Technology continues to evolve into new and different things and it continues to amaze me how far we have come just in the last ten years — heck, even in the past five years. I am not that old, but I have been able to witness the evolution of technology from black and white computer screens to now where we have tablets and smartphones that are almost as powerful as our computers. It just amazes me how far we have come.
The same can be said about the piece of technology that I am reviewing today, the Leap Motion. The movie, Minority Report, gave us a glimpse into the future when it came out in 2002 and I remember thinking that what Tom Cruise was able to do with that computer screen was amazing. I thought there was no way I would see something like that in my lifetime. Well, I only needed to wait twelve years to see a similar concept come to fruition in the Leap Motion. I have had the chance to run it through its paces and have come away with some interesting thoughts on it.
The Leap Motion is a 3D motion controller — similar to the Microsoft Kinect, but with motion sensors and no cameras — that lets you turn your traditional screen into a pseudo-touchscreen. You connect it to your Mac (or PC, incidentally) via USB, and leave the small device at the base of your monitor. From there, you’ll have a 3D virtual space that detects your hands and other objects in front of it, so you can move things on screen around with your hand, Minority Report style.
When you first get your Leap Motion there are really two things that need to be done before you can start to get your inner Tom Cruise on. You first need to download the software for your Mac or PC and then you need to calibrate the Leap Motion device to your computer. Once this is finished, then you sign up for an account for AirSpace, which I will talk about in a bit. Now you are read to start using your device.
Airspace is the application that is used to house all of the apps that you have or want to get for your LeapMotion: think of it an App Store specifically for your device. When you first open it up, there are some preinstalled apps that you can start to use right away to get a feel for how to use the LeapMotion. If you want to check out other apps, there is the Airspace Store that will open up in any browser.
Right now there are a decent amount of apps that are in the store that are all categorized by type and for specific platforms. As I glanced through they range in price from free all the way up to $10. For launch they do have a pretty good variety to choose from in just about every category and I felt like they did a good job of getting this up and running. It was very easy to find apps that were either free or low cost in just about every category to test out and see what it was like.
Using The Leap Motion
After you download some apps that you like, you can now launch them from Airspace Home. They will open up as a separate application just like when you launch any other one on your computer. From there it really depends on the app that you are using as to how you use the Leap Motion with your computer.
There were a few things that I took away from my experience with using the device for a few hours. The first thing both my wife and I noticed is that our arms got tired very fast. This made sense since I am not used to having my arm and hands up toward my computer screen to interact with it. Your desk position along with your chair height will dictate how high you have to raise your arm to use the Leap Motion. I think the better that your device calibrates, the truer it will be in alignment with your screen, so depending on your screen height, that could also dictate how much you are going to have to move your arm around.
One area that I found very hard to get used was trying to zoom in on a small target on the screen. For example, I had downloaded the Touchless app which lets you use the Leap Motion as a pseudo mouse for your computer. As you can see in the video below, I was able to scroll up and down okay, but it was somewhat of a struggle to try and click on buttons. I had to move my arm back and forth slowly in order to hit a target on the screen that was in a 2-3 inch radius. A lot of times when I would move my finger to “click” on something, it would either hit above or below it and I had to readjust. For what it is worth, I found that my non dominant hand worked a little better for me when it came to being accurate with interacting with the screen.
As most of you know the Leap Motion got a lot of hype and press over the last year, and I could’t wait to get my hands on mine. I was initially a little disappointed when I first tried it, as I had expected it to work better than what I was experiencing. In my initial testing, I found it a little frustrating trying to use the different apps with my hands and fingers.
But, I soon realized two things that I felt were very important to know. One, this is the first device of its kind and although we have been using touch screens with tablets, this is different. My hands are not used to interacting this way with a computer screen, so I have to be patient in that I need to get used to this type of interaction. Secondly, the Leap Motion just came out. It has literally been released as of this writing for just over 24 hours and so to give it harsh criticism is just not fair.
Granted, they have been doing a lot of beta testing on it, but you still can’t fault them for not coming out with the “perfect” product right out of the gate. Again, being patient, and letting the developers of the device as well as of apps continue to get feedback from customers will only make it better. The one thing us early adopters sometimes forget is the fact that even though we get the reward of getting something early, we also get the risk of getting something that is not as good as it potentially is going to be.
I will be perfectly honest and say, the Leap Motion is a device that definitely takes some getting used to. It is not one where you can easily just pick up and start using and get great results, at least that was my experience. It is something new, something we are not used to interacting with, and so my brain and my hands need to do a little adjusting. I know the more that I play around with it, the more I will get used to it. There are some interesting apps for this device and I am sure the list will continue to grow once people get their hands on the device and figure out ways it can be used. The one thing that does get me excited for the Leap Motion is its ability to be used in so many different lines of work. As an educator myself, I can definitely see this being used in the classroom. Whether you are a designer, photographer, engineer, or anything else, I think the Leap Motion can and will be used in a huge variety of ways.
One last thing to ponder, as I still don’t know the answer to this question. As I have been using my Leap Motion, I couldn’t help but think, is this the future of computing or is the touch screen the future? I initially want to say the touch screen is going to be easier to use, but that is because I have been using an iPad for the past four years and have gotten used to that interaction. I am not sure and as it was ten years ago for me, I will be continually intrigued as to where this type of technology will go and how it will be used in the future.