HDTV Magazine
Welcome, Anonymous  •  Sign In  •  Register  •  Help

A new 3D motion control system from Leap Motion (San Francisco, CA) may just be pointing the way to next generation intuitive human / computer interface with its software and hardware solution that claims discrete sensitivity of 0.01mm or about 200 X higher accuracy than the popular Microsoft Kinect gesture recognition system, according to the company.

The camera based system uses a small USB interface built with completely COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components with hardware about the size of an iPod.  What’s unique is a completely different (patented) “mathematical” approach based on algorithms developed by company CTO David Holtz, a UNC Chapel Hill math wiz with a penchant for fluid dynamics.  Holtz is credited with ground breaking technology that led to “leaps” in accuracy of the gesture system.  The Leap Motion technology creates a four cubic foot sensory area (usually in front of a display) the company calls its “3D interaction workspace.”  Here hand and even individual finger motion, facial recognition, and even objects held in the hand can be recognized, tracked and translated into meaningful instructions for the computer system to carry out.  See the Leap Motion on-line corporate video that is truly astounding.

In bringing the technology to market, the company also learned a thing or two, of what not to do, from Microsoft.  Rather than following the path of the Kinect where MS made its technology a “closed” system, and charged for access to a limited (non-commercial) version of the Kinect SDK, CEO of Leap Motion, Michael Buckwald said, “We believe that ultimately, the sheer number of use cases for this technology are so great that the value can only be realized by making it open. …think what would have happened if the mouse had been initially been released as a closed technology.  The impact would have been a tiny, tiny percentage of what the impact was because it was an open system that anyone could develop for,” Buckwald commented.

Microsoft learned its lesson the hard way and a “Kinect hacker community” developed in-spite of Microsoft’s best efforts to contain 3rd party development for the wildly popular gesture device that still holds the title of , world’s fastest adopted consumer device.

So Leap Motion will offer SDKs (software developers kits) and “free” sensors (to qualified developers in the US) being delivered as part of an App development effort before the product comes to market.  But truth be told that doesn’t leave developers much time as the Leap Motion technology is scheduled for early 2013 at the remarkable price of just under $70.  The company promises compatibility with both PC and Mac OSX.

The Leap Motion sensor is quite small!

The company said it will initially deliver to “a few hundred developers,” but the group expects to expand and distribute between 15K and 20K free kits to help kick-start the platform that should develop a good following based on its increased accuracy that unlike Kinect, has the ability to track discrete finger movements.  According to Buckwald “…we’re going to ask developers what kinds of things they envision building and from that, we’re going to make decisions about the order on which we bring developers into the program,” he said.

First implementations include OS navigation and web browsing, plus some game functionality, precision drawing and 3D modeling all using the hand motions in no-touch required 3D space (think Minority Report, or more recently, Ironman 2.)  Top applications identified by Leap Motion include:

  • Navigating an operating system or browsing Web pages with the flick of a finger
  • Finger-pinching to zoom in on maps
  • Letting engineers interact with a 3D model of clay
  • Precision drawing in either two- or three-dimensions
  • Manipulating complex 3D data visualizations
  • Playing games, including those that require very “fast-twitch” control
  • Signing digital documents by writing in air

Some analysts are calling Leap the next step from early mainstream market beginnings that included the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect.  We see this as the next logical step in human machine interface, and when combined with voice, make for a compelling replacement of even the tried and true, hardware keyboards.  Top product design companies would be well advised to look at this technology as the next thing to integrate.

Posted by Pete Putman, June 28, 2012 3:25 PM

More from Pete Putman

» - Currently Reading

About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.