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A couple of weeks ago San Francisco-based Leap Motion announced a new input device called The Leap, an iPod-sized sensor that sits in front of your computer and provides a virtual 3D space that you can manipulate using your fingers.
Using technology similar to that found in Microsoft’s Kinect, The Leap is considerably more sensitive than the current optical input methods and can track movement at an accuracy of 1/100th of a millimetre. At present, developers are confidently predicting the technology will be available by the end of the year.
What Is It?
Physically, The Leap is a small silver rectangle with a sensor pointing upwards, hidden behind a panel of black plastic. From a design standpoint, The Leap looks like something Apple might have come up with. Operationally, both Windows and OS X will be supported from the outset with the FAQ hinting at eventual Linux support, though as with many products this might take a while.
The Leap is designed to sit right in front of your monitor or laptop and sense movement with startling accuracy. Along with a flick of your pinky or wave of the hand, the device is designed to detect small items like pencils and chopsticks, and allows for gestures like pinch-to-zoom to be used in a 3D, touch-free sensor space.
Leap Motion initially created The Leap after seeking to speed up the drawn-out process of 3D modelling in comparison to physically creating a model in the real world. The ability to use your hands to manipulate a 3D object has obvious advantages, and the company wanted to bring that functionality to the consumer level.
Some of the more basic uses include navigation (Windows 8 virtual touch support is apparently already taken care of) and sensitive input operations, such as signing your name using a pencil in mid-air. Drawing, taking notes, playing Angry Birds – these are all things possible using The Leap with current technology, but it is future developments that will realise the true potential offered by such a device.
One Giant Leap
According to the designers, The Leap is “like day one of the mouse”. From this hyperbole it’s safe to assume that Leap Motion are likening the advantages of their new device to the birth of the optical pointing device – a bold claim.
The mouse played an important part in the development of the graphical user interface, and ultimately made computers more user-friendly and approachable by removing the dependence on command-line interfaces. It makes sense that the next logical step would be to distance the user from physical devices, further simplifying the process of control. To pinch a line from The Leap’s marketing spiel – “you don’t need an instruction manual for your hands”.
If the team behind the device have it their way, The Leap is set to revolutionise interaction with user interfaces in a big way. Imagine if common electronic devices were controllable using a series of simple and natural gestures and movements. Now imagine that same technology with a startling degree of accuracy, and you’re sharing the same vision held by Leap Motion.
The team would like to see the technology used in everything from computers to appliances, cars, medical technologies and even light switches. But life begins on the desktop, and that is where The Leap will initially be tested. The opportunities offered by the device are huge, both for consumers and developers working on applications. Unlike Kinect, however, The Leap doesn’t have a big software, gaming or manufacturing giant behind it; and that’s bound to stifle the revolution somewhat.
Where Do I Get One?
If you’ve been impressed by what you’ve read and seen thus far, then you’d better sit down before you hear the best bit. Not only is this technology apparently shipping by the end of the year, but at an affordable $69.99 price point.
If you’re a developer with big ideas then you might find yourself with a free unit, so head on over to the developers hub to convince the manufacturers to give you one before everyone else. For the rest of us, $70 seems to be a fair price point – considerably less than the Kinect’s launch price, mirroring that of Apple’s Magic Trackpad.
At the time of writing there are still some pre-order units left for those of you willing to put your payment details where your mouth is, but many will probably wait to see how developers respond to the new device. There’s no arguing that the possibilities are vast, and I’m sure The Leap will make the perfect addition to your desk whether you’re an artist, gamer, musician or just bored of traditional input methods.
The Leap represents a significant step forward for touch-free, motion sensing technology and the sensible price point means you won’t need to be a finished artist, CEO or stinking rich to get your hands on one.
The potential and many applications here are truly exciting but If the device really is going to be the revolution in UI control that Leap Motion would like, then it will require some clever integration into the software we use on a daily basis.
How would you use The Leap? Will you buy one? Angry Birds, chopstick-style? Have your say in the comments, below.
Image Credits: Leap Motion