I’m not much of a gamer, but I can appreciate cool technology. So when Microsoft Kinect came out, I was quick to get one. I’ve long since become bored with it, but not because I think the concept is weak, I just don’t have any good games. I might have to change my way of thinking when the Leap Motion 3D gesture-sensing computer interface is launched next month
According to Hal Hodson writing in New Scientist, the launch could be a watershed. Since last May, Leap Motion has shipped 12,000 of its 3D gestural interfaces to eager developers around the world. Now, a little over a month before the device’s commercial release, we’re getting the first glimpses of its enormous potential.
The Leap Motion sensor, which is 100 times more accurate than Microsoft’s Kinect and less than half the price, will have a big launch-day head start on its predecessor. Where Microsoft closed off its device and threatened to prosecute anyone who reverse-engineered the $150 Kinect, Leap Motion has provided all that information up front to developers.
This means there will be a host of applications available – from Leap-compatible versions of smartphone games to weather and creativity apps – right from the off on 13 May.
Although it is initially aimed at desktop computers, researchers are already finding ways to jury-rig the Leap to smaller devices, to open up a new realm of interaction. “The idea we envision in the near future is that a Leap Motion-like device will be integrated into a smartphone,” says Mingming Fan of the University of California, Irvine. “Instead of just interacting on the touchscreen, the space around the smartphone will be available too.”
Fan has already hacked Leap and a smartphone together into a basic demo, but says that his goal is to use the hand tracking to allow a user to reach into the screen by going behind the phone. With Leap tracking the user’s hand and displaying its image on the screen, the virtual hand could then be augmented with a gun, say, for first-person shooter games, or with Photoshop tools.
Another group of developers, LabViewHacker in Austin, Texas, needed just 24 hours with the Leap development kit to be able to rig it up to control a quadcopter using hand gestures.
Larger tech firms have also recognised Leap’s potential. Brian Pene, a researcher at 3D design company Autodesk in San Francisco, has built a prototype using Leap which lets users manipulate a digital model of an engine with their own hands. “Let’s say you wanted to disassemble and reassemble a 3D engine model,” he says. “Using a mouse you’d have to pick up everything in 2D space while constantly manipulating the view. With Leap you can reach in and grab much like you do in the physical world.”
Meanwhile, developer Vedran Škarica of Croatian firm divIT, has hacked Leap Motion into a basic photo management system, taking advantage of the extra dimension it provides in and out of the screen to make it easier to handle large volumes of photos. He plans to have the software, currently called Project Agatha, ready for Leap’s commercial launch.
Škarica points out that it will take some time for the truly game-changing 3D interfaces to appear, as 2D controls are so ingrained with computer users – developers included. “You have to force yourself to forget what you knew, and it takes time to cancel those paradigms. Most Leap demos are just adjustments of multitouch demos,” he says.
He also suggests that the enhanced interaction possibilities that Leap offers will trigger a new generation of much more useful 3D displays. “This is the first time that input technology has jumped ahead of display technology,” Škarica says. “I’ve been waiting a while for something that can surpass the mouse, and Leap is definitely it.”
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