What Will the Next Leap Motion Controller Do?
Waving a finger slices produce in "Fruit Ninja," if you have a USB-tethered box on your desk.
CREDIT: Sean Captain
The mouse isn't dead yet. But from the Wii to Kinect to Siri, technologies that go beyond clicking and dragging are making it an endangered species.
The Leap Motion Controller, which goes on sale May 13 for $80 (at Best Buy and online), is the latest threat. It allows you to wave your hands and move your fingers to control apps. While this first model — a box tethered to a computer by USB cable — is a bit clunky, coming versions can be as unobtrusive as a built-in webcam or even a cellphone camera.
Sitting on a table between the user and the keyboard, the current 3 x 1 x 0.5-inch box reads the movement of your hands when you position them above it. For example, you can control videogames just with hand gestures. The device shines three infrared (IR) lights upwards to illuminate your hands, and uses two IR-sensitive cameras to photograph your movements in stereo (like a 3D camera) up to 240 times per second.
But as small as the controller is, it could be much smaller. "The hardware can actually be shrunk down quite a bit [more] already," said Julia Parsons, who works with software developers coding programs for the Leap Motion Controller (of which there are more than 10,000). Future, smaller versions could be placed inside products, she said. "You can integrate directly into computers and even mobile devices."
No one has taken that, um, leap yet, just yet. But Asus is planning to bundle the first-gen controller with some of its laptops and desktop PCs. Leap Motion is also developing a less-obtrusive wireless version of the Controller, said spokeswoman Elliotte Bowerman, but she didn't specify when it would come out.
The controller may also get the ability to track more complex movements. From my hands-on (literally) experience, I found the Leap Motion to be extremely accurate. It quickly recognized those four, fleshy cylinders as my fingers, and the opposable one as my thumb. And it picks up other roughly cylindrical objects such as chopsticks — very fitting for slashing through produce in a version of the game "Fruit Ninja" that had been modified to work with the controller.
In fact, the device can read up to 10 fingers at once (imagine playing piano in the air), but only if they are roughly in the same plane. Cross one hand over the other, and the top hand disappears — naturally, since Leap can't see through one hand to the obscured one. But Leap is considering mounting the controller facing towards the user, as a built-in webcam is, which should pick up more gestures and seems a natural choice for using it on a laptop. [See also: App Adds Kinect-Like Function to PCs and Smartphones]
A company called Citia is the first to try Leap with a website, a multimedia interactive affair to go with the launch of the new album by Snoop Lion (the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg).
But if Leap Motion irons out the kinks, and major sites sign on, going online could become much more like "Minority Report" than the click-click-click experience it's been since the '90s.