Leap Motion publicly established itself as a pioneer in VR hand-tracking controls and DIY augmented reality gear, but reportedly didn’t generate much revenue — one reason its valuation sank from $300 million to $30 million as it entertained buyout offers from companies including Apple. Today, U.K.-based Ultrahaptics partially confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that it’s acquiring Leap Motion, seemingly at the low end of that range.
While the Journal characterized Ultrahaptics as a “rival” to Leap Motion, the latter’s CTO and cofounder David Holz underscored that the companies have actually worked together for almost six years. Their innovations are complementary rather than competitive, and Leap Motion’s tech is already used in Ultrahaptics products.
Ultrahaptics makes virtual control solutions that use targeted ultrasonic waves to create mid-air tactile sensations on hands, enabling a gesture control user to feel virtual objects without holding a controller or wearing VR gloves. Between the mid-air gesture sensing and sensations, a user could experience seemingly physical interactions such as a click when a VR or AR button is pressed, friction when a cube is turned, or a texture when running fingers across a surface. Working together, the companies’ engineers can “continue to create two hugely significant technologies,” said Ultrahaptics CEO Steve Cliffe, and “max out the potential of combining them.”
Leap Motion’s mid-air gesture tracking technology has been widely praised for elegance and accuracy, leading Apple to twice pursue the company for an acquisition. But Holz reportedly criticized Apple’s innovation credentials and described it as “the devil” as the first potential deal fell through, while the second collapsed due to eleventh-hour disputes over valuation. Apple reportedly offered between $30 and $50 million for the company, one-tenth of its founders’ peak $306 million estimate.
Reportedly, Ultrahaptics paid around $30 million for Leap, and will acquire its patents and staff, including Holz, but not CEO and cofounder Michael Buckwald. It’s unclear whether the company’s open source AR helmet design North Star will continue in development after the acquisition, or whether Ultrahaptics will focus solely on evolving the company’s hand gesture technology.