Sometime back in April, touch interface specialist company Leap Motion has unveiled a nifty little project that is named the North Star. The name seemed rather tame, unassuming, and indeed, what was shown was somewhat an average prototype of augmented reality glasses. However, if you are one of the countless followers of AR concept genius the company’s current VP Design and Global Creative Director, Keiichi Matsuda, you’d instantly realize that with this announcement, something really big was in the works.
In fact, with this project’s unveiling, Leap Motion is most likely set to teach a few lessons in the augmented reality technology industry, a sort of AR glasses manual on whatever needs to be focused on.
Touch Is a Wobbly Inevitability
The advent of better graphics, much higher frame rates, and integration with surround audio have allowed virtual reality to become even more immersive than it ever was. The only thing missing was a way to intuitively interact with this fabricated world, the realm that your eyes and ears already believe to be real.
Needless to say, this has led to the inevitable disruption of a user’s immersive experience once you start playing around with controllers. But if there is one thing that the Microsoft Kinect has clearly taught us about touchy wavy controls, is that gesture-based interfacing could easily go from amazingly convenient, to frustratingly wobbly.
Project North Star, however, will most likely inherit the improvements that Leap Motion has made during its foray into VR roughly two years ago. The touch concept is already inherently intuitive, and many reviewers of the original Leap Motion agree that it only requires a couple more software updates to finally do the trick. Technologically speaking, this is even better in AR, as Project North Star basically introduces a new set of dedicated augmented reality glasses made to further optimize touch interfacing and its advantages. The system’s scanning software could easily integrate with its Leap Motion’s default positioning algorithms to create even more accurate motion detection.
Keiichi Matsuda’s teasers had a tendency to show a considerable detail difference of the concept’s proposed uses. This is in contrast to older Leap Motion demos many years ago, which usually focused on rather vague and generalized demonstrations of the original touch-based product’s responsiveness and accuracy. When placed within Project North Star’s design, some of the teaser concepts such as virtual wearables even gain an almost unusual sense of real plausibility. Had it been first introduced by earlier augmented reality glasses like Google Glass, it most likely wouldn’t have been practically acceptable, since the “air” touch technology that Leap Motion pioneered was yet to be fully realized back then.
In any case, we can expect the future developments of Project North Star to be the next focal point of the company’s current endeavors, what perhaps would be an inevitable necessity for the future of intuitive AR and VR access.
So Cheap That Practicality Can Be Put Aside
Technological development has shown time and time again, that when innovations become so cheap, they can practicality be put aside. At the very least, financial setbacks become far less of a concern, opening the gates to riskier, more outlandish ideas, with some able to potentially make the technology even more integrated in our society.
The most commonly cited example is touchscreen technology. Touchscreens were available as early as the 1960s and became commercially viable in the 1980s. But it has only become truly prevalent after a number of other innovations like the GUI became available to the simplest of computing devices.
The same trend is currently being taken by VR and AR. To be fair, most of us even remotely familiar with it are already past the point of even caring about the number of times this has been mentioned. However specifically, VR and AR would most likely not break through the market as the next commonplace tech, if it doesn’t get cheap enough to the lowest common denominator.
As in, really cheap, perhaps just like the projected introductory price of augmented reality glasses to be directly based on Project North Star’s designs. True, at $100 for a completed, working prototype, it won’t exactly hop over Google’s Daydream. However, such a device could still blow contenders like the HoloLens and Magic Leap out of the water. Remember, this is not a makeshift smartphone-turned-integrated-reality-gadget. It is instead a pair of dedicated augmented reality glasses.
Granted, final pricing would ultimately rest on the first big financial entities that would adopt its designs. However, this still goes to show that Leap Motion is completely set on making AR so cheap, that pretty much everyone will have the chance to tinker with different applied concepts.
Availability Leaps Into Hyper-Reality
And a big bang of ideas it indeed leads to. As of June 6, 2018, Project North Star finally becomes open source as it was initially announced. Leap Motion had of course planned it to be this way all along, since the company is not particularly in any position to build and manufacture the finalized augmented reality glasses on its own. More than that however, the objective is to get the ideas to the people who can expand that basic idea into better ones.
According to Project North Star’s official blog, the schematics of the prototype of augmented reality glasses will be available for download, including a short, non-technical friendly guide on its construction. The completed hardware will have two 120fps 1600×1440 displays that will have a 100-degree field view. This of course is set to be improved as the design team provides updates. But as mentioned earlier, better ideas are definitely out there that are projected to build upon its design as it becomes a final product.
Much like the 2nd generation Oculus Rift dev kit, developers of Project North Star expect innovators to modify the open source hardware design using off-the-shelf stuff. There is, however, a slight hint of a heavier emphasis on 3D-printing, as the official blog post points out the idea to “explore how the custom components might be made more accessible to everyone.”
In conclusion, its supposedly simpler, but updated design, coupled with its expected cheap introductory price is set, or at least expected, to open the brain floodgates of practical augmented reality glasses technology. Much is yet to be seen and proven, but if Keiichi Matsuda’s teasers don’t inspire or excite developers about the wondrous potentials of Project North Star, then they might want to get some additional inspiration boost through his more fanciful, yet still generally plausible, ideas.
Project North Star is still far from becoming the success story it currently aspires to be. However, the ideas, the announcements, and the developments certainly poise it in that direction. Time will tell whether these supposedly game-changing augmented reality glasses actually reach their destination, and teach the hard lesson that interface (in the form of “air” touch controls), cost (to the lowest common denominator), and access (to its original source and eventual shared ideas) are still the three big keys the industry needs to open its gilded gates.