The keyboard and mouse have long been the main bridge between humans and their computers. More recently we've seen the rise of the touchscreen. But other attempts at re-imagining controls have proved vexing. But after years of development and $45m in venture funding, Leap Motion, a San Francisco-based start-up has come up with what it claims is the "most natural user interface possible. "It's a 3D-gesture sensing controller that allows touch-free computer interaction," said Michael Buckwald, chief executive and co-founder of Leap Motion.
Using only subtle movements of fingers and hands, within a short distance of Leap Motion it is possible to accomplish virtual pointing, swiping, zooming, and painting. First deliveries of the 3in (7.6cm)-long gadget are expected to begin late July. "We're trying to do things like mould, grab, sculpt, draw, push," explains Mr. Buckwald. "These sorts of physical interactions require a lot of accuracy and a lot of responsiveness that past technologies just haven't had."
Adding that it's the only device in the world that accurately tracks hands and all 10 fingers at an "affordable" price point, Mr. Buckwald claimed that his product was 200 times more precise than Microsoft's original Kinect. It works by using three near-infrared LEDs (light emitting diodes) to illuminate the owner's hands, and then employs two CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) image sensors to obtain a stereoscopic view of the person's actions. Hundreds of thousands of pre-orders have poured in from around the world, and thousands of developers are working on applications, Mr. Buckwald says. Leap Motion is convinced it has a shot at making gesture controls part of the mainstream PC and Mac computing experience.
The company already has its own app store called Airspace with 75 programs, including Core's Painter Freestyle art software, Google Earth and other data visualization and music composition apps. The New York Times also plans to release a gesture-controlled version of its newspaper. Leap is already looking beyond the PC and says it hopes to embed its tech into smartphones, tablets, TVs, cars and even robots and fighter jets in future.