Taking a Leap of Faith with the Leap Motion Controller

Taking the Leap of Faith

This article is contributed by Lucas Foo.

 

Taking the Leap of Faith

The Leap Motion Controller is a U$80 USB device that plugs into your PC or Mac to give you Kinect-like gesture controls. Originally introduced to the world as "The Leap" in early 2012, the product - which has missed its shipping date several times - is now finally shipping to consumers through its web store. Gesture control isn’t something new as it has been available for years on the Xbox 360. However, not a lot of inroads have been made into the traditional desktop space. Can Leap Motion deliver on its promise of changing the way we interact with our computer in real, natural ways? We managed to get one of these gadgets, so we'll give you our first impressions. Before we begin, here's a marketing clip to really see it in action:- 

 

The Device

The Leap Motion Controller is a small, lightweight device that fits snugly in the palm of your hand. After all, it's just 76 x 31 x 12.7mm in dimensions. Inside the device are two cameras and one infrared sensor, which detect the depth and movement of your hands.

The controller looks well designed with an Apple-like aluminum enclosure, glossy dark glass and a flushed-in LED indicator. Included in the package are two USB 2.0 cables of different lengths and an information card.

No installation disc or drivers are provided with the Leap Motion Controller. Instead, once you plug in the device, you will be prompted to activate your product on the Leap Motion website. There, you can select if you would like to download the Windows or Mac version of the Leap Motion software – "Airspace". It’s a pretty simple process but be prepared to wait as the 76MB file takes some time to download from Leap Motion’s server. Once you have installed the software and setup an account, you’re ready to go!

 

The Software and Apps


The "Airspace" Software

The Airspace software is where you can start to experience the magic of Leap Motion. The Orientation app (free) includes several quick tutorials to allow you to quickly familiarize yourself with the Leap Motion. It is pretty impressive to see an outline of your hands simply by waving them above the device or seeing what you have drawn in the air appearing magically on screen. You can download a selection of free and paid apps (from U$0.99 to U$9.99) from the Airspace Store onto your Airspace Home. As of now, there are 70 over apps for Mac and Windows respectively, with a mixture of games, educational and productivity apps.
 

The Apps and Airspace Store

A device is only as useful as the apps that support it and Leap Motion knows this. Since its announcement, Leap Motion has shipped thousands of developer units and the Airspace Store clearly reflects that. The Airspace Store is a neat, well thought out portal for all the apps you need for your Leap Motion Controller. You can browse the apps by platform; staff recommendation and also search for an App. Once you have selected and app, clicking on the "Download" button will allow the app to be automatically downloaded into your Airspace Home.

While most of the apps seem promising, it takes a lot of practice and familiarity before one can actually enjoying using the device. Playing Cut The Rope was relatively easy by simply swiping your finger across the air to well, cut the rope. Flocking - an app that marks your finger tips as light sources that attracts flocks of fishes will probably amuse your five-year old nephew for a good whole five seconds. Frog Dissections is one of the better-designed apps – if you’re willing to pay U$3.99 for it. Yet, we still found it difficult trying to dissect a frog using our fingers in the air.

A lot of talks have also been revolving about the possibility of the Leap Motion Controller replacing the need for the mouse. But if Airspace Store apps like Touchless for Mac and BetterTouchTool are any indication, the device still has a long way to go. Trying to use the Leap Motion Controller to apply certain gesture commands left us feeling frustrated at times. For example, some commands were carried out halfway as the Controller occasionally failed to detect our follow through motion or not detect our fingers. Other times when it does work fine, it just makes you look silly; trying to use gestures to flip through the free New York Times app is one such occasion when you could do it more elegantly via conventional means.

 

Conclusion

The Leap Motion Controller is promising device at an extremely attractive price point. Who would have thought that inputs similar to that used in Minority Report can be achieved at just US$80?

However, we struggle to find real life usage scenarios where the device would excel without leaving its users frustrated. Having said that, the Leap Motion Controller is still an interesting device that would be a great conversation starter at any gathering. The attention we got testing the device out at a café is well worth the money we paid for the Leap Motion Controller.