A new technology with potential government applications could make computer mice and touch interfaces obsolete with the wave of a finger. Consisting of a small motion-sensing unit and software, the Leap Motion controller allows users to manipulate graphic images and other data with hand motions.
The Leap controller is the size of a smart phone and sits in front of a computer monitor where it detects hand or stylus motions in an eight cubic foot space in front of the monitor and converts them into motion in the form of manipulated graphics, game control data, robot control or many other types of interface manipulation.
The device connects to a computer via a mini-USB port and automatically calibrates with it. The controller’s software is based on proprietary math research, which is at the heart of its high level of sensitivity and accuracy, Leap Motion CEO and co-founder Michael Buckwald told Breaking Gov. The device currently does not support a wireless connection capability.
The company’s goal has been to develop motion control sensitive enough to control computers with natural hand and finger movements, Buckwald said. This capability works for the majority of the tasks that involve human interaction with a computer-work at close range using hands and fingers. To achieve this goal, the firm focused on the highest level of speed and accuracy possible.
According to Leap, potential government applications include modeling and simulation, where scientists and engineers can move through and manipulate three-dimensional images; the technology allows military and intelligence agency analysts to move and zoom in on camera and satellite imagery; and it allows military or VA doctors to access data on a computer screen during surgery without having to take their gloves off or touch the screen.
Leap’s software is compatible with a variety of devices, interfacing with existing protocols for touch, stylus and mouse interfaces. Leap supports Windows and Mac OS with support for Linux-based machines is on the horizon, Buckwald said. He added that the technology is versatile enough to be embedded in a broad range of devices-anything from smartphones to refrigerators and automobiles.
“The ability to control any computer with nuanced hand and finger movements will fundamentally transform the way people interact with computers. We envision a day in the near future when our motion control technology will be used in most consumer products-not just computers, but cars, appliances, medical devices, smartphones, tablets and more,” Buckwald said.
The technology behind Leap Motion’s device has been in the works for about four years, Buckwald said. Company co-founder and chief technology officer David Holz, was working on his PhD in mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he developed the algorithms that led to the development of the company’s core technology Holz left school Hill in 2010 to found Leap with Buckwald.
The company has taken care to reach out to the developer community. In the first week of its launch, Buckwald noted that more than 15,000 developers applied for a free controller to create new uses for it. As of July 23, more than 26,000 developers from 143 nations have applied. Out of those 26,000 applications, 14 percent were for gaming, 12 percent for music and video, 11 percent for art and design, eight percent for science and medicine, six percent for robotics, six percent for web and social networking applications, and four percent for education. The company has continued to issue thousands of free controllers for developers over the past several months, Buckwald said, and will be shipping its products worldwide this winter.