We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the upcoming Leap Motion device that lets users interact with applications on their Mac or PC in three dimensional space with such fine tuned accuracy (and no screen touching) that it could revolutionize how we control content on our computers.
Sure, we’ve got motion control on our console gaming systems and HDTVs, but nothing yet exists in the consumer market in the personal computing realm. Obvious uses come in the form of enhanced gaming and design, but the sky is the limit for those with the brains to make this a breakthrough product in the coming year, especially considering the SDK is being offered up to select developers as we speak. And with the newly minted deal with ASUS computers, we’ll soon see the device packaged with their laptops later this year as an external accessory, but I imagine it won’t be long until its as common as a touch pad and a space bar.
We sat down with Leap Motion‘s Vice President of Product Marketing, Michael Zagorsek, to talk about what the Leap Motion can do and maybe someday will do before he walked us through a private demo of the device in the video below…
GEEK: Could you tell us a little about Leap Motion, where it came from, what you’re doing now, and where you see it going…
Michael Zagorsek: We announced the company and released the video in May 2012 and it took off and went viral (see video below). People got really excited about what the possibilities were. And that’s when it became really apparent that people were looking for new and interesting ways to interact with their computers.
David and Michael, the co-founders, understood that the possibility for computing wasn’t being limited by the hardware or the screen, the resolution, or the memory. It was really about the interface. It became really apparent, especially after touch [technology became popular], that people were looking to do more and we got really excited. And what we then set out to do and what was really important was not to focus this on a peripheral or a piece of technology, but it’s really a platform as well. It’s one of the only devices that’s out there that’s both a peripheral and a platform, because it opens up the three dimensional space in front of your computers. So we developed an SDK and have been delivering that to developers everywhere. And we announced in December that we’re shipping out another 10,000 units to the community. Bottom line is that when it comes to Leap and the technology, we all about the developer. We feel that they are the ones who will be able to take this and have it reach its full potential. We’re just providing the great environment to make it happen.
We’re basically moving forward on all fronts. We’ve announced funding a couple weeks ago and that’s really to help drive the manufacturing and bring the product to market. We announced our development project a month ago and we’re getting units into the community. The customer demand continues to be really strong. And then there’s the deal with ASUS, which is just the start of what we think is a whole lot of partnerships, both at the peripheral level with bundling and the integration in the future. Each one of the different groups is seeing the potential and moving forward together. And that’s what’s making us feel really good about everything coming together for this product and this launch.
We announced the partnership with ASUS on January 3rd and of course we’re having conversations across the board with other partners, but ASUS was just in a position to move forward, so we announced that deal first. They will be releasing a high end notebook later this year and they’ll be bundling LEAP with that. There will be all-in-ones as well.
GEEK: Do you see this replacing this any other commonly used peripherals?
The answer is yes and no. The reality is that computing has been mouse and keyboard for 20+ years. Touchscreen has come along, but it really went into the mobile space. We see Leap as complimenting [existing interactive devices] in the early stages, but over time, as software and as operating systems make the shift with us, then that will be the case. There are already people developing virtual keyboards, where you can turn the Leap on its side and it can detect that, but our goal is to make sure that anybody who uses it feels that they can use this every day. But they’re going to use the best tool for what the task is. It’s exciting to think we can replace the mouse, but we want to be realistic and not make people think they can get rid of the mouse, until the ecosystem catches up.
Especially with laptops and track pads, you’re now really centered on the space in front of your computer versus the mouse off to the side. A lot of people use Wacom tablets specifically for graphic design. We can a huge application for using gestures just for that.
GEEK: We’ve seen other types of interactive tools that let you control the computer with your eyes, your voice, and even with virtual keyboards projected onto flat surfaces. How does Leap fit in?
We really see this year’s trend is the year of the changing or disappearing interface. Maybe I’m more focused on it because I’m working with Leap, but people are looking for ways to eliminate things between you and the computer they are using, like virtual keyboards and such. Having less things you have to interact with to do something else is a huge step forward in how people are able to create and do more.
GEEK: What can you tell us about the device itself?
It’s basically this matchbox sized device right here, which plugs into the laptop via USB. For the purposes of integration, it can get much smaller and be embedded into a tablet. It’s using camera technology to gather information, reading what it needs to read to get data points that can then get processed. And it’s very CPU lite. It’s got the precision. There’s no lag. One of the things that we see happening and that everyone is getting excited about, not just us, but what the whole space is doing… the reason we’re passionate about what we’ve created is that we feel it has all of the criteria to define the motion control space. It has very low latency. If what you do in the air translates immediately, it feels natural. It’s got the precision down to 1/100th of a millimeter. It’s truly creating a 3D space. Gestures are interesting, but gestures are a form of communication. Motion control is actual manipulation. So we can do the gesture, but we can also get into the space and control stuff in 3D.
GEEK: What do you find is the most practical application for this device?
My boring answer is “the sky’s the limit”. It’s anything that people’s imaginations can do. It’s really just creating a 3D space. What we want to do for the customers is give them access to as many things can be done. That’s why we’re focusing on the developer community and why we’re launching an app store as well. What we’re seeing is that it’s across categories. It’s games. It’s art and music creation. It’s really intricate stuff like the Block 54 video. It’s also something as simple as controlling volume or turning a page. You see the full potential in the 3D experiences, but we can see people using this for a variety of simple things. And then there’s medical and a lot of really obvious stuff about doctors who don’t want to touch things in a controlled environment who can’t physically interact.
GEEK: Why create the peripheral device when Leap looks destined to become an integrated part of our computers in the near future?
It’s a good way to start because everybody has a computer. It takes any laptop and turns it into a 3D device. The potential is there to be everywhere, but giving it that flexibility and giving people the chance to experience it with the technology that they already have is the right place to start. Our aim is to start in that ecosystem of apps that really highlight the potential of this. Controlling a computer will be a good experience if people can do it, but ultimately you’re always limited by software that is inside. When developers create apps, they’re not limited anymore based on the platform they’ve created.
GEEK: When can we get it and how much will it be?
We’ve been targeting early this year and we’re close to getting a specific date, but we’re making sure that manufacturing is in a position where we can deliver on the demand. Our developers have created a really good set of apps so that the customers will get value immediately. Our goal is to go to market with something amazing. So a few months, but soon. Our current pre-order price is $70 at leapmotion.com.
GEEK: Is there anything you dream for Leap to do that it doesn’t do yet?
The technology is there. If we’re successful, it’s because we’ve created a software development platform that allows developers to do whatever they want. It’s really a matter of getting the technology, the hardware, and the software in a position where the sky truly is the limit. So I suspect that our dreams will be surpassed by some great next developer out there.
GEEK: Okay, we have to ask… What do you personally geek out about?
Well, I was on the cab ride coming here to the LVH, which I didn’t realize is no longer the Las Vegas Hilton where they used to have the Star Trek Experience. I went to it years ago, not realizing that six months later it would be gone. I grew up with Next Generation and to stand on the bridge of the Enterprise was a transcendent experience. And I brought my wife who has no patience for Star Trek and she liked it, so that’s when I knew that I achieved geek nirvana at that moment.
Learn more about the Leap Motion and pre-order it at leapmotion.com.