Leap Motion is announcing today that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding. Co-founder and CEO Michael Buckwald told me that the company is still planning to ship its gesture-based controller sometime during the first quarter of this year, and he’s also announcing a partnership with Asus that should help get Leap Motion into the hands of consumers.
This is just one of the first in a number of deals that the company has in the works with manufacturers and retailers, Buckwald said. In this case, Asus is supposed to bundle the Leap Motion controller with its All-In-One PCs and high-end notebooks. Buckwald said he’ll have other bundling partnerships to announce, as well as deals with other manufacturers to integrate or embed the company’s products: “That’s a huge part of our distribution strategy.”
Why is this appealing to a manufacturer like Asus? Buckwald argued that it’s because Leap Motion can help turn PCs into exciting platforms again. (Though to be clear, he also plans to expand beyond PCs.) Unless they’re serious gamers, most people aren’t taking advantage of the computing power at their command, he said: “They use a tiny fraction of a very powerful processor — they browse the Internet or they use a word processor.” But by allowing users to interact directly with applications by just moving their fingers or hands, Buckwald said that Leap Motion makes a number of “computationally intensive” tasks more accessible — for example, there are apps that allow users to edit music with their hands.
In fact, the company says that that more than 40,000 developers have signed up to develop Leap Motion applications, with 12,000 developer units of the controller already shipped.
Right now, President and COO Andy Miller (a former VP in Apple’s iAd program, as well as co-founder at mobile ad network Quattro) said he’s seeing a mix between existing apps that are adding gesture-based controls and others that are built specifically for Leap Motion.
“As [the Leap Motion] app store matures, we’ll start to see the ratio shift towards apps that are built from the ground up, that are created and designed with this in mind,” Miller said.
You can see the controller in action in the (old-ish) demo video below. It’s supposed to be “iPod-sized,” while creating a 3D interaction space of 8 cubic feet around the user. The company says that the controller tracks individual hands and fingers at a rate of 290 frames per second and can register movements of 1/100th of a millimeter “with no visible lag time.”
This kind of interface sounds exciting, but also like something that might be challenging for consumers to get used to. Buckwald acknowledged that some education might be required, but he said that will happen through “consumers seeing the amazing apps that people have built on top of the platform.” Miller added that in the company’s tests, “it takes a user literally seconds to figure out where to place their hands.”
The combined interest from consumers, retailers, and manufacturers is the reason for the new funding, Buckwald said. Almost all of money will go towards creating new inventory, so that Leap Motion can ship “hundreds of thousands to millions of units.”
The funding comes from existing backers. Buckwald said that selecting the investors for the round was a competitive process, but ultimately the firms who had invested previously won out. One difference this time around — where Highland Capital Partners led the $12.75 million Series A (and participated in the current round), the Series B was led by Founders Fund.