I first encountered the founders of Litho, a new hardware and software startup developing a new finger-worn controller, at London’s Pitch@Palace last April. The event sees startups pitch in front of the British royal family and other esteemed guests, and naturally the company’s young founders, 24-year-old Nat Martin (CEO) and 25-year-old Charlie Bruce (CTO), were a little overawed by the occasion, just like many of the other founders pitching that day. However, perhaps unbeknown to them, Litho was also one of the more notable companies, not least because, as the saying goes, hardware is hard.
Fast forward to today and the young company is ready to show the world the first publicly available iteration of what it has been building: an innovative finger-worn device that provides control over various “spatial interactions” and should find applications ranging from AR and VR to the smart home and the control of other IoT devices. The next stage for Litho is to offer the controller and access to its SDK to developers who join the startup’s beta programme for $199/£179.
“Computing is increasingly structured around the real world rather than the desktop,” says Litho’s Nat Martin. “With the advent of smart devices such as lights, thermostats, and door locks, physical things are becoming digitally connected. Equally, with the advent of AR, digital things are becoming physically anchored in the real world. These are two sides of the same coin — digital interactions are entering physical space”.
However, the status quo is for the smartphone to be the primary interface for these spatial interactions, but smartphones were designed to interact with 2D content on screens and are therefore struggling to make the leap. “Trying to interact with objects in the real world through a smartphone is like trying to do heart surgery with a spork,” says Martin. “More often than not our phones end up being a frustrating barrier to the digital world, rather than a tool to enable interactions with it”.
To solve this problem requires a combination of hardware and software, while the Litho device itself is described as an unobtrusive finger-worn controller that connects via Bluetooth Low Energy to a smartphone or AR headset. The controller has a capacitive touch surface on the underside, which allows for precise 2D input, scrolling and tapping. But, more significantly, it also has an array of motion sensors and provides haptic feedback.
The Litho SDK uses the popular 3D game development platform Unity, and Martin says developers will be able to make apps that can not only identify the direction (/vector) in which the wearer is pointing, but what they are pointing at in the real world. It also provides an interaction framework of off-the-shelf solutions for core interactions, including templates for tools such as object creation, movement and deletion, making it easier for developers to quickly build “delightful and intuitive experiences”.
“Having an input device designed from the ground up for 3D interaction opens a whole new paradigm of mobile interactions,” he adds. “Instead of an awkward and frustrating interface, developers can create precise yet effortless interactions in 3D space. This opens up a whole new range of use cases — architects and designers can create precise 3D models in the context of the real world, and gamers can create a virtual theme park in their back garden simply by pointing and drawing. At home, instead of opening up a smartphone app, searching for the right bulb, and operating a virtual dimmer, you can simply point and swipe to dim your lights”.
Meanwhile, Litho has already picked up a number of notable investors. The burgeoning startup has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from U.S. venture firm Greycroft, Paul Heydon (an early investor in Unity and Supercell), and Chris Albinson (who co-led investments in DocuSign, Pinterest and Turo), along with several other unnamed angel investors.