Imagine that you could buy a tiny USB-powered box that detected your motion like Microsoft’s Kinect, only instead of watching you jump around a room, it watched your hands and fingers. Imagine that the box was sensitive enough to track the tip of a pencil tracing out letters in a 1cm square of space, and to turn that into accurate handwriting on the screen.
Amazingly, that box is available for preorder right now. It’s called the Leap, and it works with your Mac.
The Leap Motion team behind the box (and of course its clever software backend) claim that the Leap is “200 times more accurate” than any rival and “can distinguish your individual fingers and track your movements down to a 1/100th of a millimeter.”
It sounds impressive, and the video certainly backs this up. But the information is vague, and even the FAQ on the Leap Motion site only offers fuzzy explanations.
However, Redditor Clubdirthill suggests that it looks like a time-of-flight camera, a technology that can image a 3-D space by measuring the time it takes light to arrive from each point of the image. According to Wikipedia, these cameras have a resolution of 1cm, which seems to be much lower than that shown in the demo. This could be an evolution on that technology, though, and might avoid patents owned on it, too.
UPDATE: Leap Motion’s Eliotte weighs in on the tech “the camera is not a time-of-flight camera. The device is actually using camera sensors that are basic off-the-shelf hardware found in smartphones and webcams today. The 3D magic comes in the software –the mathematical analysis of the light bouncing off images.” Thanks, Eliotte!
If it works as well as promised, this $70 box could be quite revolutionary. Sure, you can use it to play Angry Birds with a pair of chopsticks, but it could also deliver iOS-accurate touch control to desktop machines, without the expense of a touch screen (or even a new computer). I would use it for plain old work, and avoid RSI-inducing trackpads and mice altogether.
As I said, preorders can be made now, but no shipping date is given. Hopefully this will turn out to be more than just bunk.