Leap Motion Controller - a new type of computer interface

May 5, 2013

We were really lucky to have Mike (@mikebrondbjerg) pop over to the office and give us a demonstration of the very cool Leap Motion Controller a couple of days ago. It's a new computer interface that allows you to interact with a computer without having to touch anything, instead it watches your hands and fingers and translates your movements and gestures into more familiar keyboard, touch screen or mouse based commands, such as swipe and click.

The setup was dead easy. It plugged in via USB and just sat on the desk facing straight up. The software was preinstalled on Mike's machine, and so we were up and running in no time.

We started out with a demonstration of the controller in what I will refer to as the "wireframe mode".

On screen, there was a 3D grid, where we could clearly see the that the device had picked up the position of Mike's hands and fingers and was tracking their position as he moved them above the controller.

As well as the tracking movement, gestures are a feature which enhances the level of interaction available. An example of which is the 'grab' - if you imagine holding your hand out in front of you and trying to pick up a spider (without killing it) that action can represent 'grabbing' an object on the screen in front of you. Move your hand and the object you've grabbed will move in that direction on screen. 'Ungrab' the virtual object and you can release the object on screen.

I really want to see this hooked up with the god game Black & White, where you play the role of a god and are only represented on screen as a disembodied hand that interacts with the onscreen environment. I like the idea of flicking enemy villagers if they get too close!

The next demo showed a virtual school of fish swimming around the screen.

By moving and making gestures with your hands, the fish start swarming towards the points of red lights, which are the visual representation of your fingertips. When a person makes slow movements with their hands, the fish followed whilst if they pushed their hand forward towards the screen, the fish swam into the distance. Pulling their hand backwards meant the fish swam to the front of the screen, towards the controller.

All in all, very impressive. Another interesting feature that I found through experimenting with the controller was that if you shake your hands or fingers it scares the fish and they swim away - so as you can imagine I spent a few minutes luring the fish only to scare them away. All the time whilst wearing a childish grin on my face!

When I stopped behaving like a child, I started to think about real world applications. Some of you reading this might be thinking it's sounding a bit like the Xbox Kinect controller and you'd be right, they are quite similar. The main difference is that the Leap Motion controller is specifically 'looking' for your fingers and hands whereas the Kinect looks at your body as a whole, identifying only the main parts of the human body (arms, legs, head etc).

3D modelling was something that came to mind and it would be interesting to use a programme such as 3DS Studio Max to try to sculpt something without using a mouse and keyboard. In reality most maquettes are designed with real clay, then scanned digitally as designing using a 3D modelling programme from the start usually takes longer than a clay first approach. This device could bridge that gap.

It's worth noting that this device is extremely accurate and "tracks all ten fingers up to 1/100th of a millimeter". The possibilities, say in the field of medicine, could be enormous. Consider a doctor being able to manipulate the scans of patients, moving around and through them looking for signs of illness. A device that isn't touched by human hand will minimise the risk of spreading infection.

Or perhaps, take retail. Even the simple shop front could be transformed. Experiential in-store applications for creating virtual racks of products (e.g. clothing), allowing you to leaf through, grab and examine each product, could soon be a relatively inexpensive reality.

People are already linking the controller with physical devices such as this Ardunio powered labyrinth. It's seriously cool and has many more applications than I have listed here so I am looking forward to seeing what other people have in mind.

I wonder how long before we have something like this.

I'd like to say a big thank you to Mike who gave up his time to show off the device, if you want to find out more about Leap Motion check out this video and visit their website - www.leapmotion.com/

Richard Wendon

Written by Richard Wendon for Yoyo Design

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