After decades of using a mouse to navigate our desktops, we’ve created a futuristic way to interact with your PC (or Mac) that’s drawn comparisons to movies like Minority Report or The Avengers: the Leap Motion Controller.
This small, inexpensive, plug-in sensor lets a user interact with their PC with hand gestures — no touching involved. Tesla (TSLA) founder Elon Musk uses a Leap Motion Controller as part of his ultra high tech SpaceX design lab.
If motion control is good enough for Tony Stark, and if Leap Motion technology powers Elon Musk’s 3D design studio, is it good enough to be your new PC controller?
Read our Leap Motion Controller review to find out.
Leap Motion Controller Review: Tiny Add-On
When it comes to high tech add-ons for computers, size is often an issue. There may be cameras and sensors involved and with virtual reality interfaces like Oculus Rift, there’s a sizable headset to deal with too.
The Leap Motion Controller is much smaller than you might expect for something that tracks your hands in mid-air and interprets gestures in sufficient detail to let you control your PC. It’s downright tiny, just three inches long and smaller than most computer mice. Plug it in to a USB port, launch the website, download the drivers and you’re ready to get futuristic with your computer.
It would be nice if the PC controller were wireless — the need to position it between you and the PC means a USB cable will be snaking across the desk — but keeping the cable keeps the size down and presumably keeps the cost down as well.
Leap Motion Controller Review: The Motion Control Experience
Once the Leap Motion Controller is plugged in and the drivers are installed, what happens?
Leap supplies a tutorial, which I would highly recommend using. Any software you use today is optimized for 2D input, so using Leap Motion technology means adapting 3D gestures to a 2D world. You quickly get the hang of making “scrolling” and “pinch and zoom” gestures vertically (although trying to get too fancy can get frustrating) but where the cool factor really kicks in is when you download apps from Airspace, Leap’s own app store.
Some apps are free, some cost money, but all are designed specifically to take full advantage of the Leap Motion Controller. This is where you get the full experience of manipulating objects in 3D. While the pickings are a little slim right now, you can download Google (GOOG) Earth — which is way more cool when you can zoom and rotate by waving your hands in the air — educational and design titles, and of course games.
Considering the size of the device and its price, responsiveness is excellent — at least in Leap-optimized apps. In its Leap Motion Controller review, Engadget had issues with the user’s thumb throwing off finger controls, but I didn’t have the same problem — in the time between reviews, Leap may have tweaked the system.
Leap Motion Controller Review: Specs
- Leap Motion Controller uses 2 IR cameras and 3 infrared LEDs
- 3.0 x 1.2 x 0.5 inches
- 0.1 pounds
- Includes 24-inch and 60-inch microUSB 3.0 cables
- Leap Motion Apps available through Airspace app store
- Requires minimum Max OSX 10.7 (Lion) or Windows 7
Note: During this Leap Motion Controller review, the PC controller was used with an iMac running OSX 10.7
Leap Motion Controller Review: Conclusion
The technology that Leap Motion has developed is intriguing. I wouldn’t say that it’s at the point where a Leap Motion Controller is going to replace your mouse, but it offers the most innovative new way to interact with a computer in years.
Some PC makers see it as a potential game changer. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), for example, recently released the HP Envy 17 with built-in Leap Motion technology.
When it comes with interacting with a PC display with your arm in a horizontal position (something that I really don’t see the point of due to arm fatigue), the Leap Motion controller at least has the advantage of not smearing and smudging the display. And it is a little less tiresome to do it this way than interacting with Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows 8 on a touchscreen-enabled PC.
But because Leap Motion is so different from a typical PC controller that it needs its own apps to take full advantage of its capabilities, it ultimately faces a similar challenge: getting developers on board to release enough compelling apps to draw in consumers.
As I found during the course of my Leap Motion Controller review, the pickings are a little slim at the moment. Some users — like Elon Musk — may be able to take full advantage of what it can do today, but for the typical PC owner, Leap Motion will likely remain a toy or a demo rather than a productivity tool. However, at $80, the Leap Motion Controller is at least priced for the masses.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.