Movements in the air controls computer interaction
Sept. 10, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Soon, we may just need to wave goodbye to our computer when we turn it off.

Leap Motion, a company based in San Francisco, calls itself a “motion-control software and hardware company developing the world’s most powerful and sensitive 3D motion-control and motion-sensing technology.”

In May, I read how Microsoft was also working on a new motion-sensing device.

Microsoft Research developed a new type of controller ,which detects in-air gestures around the device using what they call the Doppler Effect.

However, they did not say when their new in-the-air hand gesturing device would become available.

Since 2010, Microsoft has used their Kinect system (which extrapolates motions made in the air), to interact with games when it’s connected to their Xbox 360 console.

Earlier this year, they made Kinect available for the Windows PC.

Leap Motion’s new motion detection device is called Leap.

Leap has a reported 200 times the sensitivity range of the Kinect.

“This isn’t a game system that roughly maps your hand movements. The Leap technology is 200 times more accurate than anything else on the market,” stated Leap Motion’s website.

Leap itself physically appears to be a box, about the size of a standard deck of playing cards.

Leap can distinguish a person’s individual finger movements – tracking those movements down to an amazing 1/100th of a millimeter.

Bringing motion-control technology to the desktop with far greater accuracy than today’s current gesturing sensing units (and making it work for computers) is one of the reasons folks in the computing world are paying close attention to Leap.

Installation on a computer involves plugging of one device into an open USB port, placing the Leap box in front of a computer screen, loading the Leap Motion software, and then waving your hand over the Leap box to calibrate it.

I recently watched a demonstration video Leap Motion uploaded to YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/9lljnyr.

The Leap box is sitting about five inches in front of what looks like an Apple 27-inch iMac LED computer screen.

The fast-paced video first shows a hand gliding over the top of Leap . . . I assume this gesture activates it.

Next, I see the hand in front of a computer screen waving downwards, the display screen shows he is scrolling through the pages of a website.

The user in the video holds up a standard wooden pencil, and proceeds to draw and write words in the air. The images, lines, and words are seen appearing on the computer screen in real-time.

A large interactive map, like MapQuest or Google Maps, appears on the computer screen. The user navigates the map by moving his hands and fingers in circular motions and swipes. He rotates the map left, then right, and maneuvers to a specific location. He then zooms out and then zooms in on the location – accurately manipulating the map on the screen by the use of the hand and finger motions being made in the air.

This was somewhat the same interaction one would see using an iPad (or other touch screen device), however, on the iPad, your fingers need to physically touch the screen.

One downside of using a computer display touch screen is the accumulation of smudge prints, which usually end up making it harder to see what’s on the screen.

Next on the video, an interactive game appears.

Bringing both hands together to make what looks like a wing or a bird the user is shown “flying” a plane in this game. His hand movements alone are controlling how the plan turns, which direction it goes, and its height.

More games are shown being played through the interactions of the user’s hand gestures and finger swipes in the air, with the results being displayed on the computer screen.

The one-minute Leap Motion video ends with “LEAP The future is in reach.”

YouTube user SoF10 left this comment to Leap Motion about the video, saying, “I would really like to see how this works doing common tasks, specifically browsing the web and scrolling through articles, also reading pdfs and books on the Kindle app.”

Leap Motion replied, “Out-of-the-box, the Leap mimics the mouse and a touchscreen, so you would use the Leap just as you would those peripherals.”

I believe the message Leap is trying to send us is that this new device, in combination with a person’s hand and finger gestures, is accurate enough to replace your computer’s mouse, (let alone the gaming joystick) and could replace a keyboard, although I did not see any evidence of actual word processing or detailed website or online document usage being demonstrated in the video I watched.

For now, yours truly will not be abandoning his keyboard and mouse to write a column via hand gestures, or air-writing it with a pencil, or air-typing a column with his fingers.

Leap Motion has so far received more than 26,000 software developer applications from over 150 countries.

These developers are working on some beneficial, real-life applications, such as translating sign language into text, which is viewable on a display screen.

Leap Motion can be followed on Twitter and Facebook at LeapMotion.

Their website is located at http://leapmotion.com.

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