Have you ever thought about what your brain has to compute when using a computer mouse? Since the 1980s, anybody who has used a mouse to open a file, drag and drop, or right-click for options, had to process that what they were moving with their hand off to the side – out of view, while they simultaneously controlled things on an upright screen in front of them. This extra brainwork is why touchscreens make so much sense. The pinch/pull and slide gesture-controls are so intuitive because these are how we assume we should use a two-dimensional space in front of us.
The aptly named Leap Motion is a gesture based control system that plugs into any computer’s USB slot. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we use computers because The Leap brings the user interface into the third-dimension.
Yes, there are plenty of motion-based control systems out there that will let you change the channel with a swipe, or play video games by tracking your body’s movement. Unlike these systems, The Leap wasn’t designed for the living room. These systems use wide-field tracking and only need to approximate a hand’s location, but The Leap can distinguish individual finger movement, allowing people to perform small-scale actions on their personal computers. The technology is so precise, users can draw with a pencil in front of their monitors and the motion from the tip will be picked up and translated on-screen. This isn’t to say that The Leap can’t be used for video games, or that it can’t track large-scale movements like pretending to swing a golf club in your living room, but its capabilities stretch so much further.
As the Leap is hundreds of times more accurate than other available gesture controls, it can track individual finger movements that are as small as 1/100th of a millimeter. While that figure is difficult to picture, it’s just an impressive sounding way of saying 10 micrometers. To give some context, somewhere between 25 and 100 micrometers is the normal range for the diameter of a human hair.
The Leap is available on a limited preorder for about $70USD, and is expected to ship early 2013. The team down at Leap Motion, creators of The Leap, are optimistic about its potential applications:
We envision a day in the near future when our motion control technology will be used in most consumer products—not just computers, but cars, appliances, medical devices, light switches and more. There are already many great uses for a variety of people.
- Artists and creative types can use the Leap to emulate a stylus or easily create 3D images. Anyone can use The Leap to interact with Windows 7/8 or Mac OS X by clicking, grabbing, scrolling and using familiar gestures like pinch to zoom in 3D space.
- Users point a pen at the signature line of a document to sign it in space.
- Engineers can interact more easily with 3D modeling software.
- Gamers can play more easily and many will modify with Leap in mind.
- Surgeons can control 3D medical data with their hands without taking off their gloves.
Take a look at the following video to see The Leap in action: