Leap Into the Future of Motion Gaming
We chat to the founders of one of this year’s most exciting pieces of technology, the Leap.
You’d be forgiven if you were a bit soured on motion technology by this point. The Wii was great fun until we realised it wasn’t all that accurate, Kinect was great fun until you became sick of moving around your furniture and Sony really hasn’t done a whole lot with their Playstation Move device.
The future of motion control, for the moment, isn’t looking all that hot. Or so I thought.
Recently I began to hear rumblings about a device known as the Leap – a tiny little box with incredible motion sensing capabilities in a fully realised 3D space. My ears suitably perked up, I delved more into the device, viewing the first trailer for the technology, researching the device and looking into all the technicalities. I emerged incredibly impressed – this is a device that has the potential to revolutionise not only gaming, but the computing industry as a whole.
A bold claim to be sure, and given that it looks just like a little box, you’re probably sceptical about its abilities. That’s exactly why I recently had the pleasure to talk to the device’s co-creators Michael Buckwald and David Holz, both of whom have a lot to say about Leap and its massive potential.
Leap: What You Need to Know
“The original inspiration behind Leap came from our frustration with 3D modeling— something that took 10 seconds in real life would take 30 minutes with a computer.” says Michael. “Molding virtual clay with a computer should be as easy as molding clay in the real world. The mouse and keyboard were simply getting in the way. Leap is the outcome of several years of research devoted to removing that barrier so people can interact with their computers in a natural, intuitive way.
“Co-founder and CTO David Holz was pursuing his PhD in mathematics at UNC Chapel Hill when he made mathematical breakthroughs that led to the development of Leap. He left the program in 2010, and he and I founded the company that would become Leap Motion.”
You only have to watch the device’s first announcement trailer to truly see how intuitive it is, simulating incredible accurate motion control on everything from map navigation to playing Half Life.
Suitably wowed? I certainly am. The device is said to be over 200 times more accurate than anything on the market, and it’s all encased in a tiny little box. It certainly seems a lot better than Microsoft’s Kinect, but Michael and David are keen to say that the device is built using different technology than Kinect.
“Our approach is fundamentally different than that of technologies like Kinect.” they said. “From the start, we’ve been intent on developing 3D motion control technology that is sensitive enough to control computers with natural hand and finger movements. As a result of our completely different approach, and the mathematical breakthroughs that enable our technology, Leap can sense movements to 1/100th of a millimeter – which is up to 200 times more accurate than existing technology, and works for the tasks that make up the vast majority of our interactions with a computer—those that take place in a close range, using hands and fingers. Leap also works for computers – both Mac and PC – vs. a specific gaming system.
It almost seems like some kind of new-age witchcraft. I was intrigued about how the device worked exactly and whether the technology could be integrated into gaming consoles. Thankfully the masterminds behind Leap were only too happy to furnish me with some answers.
“The Leap device is about the size of a thumb drive and plugs into a computer via mini USB (no batteries required). It contains a series of small camera sensors that send out infared light. The light emitted by Leap bounces off nearby objects, and with Leap Motion’s patented software, based on David’s mathematical breakthroughs, creates a 3-D interaction space that can track individual finger movements down to a fraction of a millimeter.
“The Leap technology is versatile enough to be embedded in any number of electronics, ranging from smartphones to refrigerators, and gaming consoles are certainly among the possibilities in the future.”
A fraction of a millimetre. This kind of accuracy really hasn’t been seen before in such a condensed space, and if you watched the video above, you’ll see how accurately the Leap manages to track the fingers and a pencil with unparalleled accuracy.
Developers Leaping On Board
“We’re distributing thousands of dev kits to developers this summer, and Leap will ship with an app discovery platform that allows users to find the apps that have been created.” says David and Michael. “We’re sending thousands of software development kits over the next couple of months to developers across a wide range of industries and specializations. Our app discovery platform will give these developers a way to monetize their apps, and help users easily find apps that fit their needs.”
While they wouldn’t tell me specifically which developers they’re working with, the news that thousands of developers are already expressing interest in Leap is an exciting prospect for the future. It certainly has massive implications in the gaming world, and I was keen to delve more into whether Leap could finally break down the barrier of creating a fully immersive FPS game that uses motion control.
“Yes, definitely.” says Michael. “Leap is the first motion-control technology sensitive enough to handle games like first-person shooter, that require fast reflexes. Existing motion control for games has focused on large, full-body movements, while Leap can control games with a fast flick of a finger.”
You only have to watch the video of Leap being demonstrated where a gamer is playing Half Life 2 to see just how easy and accurate the device is. It really does have massive potential to impact the gaming landscape. Michael said:
“The Leap’s potential for gaming is enormous, and we’ve had a great time trying it out on existing games, but the real magic will happen as developer kits are distributed and developers begin designing games with Leap in mind.” Here’s hoping they do!
Leap Outside the Game World
Although it’s exciting to see what Leap can do in gaming, it’s also pretty cool to think of how it can impact the future as a whole.
“The possible applications for the Leap technology are limitless.” says Michael. “Some of the ones we’ve thought of include basic computing tasks like navigating an operating system or digitally signing a document, and complex professional uses, such as medical imaging that a surgeon can navigate without taking off his or her gloves, 3-D modeling that’s as simple and intuitive as shaping real clay, and fully interactive 3-D data visualization. We expect our developer community and customers will create many applications we’ve yet to think of.”
Will we therefore see a future of using the Leap to revolutionise the way we interact with computers? If developers do incredible things with this technology, I see absolutely no reason why Leap can’t be any bit as revolutionary as the home computer system, the television set and devices such as the Ipod.
It also retails for a ridiculously cheap $70! I was sceptical at first about the low price, but David and Michael are keen to put my fears to rest.
“One of the things unique about Leap is that we’ve taken a fundamentally different approach to tracking motion.” they say. “It’s a very software-driven method, and the physical device is simple, which allows us to provide superior technology at a low price.”
Fair enough then, consider me firmly hyped about the product. My final question was relating to Microsoft’s Kinect technology and whether they’d been bashing down the doors of Leap yet asking them how they achieve their motion wizardry.
“We aren’t discussing conversations with any specific companies at this time.” says Michael. “But I can tell you – the “magic” of the Leap is in the patented software developed by CTO and co-founder David Holz and our engineering team.”
Pre-orders for Leap Motion are now being taken, ready for a launch this Winter. For more information on the device, heap on over to the Leap website.
ManaTank would like to thank both David and Michael for their time, and wish them the best for their motion-filled future.