"No one needs an instruction manual for their hands." That's the key selling point of a new, highly precise 3D gestural technology that developers are eager to try out.
Leap Motion, whose technology was unveiled in May, said Tuesday that more than 26,000 requests have been received in those two months from developers for free software development kits. The San Francisco-based company said that, within the first week after its initial announcement, about 15,000 applications had been received from developers.
Hundredth of a Millimeter
While in summary the technology resembles that of Microsoft's Kinect gestural game controller, Leap allows extremely accurate -- within a hundredth of a millimeter -- in-the-air gestural recognition of hands, each finger on each hand, a pencil being used as a free-motion pointer, and other items.
The company, founded in 2010, said that its 3D motion-control and motion-sensing technology is "200 times more sensitive than existing motion-control technology," so that users can more easily and more accurately navigate and interact with apps via natural hand and finger movement.
When it was first announced in May, Leap Motion said that uses could include gaming, surgery, architecture, engineering or design. But developers have many other possibilities in mind. For instance, some have proposed real-time sign language translation.
There are also proposals for using the technology to drive cars, fly planes, or provide assistance for physical rehabilitation. The company said that 14 percent of developers are proposing game-related apps, 12 percent of proposed uses involve music and video, 11 percent are for art and design, 8 percent for science and medicine, and 6 percent for robotics.
The company has said that it will create an app store a la Apple, and 90 percent of developers requesting an SDK said they would be interested in selling their resulting products through such a venue.
In mid-July, Leap Motion announced that former Apple Vice President of Mobile Advertising Andy Miller would join the company as president and chief operating officer in August. He will report to CEO and co-founder Michael Buckwald.
The technology is expected to cost $70, including a hardware component about the size of a flash drive, and is scheduled to ship early next year.
We asked Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner, if Leap or Leap-like technology could answer a central issue shadowing the potential success of Microsoft's coming Windows 8 operating system release -- namely, taking advantage of 8's featured touch-sensitive interaction on a computer requires one to have or buy a computer touchscreen.
Gartenberg said that Leap-like technology could "create a great experience with Windows 8," although the question is whether Microsoft, whose Kinect controller has been a big hit, might itself be moving in this direction. In any case, he pointed out, the key to success "is getting application developers on board," which Leap appears to be doing by, well, leaps and bounds.
Gartenberg noted that the bottom-line issue is whether users want this kind of in-the-air interaction with their computer for everyday interaction, or whether it would be limited to gaming and special use cases like sign language.