Well, it’s an interesting world isn’t it? Only back in 2002 we were being wowed with scenes of the future in Minority Report with Tom Cruise standing in front of a large array of see through monitors and him pushing the images around the screens using nothing but his hands – no mice to be seen.
Well, just over 10 years later and that technology is within our grasp. Only within the last couple of weeks we’ve seen this technology being used by SpaceX founder Elon Musk to show a 3D image of one of their rockets, and now we can use that same technology within our own homes thanks to the Leap Motion Controller. The tech geek in me just had to give it a go. It’s worth mentioning that with Christmas around the corner, the Leap Motion Controller would make a great stocking filler for the tech obsessed (or Tom Cruise fans). 

I use a MacBook Pro at home, so this mini review of a Leap Motion Controller is largely based on the Mac user experience but, if I get round to it, I may bring the little thing into work and plug it into my work PC
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What is a Leap Motion Controller?

The Leap is a development in the world of gesture motion technology, following on from the likes of Microsoft Kinect and Samsung’s Smart Interaction.
Here’s the official marketing blurb:
“The Leap Motion Controller senses your hands and fingers and follows their every move. It lets them move in all that wide-open space between you and your computer. So you can do almost anything without touching anything. It’s the tiny device that just might change the way you use technology. It’s the world’s most natural technology that just might change the world.”
And here is Engadget’s write up of a chat with the creators, David Holz and Michael Buckwald.

What does a Leap Motion Controller look like?

Well its footprint is the size of a stick of ram. Quite unassuming at first glance. It’s made of machined aluminium (proper pronunciation please) with a glossy black “lid” and rubber feet on the bottom to keep it stable. There is also a green LED on the front of it to show you that it is operating.
How does a Leap Motion Controller work?
Leap works using infrared optics and cameras. Inside there are basically a couple of camera modules that point directly up and a faux-USB socket (this appears to be a Leap Motion special to prevent you using a normal USB lead – I’m not quite sure why they did that, I don’t think it makes sense to make something NON standard these days, especially when there are many other cables you could use that could fit in with your décor or technical specifications… but I digress).
Plugging in the device to a PC or Mac couldn’t be any easier as the other end is a standard USB socket.
Once plugged in, you have to load the relevant software to make your controller work – this is found on the Leap Motion site and is called, imaginatively, ‘Airspace’. From the Airspace store you can load airspace apps onto your computer. There are many free ones and also many paid ones too. I’ve tested out most of the free ones, including Cut The Rope which my son LOVES, Roshambo and their own pointing and control app.

My Leap Experience:

Well, it’s not quite perfect I have to admit. And it takes a while to get used to as it feels a bit…. well… unnatural after X years of using a mouse or even a simple touchscreen.
The apps are genuinely fun and it’s actually a nice experience after a while, but you definitely need some practice at getting your fingers accurately in place. The Leap Motion Controller does tend to freak out a bit if you go outside its range, or cover one finger with another so the camera modules can’t see it, but I guess this will be fixed in later revisions.
It’s interesting that after an hour’s use of Dropchord, my Mac was *very* hot, and the Leap was fairly warm too, but again, that’s probably down to the Mac and the game as much as anything else.
Touchless for Mac was also an interesting app to use. It allows you to do the whole Minority Report thing: you can see the cursor on the screen and to click you move in and “prod” the screen. Again, needs a bit of work, but it’s pretty good fun.

Conclusion:

Overall, not a bad first device – we’ve had some fun. It will benefit from further development and the apps aren’t there at the moment. Some of the apps I used were almost just proof of concept ones, and a bit flaky. Others, like Dropchord, were very, very cool. Once the ecosphere is better and there are more apps and more developers developing for Leap it will be fine. The proof of the pudding is the fact that HP is bringing out laptops with INTEGRATED Leap Motion controllers. With this weight behind the technology, it’s certainly something we are going to more of. And not just in Tom Cruise films.

 

Minority Report image credit 

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