For most people simply curious about virtual reality, going the extra mile to purchase an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive is not normally the first choice of action. Asides from their high cost, the setting up and not being able to use it anywhere at any time is a huge deterrent to virtual reality newbies. Hence mobile VR headsets came to the rescue, with their cape of ease and superpower of affordability. The likes of the Gear VR and Google Cardboard rose to the challenge and brought virtual reality via our mobile phones at a cheap price.
One of the key components of virtual reality is how we interact with objects in that space. Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have tackled this with the production of the Oculus Touch and Vive Controller respectively. They provide information about the state of the users hands and its movements. For precise hand and finger tracking, Leap Motion developed a controller that can be hooked up to HMDs to accurately track finger movement and increase immersion by allowing users use their hands intuitively in virtual reality.
These are amazing products that really improve how we interact with objects in the VR space but alas, they are not available for use with mobile VR HMDs. Currently, you can use none of these input devices with your Gear VR or any other mobile VR. This puts a damper on the virtual reality experiences available to the mass of people that either can’t afford an Oculus Rift or are not yet sold enough on the idea of VR to try it out.
In view of this, Leap Motion has begun construction of a device that they are pitching to top virtual reality companies to embed into mobile HMDs. This device will allow mobile VR HMDs to accurately track hand movement and also allow developers to create virtual reality experiences that include hand interaction with objects for mobile VR. Though an amazing feat, it will be a while (if ever) before the Leap Motion mobile platform is properly integrated into commercially available mobile VR HMDs. In sight of this problem, some developers took it upon themselves to provide a workaround to the current impossibility of using a Leap Motion with mobile VR HMDs.
After being selected to participate in the first VR Hackathon in Nigeria hosted by Imisi3D, Team LeVRn decided to wow the judges with a virtual reality experience that teaches programming to beginners by taking away its abstract nature. The Hackathon was purposed to creating experiences that were related to health, education or tourism and these experiences were to be developed with the Gear VR as their target platform. Team LeVRn decided to borrow from Montessori style of teaching which requires the student to physically interact with objects in a way that removes the abstractness from some topics. With this in mind, the team ordered a Leap Motion controller ignorant of its inability to be used with a Gear VR. Upon the arrival of the Leap Motion controller, the team soon realised its shortcomings. Rather than choose a different input device or change their preconceived idea, team LeVRn decided to break this barrier with full force. Hence, gear-vr-leap was developed.
Gear-VR-Leap is an open source tool that allows developers to create virtual reality content that utilise the Leap Motion Controller to be targeted at mobile platforms using Unity. It not only works for the Samsung Gear VR, but any mobile VR HMD. Although your Leap Motion controller still has to be tethered to a PC, the Gear-VR-Leap sends information from the controller to the mobile phone over a local area network. This hereby allows the Leap Motion to be used by mobile HMDs albeit still being tethered to a PC. Details on how it works and how to use it can be found on the github repository, https://github.com/levrn/gear-vr-leap-unity
The development of this open source tool was an incredible feat and it won team LeVRn the Hackathon. According to Mr Bosun Tijani, CEO of CcHub and one of the judges at Hackathon, the gear-vr-leap is an amazing development because it not only allowed team leVRn to use the leap motion controller with the Gear VR, it allows developers from all over the world to also develop experiences that use the leap motion controller.
So while we await the Leap Motion mobile platform to be accepted and embedded into mobile VR HMDs, we can still develop and experience virtual reality with our hands using this amazing open source tool.
– Article by Tade Ajiboye (@gazuntype)