The Leap Motion Controller connects to a computer and enables the user to control it using simple gestures. A peripheral device that takes us deep into the world of Minority Report?

Leap Motion replaces keyboard and mouse with gesture recognition


Gesture recognition is a promising area of innovation. Much of the technology currently being developed in this field is however still at the prototype stage,Atheer Labs’ glasses for example. Another product, that has already been on the market for several years, is Kinect, which tracks and interprets movements of the whole body. Now Leap Motion, by contrast, focuses specifically on the fingers and hands, with a view to achieving a high degree of precision with a technology which is designed first and foremost for computer users. San Francisco-based Leap Motion has just started to ship its Leap Motion Controller to people who ordered in advance via the website. The startup’s stated aim is to “break down the barriers between people and technology,” and the Leap Motion Controller is touted as “the first step towards a future where technology feels natural and easy - just like real life.”

Precise gesture recognition based on fingers and hands

In physical appearance the Leap Motion Controller is a small rectangular gadget, slightly larger than 7 by 3 centimeters, equipped with tiny cameras and infrared sensors that capture the user’s movements. All you have to do is to connect it to a computer with a USB cable. Once the system has started up, you place your hand above the device, which can detect movement at an angle of 150 degrees lengthways and widthways, and to a depth of 120 degrees from top to bottom. The device picks up the movement of the palm and all the fingers of one hand to one hundredth of a millimeter precision, claims Leap Motion. Once the device is connected to a computer, you can launch any of the apps you already have, listed on the Airspace Home on your desktop, or go on to the Airspace Store and download new apps. The types of movement you need to make in order to direct the desired actions vary depending on each particular app, comprising horizontal, vertical, and circular gestures, which may involve the entire hand or just one finger.

Both personal and professional applications

While Leap Motion's technology isn't perfect yet, it is highly promising, and its potential fields of application are many and varied. As regards professional use, this type of technology could certainly be used in the classroom and for other educational purposes, for example to enable students to manipulate molecules in 3D, to explore space, and so on. In the hospital operating theatre, surgeons could use the gadget to browse through documents or scroll computer images without having to stop and wash their hands before continuing surgery. For home use, Leap Motion will enable you to switch your computer to standby mode just by turning your hand over, or to surf the web, play games, read news articles, etc. A variety of apps is currently available at the Airspace Store, some free of charge, some paid-for. The New York Times already has its own application, which allows you to skim through and read articles. With Cyber Science 3D you can manipulate skulls and other bones in three dimensions in order to learn about anatomy. The Frog Dissection app can be used in a biology class to dissect frogs virtually. Other apps enable users to paint or play music. The Leap Motion Controller comes with a $79 price-tag. 

By Alice Gillet
English editorial manager