Bristol-based Ultrahaptics has bought US rival Leap Motion, which creates gesture tracking software and sensors, for a reported $30 million – a small fraction of the $306 million Leap Motion was valued at during its Series B funding round five years ago.
Leap Motion, headquartered in San Francisco, develops sensors that allow people to translate their hand movements into virtual signals, but reportedly drives less revenue than earlier investors had anticipated, hence the falling valuation. It boasts a strong team, developer base and intellectual property including a string of patents.
It was allegedly approached by Apple last year, which Business Insider says offered $50 million before walking away, in part, it alleges, because Leap Motion cofounder David Holz was openly insulting about Apple’s own lack of innovation. The UK’s Ultrahaptics, with which it has worked for years, may prove a better cultural fit.
Ultrahaptics was founded in 2013 based on technology developed at the University of Bristol, UK. It closed a £35 million Series C round in December 2018.
Ultrahaptics CEO, Steve Cliffe, said: “”Together, Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion products have the opportunity to be at the global epicentre of spatial interaction.”
“Taking a holistic view of this exciting market, not only can we continue to create two hugely significant technologies, but we can max out the potential of combining them.”
He added: “With this deal, we’ll combine some of the best minds in human-computer interaction. We will be better placed to leverage our customer contacts and expand the vertical stack of immersive technologies, just as the applications which benefit from our collective strengths are moving into the mainstream.”
Testing the new finger pose retargeting (maps finger tracking data to any user imported/created avatar!) in @neos_vr with @LeapMotion Having your full body avatar hands match yours feels a lot cooler than I thought it would! #metaverse #socialVR #VirtualReality pic.twitter.com/0mRaZTpA7m
— Frooxius (NeosVR) (@Frooxius) May 9, 2019
The company faces emerging competition from actors like Alphabet, whose Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group is leading its “Project Soli”, which uses minuscule radar to create virtual buttons, sliders and other interactions in thin air. The company has built an entire sensor and antenna array into a single 8mm x 10mm solid state custom built chip and released an SDK. It won regulatory approval this year.
Ultrahaptics’ core mid-air haptic technology, meanwhile, uses arrays of ultrasonic transducers to project haptic feedback directly onto users’ hands, creating the sense of touch in mid-air. The company’s technology controls and manipulates ultrasonic waves so that the combined pressure of the waves produce enough force to be felt on a user’s skin.
The company is currently engaged with blue-chip customers in sectors such as automotive (where the company has developed concept vehicles with Bosch and Harman), digital out-of-home, location-based entertainment, industrial controls, medical interfaces, VR gaming and AR/VR enterprise applications.
David Holz, Co-founder and CTO of Leap Motion, said: “We’ve been working with Ultrahaptics for nearly six years. Both companies have an intense passion for deepening the bond between people and technology and together we can reach the true potential of both. We’ve been the undisputed leaders in our respective spaces from the beginning and this marks an exciting new era of even greater technologies and more physical, intuitive experiences.”