, latency and shaking, which, in turn, aids in checking simulator sickness and spatial desync – both of which can give you a very unpleasant AR/VR experience.

When we talk AR headsets we are basically talking expensive products. Priced at $5,000 the HaloLens is ample proof of that.

However, contrary to that and because of it, the North Star project mission was to drastically cut the production cost down to under $100, without compromising on the quality of the AR experience.

“All of this was possible while keeping the design of the North Star headset fundamentally simple – under one hundred dollars to produce at scale. So although this is an experimental platform right now, we expect that the design itself will spawn further endeavors that will become available to the rest of the world,” Holz wrote.

Sadly, Leap Motion is in no mood to build the headset itself; hence, it’s decision to open-source the hardware and software sometime next week, hoping to woo other players into making this a marketable reality.

“Next week we will make the hardware and related software open source. The discoveries from these early endeavors should be available and accessible to everyone,” said the company co-founder.

Here’s some early prototype work shared by Keiichi Matsuda, the company’s Creative Director and VP Design on his Twitter handle.

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