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Leap Motion designed a $100 augmented reality headset with super-powerful hand tracking

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Gesture interface company Leap Motion is announcing an ambitious, but still very early, plan for an augmented reality platform based on its hand tracking system. The system is called Project North Star, and it includes a design for a headset that Leap Motion claims costs less than $100 at large-scale production. The headset would be equipped with a Leap Motion sensor, so users could precisely manipulate objects with their hands — something the company has previously offered for desktop and VR displays.

Project North Star isn’t a new consumer headset, nor will Leap Motion be selling a version to developers at this point. Instead, the company is releasing the necessary hardware specifications and software under an open source license next week. “We hope that these designs will inspire a new generation of experimental AR systems that will shift the conversation from what an AR system should look like, to what an AR experience should feel like,” the company writes.

The headset design uses two fast-refreshing 3.5-inch LCD displays with a resolution of 1600x1440 per eye. The displays reflect their light onto a visor that the user perceives as a transparent overlay. Leap Motion says this offers a field of view that’s 95 degrees high and 70 degrees wide, larger than most AR systems that exist today. The Leap Motion sensor fits above the eyes and tracks hand motion across a far wider field of view, around 180 degrees horizontal and vertical.

Leap Motion emphasized to The Verge that it’s not a headset company, and it’s said before that it’s primarily interested in getting software running on as many systems as possible. You can already stick a Leap Motion sensor onto a HoloLens mixed reality headset, adding more sophisticated hand tracking to existing hardware.

While Leap Motion is citing an impressive price and field of view, Project North Star isn’t (as far as we can see) meant to one-up headsets like HoloLens and Magic Leap. It’s supposed to offer great hand interactions, but not advanced room-scale tracking, interaction with your environment, or a self-contained design. The design could be helpful for small players that want to experiment with augmented reality hardware, while requiring relatively little investment from Leap Motion itself.

Hand tracking is an obvious feature for augmented and mixed reality headsets, and companies like Microsoft, Magic Leap, and Meta have all expressed interest in it. But we haven’t seen a headset throw its full weight behind systems like Leap Motion’s, which articulate every finger separately and aim to replicate the physics of picking up and moving objects. While we haven’t gotten to try the headset, Leap Motion design VP Keiichi Matsuda has posted some very cool early videos shot through a prototype — including demonstrations of handling a holographic cube and pulling up a virtual wrist display.