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June 14, 2012

Ten Micron Precise 3D Leap Motion Controller will be the input device for people and robots

Singularity Hub - Forget the Kinect, Leap Motion is cheaper ($70), more precise (down to 0.01 mm), and much smaller (think “pack of gum” proportions). The incredible demo for the Leap Motion (see below) shows how the desktop device can quickly detect hand motion so that a user needs merely wiggle their fingers in front of their computer to intuitively control what happens on the screen. Currently taking pre-orders, the Leap Motion is scheduled to ship between December and February, and with it will come a new market of third party apps designed to take full advantage of the device.

Leap Motion should become the “third input device” for computers, joining the keyboard and mouse in a new triumvirate of digital control.

The commercial unit will also connect via USB (not wireless), and will be smaller, silver, and lighter weight. Buckwald and Holtz said they could conceivably make the Leap Motion even smaller (the size of a large coin) but they think this size/weight is best for a $70 device that you don’t want to lose easily.

Buckwald and Holtz explained that the magic of Leap Motion isn’t the array of infrared sensors and IR LED lights that are contained inside the sleek form factor – those are all cheap components from China. The secret sauce is software, specifically the algorithms developed by Holtz that convert those IR signals into a well crafted 3D picture of what’s happening in front of the Leap in real time.





It’s hard to summarize those algorithms in any other way besides this: they are really, really good. The mid-range performance computer seen in our raw demo footage was spending just 5% processing power to run the Leap Motion software, yet it was tracking finger motions down to sub-millimeter precision and at speeds that excel anything I could achieve even after drinking a dozen Red Bulls.

The incredible thing is, as Holtz says, they are only “about 50%” of where they will eventually be when the Leap Motion launches this Winter. That’s not a comment on how much they have left to do to get ready, it’s a comment on how far they aim to exceed everyone’s expectations when they hit market. Time and again during our interview, Buckwald impressed upon me that Leap Motion was squarely focused on creating a base experience that was so well-crafted, so robust in execution, that it would be an unequivocal boon to users.

Why not Leap controls in the car, on your mobile device, or in your kitchen appliances? Holtz had dozens of long-term concepts where the efficient and powerful Leap algorithms might be applied. One of the best was as the controls for a head mounted display (does Google Glasses need a partner?). Anywhere you can place some IR LEDs and sensors, Leap Motion can be there.

The API is open and free to develop, and they’re actively seeking to enrich that community. They have a small (~22) dedicated team working on making sure that come six months from now, when you unwrap your Leap and plug it in, you’ll use it as if it’s always been a part of how you control your computer.

It could be a cheaper way to integrate touchscreen-like controls without the actual touching (no smudges!). Leap Motion could be all about high-speed gesture controls for those times when you need to quickly mute videos, swap between windows, or answer a chat. Hell, for all I know Leap Motion could be the next big thing in porn. It’s anybody’s guess.

Cheap and precise sensors for robots could have a huge impact.

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