We’ve all seen Iron Man, and we’ve all wished we had the ability to use our computers without actually touching them. Okay, maybe hologram user interfaces still belong in fiction, but in the meantime, we can dabble with Leap Motion. The new technology the Leap Motion Controller boasts is ahead of any other of its kind, and although it is limited in its use, we are getting a glimpse of the future of motion-detecting technology. The Leap Motion Controller uses different means, but it achieves an effect similar to the Xbox Kinect. The breakthrough of the Leap is that it is now bringing the Kinect experience to laptops and desktop computers that allows us to interact with them in a whole new way. It is different from the mouse, click wheel, and touch screen in that it is a touch less device. So what makes the Leap Motion Controller different from a lot of the other new technological advancements we always hear about on the news? It is out for the public. In fact, you can order one right now. It is available for Windows and Mac users for $80, and developers are already releasing applications on the Airspace Store that take advantage of Leap Motion technology.
A lot of people are going to think about the Xbox Kinect when dealing with the Leap Motion Controller. On the superficial level, this is completely understandable, but the the two are actually quite different. Firstly, unlike the Kinect which is placed in front your hands, the Leap Motion Controller is placed under. It is also much smaller than the Kinect sensor with a length of three inches and a width of just an inch. The size and placement make it convenient to use, as it does not interfere with the mouse or keyboard. Leap Motion is also the most capable motion sensor to date. The controller does not use depth to capture motion, but cameras instead. Users can move all ten fingers, and the Leap Motion Controller will track the motion with incredible accuracy and speed. The device divides the detectable area into two zones. One is the hover zone and one is the touch zone, the hover zone is the area that is closer to the user. The technology of the Leap Motion Controller is advanced and we may see future motion sensors using similar methods of capturing motion.
What really makes the Leap Motion Controller excellent is the software that works with the technology. What good is motion detection if there is nothing we can apply it to? Thankfully, Leap owners have 75 apps that they can be purchased on the Airspace Store, and these apps really demonstrate the accuracy and speed of the Leap’s motion tracking. One of the apps in the store, Corel Painter Freestyle, is a painting app, which Engadget writer Michael Gorman praised as a “genuinely impressive experience.”
As mentioned, the Leap Motion Controller’s speed and accuracy of tracking is next-level. Users, however, have reported frustration with the experience with the device because it is quite unpredictable. The Leap is accurate in that it displays the motion of your fingers well, but a problem is that it tends to make false detections. For example, Michael Gorman mentioned that the thumb would be interpreted as a finger. Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica said that “the experience is 50 percent fluid intuition and 50 percent screaming frustration.” The hand gestures would work very naturally, then suddenly the device would stop interpreting them correctly. The Leap Motion Controller is an example of a product that is great when it works, but is, after all, new technology.
Most websites said that the Leap is not really worth the $80 and that it really is not a revolutionary product. As Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson said, it is “cool–extremely cool. It’s not yet a game-changing device, but it could be.” Engadget expressed the same idea, saying that “the Leap Motion Controller is more about potential than anything else.” This is a valid point because the Leap shows us what we might need and be able to do with motion detection technology. It has not proven that it is necessary, but it definitely is a path that we may choose as the future unfolds. The Guardian’s Jonathan Hyde was one critic who was relatively enthusiastic about what the Leap Motion Controller will offer us in the coming years: “In the long term I believe this is the beginning of useful gesture control of computers. I do personally very much hope they succeed.”
As for me personally, I do not know what to say about Leap Motion because I have never used it. As a young student who is interested in new technology, I can see myself spending hours experimenting with the device and maybe even enjoying my time with it. On the other hand, I can also envision myself frustrated with its shortcomings. I believe the biggest problem with the Leap Motion Controller is not the technical disappointments but the lack of utility. When will we ever need to use hand motions to interact with computers? The Jenga app, for example, made me think about how we can use the Leap to design three dimensional objects and environments. It would be easier to use the hands than to drag parts with the mouse. At the moment the use of the Leap Motion Controller is limited because we have not come up with ways to use it to its maximum potential, but Leap may prove itself revolutionary, if and when we do.