First came the mouse, then the touchpad and the touch screen. And now, Leap Motion is once again changing the way people interact with PCs. The $79.99 Leap Motion controller is a peripheral that attaches via USB and enables you to navigate the desktop, play games and explore educational apps with a simple wave of the hand.
Others have tried to bring this level of interactivity to the desktop before, but Leap Motion has upped the ante by accurately sensing all of your fingers in 3D space. Plus, there's a growing app ecosystem to go along with the device.
"This is something people have been trying to do for 15 or 20 years," said Michael Buckwald, CEO and co-founder of Leap Motion. "But there's a minimum threshold that has to be hit in terms of performance for it to actually be useful — or else you fall into the trap of being a gimmick."
Devices like the Kinect and PlayStation Move have been on the market since 2010, but the precision required for a seamless computing experience is more advanced. The Leap Motion is the only gesture controller that is capable of tracking finger movements at the submillimeter level, Buckwald said.
"Today, we are still the only technology that can track fingers at that level," he said. "We want to make it feel like your hands are in the computer. There has to be very little latency, or else there's that constant nagging force reminding you that it's not real."
But, as is the case with most devices, hardware is only half of the equation. The app environment and software are a large part of what makes the Leap Motion so immersive. Leap Motion's Airspace App Store already houses about 120 apps, and the store surpassed 1 million app downloads within the Leap Motion's first three weeks on the market.
"It's very much in the software, not the hardware," said Buckwald. "The thing that differentiates the Leap most isn't just the underlying tech; it's the ecosystem."
In our review of the Leap Motion, we praised Airspace apps for their versatile UI. Each app comes with its own specific set of gestures and motions, so you're likely to get a new experience with each app you download.
The Leap Motion is one of several brands to dive into the motion-controlled computing space, but it executes the functionality well enough to make perceptual computing relevant. After the Leap Motion was unveiled, more gesture-control technologies began to step into the spotlight, such as Creative and Intel's Senz3D camera and Thalmic Labs' Myo armband.
But what makes the Leap Motion impressive is its hunger for innovation — the Leap Motion advertises its device as the world's most accurate motion controller when it was unveiled in 2012. The company also recently partnered with HP to create the world's first laptop with integrated gesture-controls: the HP Envy 17.
Buckwald pointed out that although people regularly use computers for word processing and sending email, most people don't use computers to their full potential.
"It [Leap Motion] came after the realization that 99 percent of the computer's power wasn't being used," Buckwald said. "Our vision has always been to leverage that incredible power that has evolved over hundreds of years to let us reach out and push or pull an object — that even a 5-year-old can reach out and do something incredible.”
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SMARTPHONE: Motorola Moto X
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CAMERA: Nokia Lumia 1020
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TABLET: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX
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GAMING: Oculus Rift
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WEARABLE TECH: Google Glass
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ENABLING TECHNOLOGY: Intel Bay Trail
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