A new company, LEAP Motion, is promising to wildly expand the capabilities of hands-free computing and sensors. Promising gesture and hand recognition “~100x more accurate than any other motion sensing/natural user interface on Earth”, the company isn’t just going after big companies – they’re also targeting end users.
Not much bigger than a couple of packs of gum, the LEAP device plugs into a USB port, then sits complacently in front of your machine – laptop, desktop, PC or Mac. From there, it tracks a roughly 8 cubic foot space above your machine, and anything within that space. How it differs from the broad gesture controls we’ve seen demonstrated on computers (and other devices, like TVs) before is in its granularity.
The LEAP can control both of your hands to an exceptionally fine degree. Instead of waving to push another screen of content, you might use the two-finger ‘scroll’ in midair to pan down a webpage. Or pinch your fingers together, then pull them apart, to zoom in and out of mapping software.
Interestingly, the gesture recognition doesn’t depend on your fingers to do all the work. It can also track objects like pencils or styluses, making digital signatures easier than ever.
LEAP Motion’s demonstration video shows off interesting use cases for the device, which span from general computer use, browsing the web, flying through Google Maps, interacting with 3D models (since your hands are tracked in all three dimensions), accessing medical data, and even gaming. The gaming footage is especially interesting, since it shows that the unit can handle the quick response times necessary to satisfy even twitch gaming fans who play FPS titles.
Where LEAP may just succeed is in how they’re planning to market the technology. While they plan to go after industry heavyweights and see their devices integrated into other technologies, they’re also looking to sell directly to end users. Pre-orders on LEAP’s website have gone live, with devices going for $69 – a far cry less than Microsoft’s Kinect products, which retail for over $100. LEAP expects to ship units sometime in December.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a company has sprung up out of nowhere, demonstrated an incredible new technology, took a bunch of pre-orders, then slipped back into the night. That’s unlikely to happen here; the Wall Street Journal reports that the young company has already managed to raise nearly $15 million of capital from VC funds – clearly, someone, somewhere, was impressed.
The LEAP tech is the brainchild of company co-founder and CEO David Holz. The 23-year old came up with the original idea for the device while still in high school, after dealing with the inadequacies of traditional mice in interacting with 3D objects. He left work on his PhD in mathematics to found LEAP Motion with a friend.
Many are calling the new technology the death knell of the mouse as we know it. That seems far-fetched at this point in time, but if LEAP can deliver on all of their promises, it may come sooner than we expect.