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Graphics Games

The Leap Motion Controller is Sort of Like a Super Kinect (Video) 108

Posted by Roblimo
from the touching-nothing-but-a-picture-magically-appears-on-the-screen dept.
What the Leap Motion product (they only have one right now) does is allow you to control your computer with gestures. We're not talking about just jumping around, but "painting" on the screen with your fingers (or even chopsticks) with fine enough control that Autodesk and other drawing-orientd software vendors are working to make applications compatible with the Leap Motion Controller. And game developers? You bet! Lots of them -- and this is for a device that's not even supposed to start shipping until May 13. But, says CEO Michael Buckwald, they already have "hundreds of thousands of pre-orders," so it looks like they are developing a large market for developers (over 12,000 are in the Leap Motion developer program -- out of 50,000 who applied) so it's possible that Leap Motion could become a pretty big deal. (You can see the Leap Motion Controller in action at the end of the video.)

Tim: Let’s talk about Leap Motion for a little bit. Leap Motion is a company that came out of what sort of background?

Michael: So the company is based around technology developed by my cofounder and our CTO, David Holz, over four or five years while he was getting his math PhD. It is essentially born out of a deep frustration with the fact that even though computers today are radically different in every way from computers of 30 years ago, the ways that we interact with them haven’t really changed.

Tim: Now on that front there has been a lot of motion control at the consumer level, just in the last decade. What distinguishes what Leap Motion is introducing from things that already exist like the V and the Connect Controller?

Michael: Yeah. So we are different on two levels. One is the philosophical level. So basically most other players in the space in which people tend to think about gestures when they hear about this sort of technology and what they mean by gestures are these sort of binary sign language-esque inputs where a system looks for x and then y happens. And that doesn’t actually solve the problem. It doesn’t actually give the user more bandwidth; it is no different than pushing a key on the keyboard. What we are trying to do is bring the same sort of complexity and intuitiveness that people have when they interact with the real world by reaching out and grabbing things, pushing - making it as direct and interactive and dynamic as possible.

So basically we are trying to take advantage of this intuition that people have developed over thousands of years that lets us perform this incredibly complex action that is reaching out and grabbing something in a totally thoughtless way, and the way that we do that using much more accuracy and much lower latency than other devices. So we are one of the only devices that contract multiple fingers, we contract up to ten fingers and we do that at a sub-millimeter level. So hundreds of times accuracy of something like a Connect; and more importantly, our latency is extremely low. So we want it to be virtually undetectable to the user; we want them to feel like their hand is physically inside the device. And that is as important for us as the accuracy.

Tim: Now compared to some of the other motion controllers out there, it seems like the tradeoff that you’ve chosen is high accuracy versus large area.

Michael: So it is less the core innovation and the core algorithms can’t work over a large area, and more that we think that the types of applications where people most need this sort of accuracy and this sort of multi-finger tracking happen on computers right now. So we don’t think that people want to control their desktop from six feet away but we do think that when they are sitting in front of their desktop they would like to be able to mold a piece of clay, grab an object and move it, interact with it in a certain natural way; so the device we built today is intended to be the smallest, most accessible, most powerful that can sit on someone’s desk and perform that function. But if in the future, we wanted to build a different device and we didn’t have to worry about USB power it could cover a much larger area.

Tim: You know the other thing is that when you look at things like the Kinect Controller, it is obviously just the name and what it is tied to, it is really part of Microsoft’s gaming lineup. What kind of connections do you have? It seems like it is a much more open possibility for connecting your device to various types of computers and systems.

Michael: Yeah. So one of the most important things about Leap is our developer ecosystem. So there are over 50,000 developers from 150 countries that have applied to be part of the Leap Developer ecosystem. And today we’ve sent units to 12,000 of them, and they are working on applications as diverse as Zeptolabs with Cut the Rope, and Autodesk with Maya and then in between there is an incredible diversity of applications, everything from really intuitive ways for people to create audio, create video, virtual pottery wheels, ways for people to scroll up and down, and more mundane things like ways for people to move through presentations.

So we want this to be a platform. And we also announced Airspace, which is our apps store. And basically the goal is that the user should be able, within 30 seconds of connecting their Leap, to have a place to go and know that everything there works great with Leap. So we are not requiring developers to use Airspace but to make discovery for the end user as easy as possible, it is going to serve as a curated, centralized place for great Leap apps.

Tim: The bigger names, the ones that already have so many users in the world, they obviously have a lot of connections to gaming studios; can you talk about what sort of games are actually going to be available for the Leap Motion?

Michael: There will be a pretty diverse range. So there will be lots of casual games and a lot of the mobile gaming studios are very excited about Leap because obviously mobile gaming isn’t that compelling or fun as an experience with a mouse or keyboard. But it can be a very fun experience with Leap. But also more hardcore games. So both through mods and original games.

So we have developers working on mods or plugins for virtually every popular game that you could imagine. And in Airspace there might be hundreds of mods or plugins for a particular game, and the market or user preference will decide which are the best control schemes. But then we also have developers working on things like original first person shooters where each hand controls a gun that is fully independent, and then when you get close to something, maybe it switches to melee mode where you are actually punching and fighting basically we want to make sure that everything that developers build and everything that users use is a fundamentally better way of doing that thing. So we are very cautious about doing things that seem cool but aren’t fundamentally better.

Tim: It seems like that one thing the Leap Motion controller has quite different from the others is that nongaming uses - they are not an afterthought, they are actually it seems like what you talk about in a lot of your material, as opposed to just shooting up your enemy.

Michael: I think nongaming uses will be the majority. So right now it is about 50:50. Obviously it takes a lot less time for a developer to build especially for the mobile games, then something like a CAD program, so I expect that it will probably be at least 70 percent nongaming at launch.

Tim: For the idea of mobile games being used this way, does that mean there will be a smaller controller in the future, or can it use software or integrated embedded say from Leap that is using your phone’s hardware.

Michael: For May, when we ship the Leap peripheral what it means is basically just that many of the top mobile studios are taking our content for iOS or Android porting it to Windows or OS 10, because they realize that Leap can turn it from something that doesn’t make sense on those platforms to experience that it is better than it is on a tablet or phone. So the Leap peripheral in May won’t work with mobile devices, it is very focused on PCs; but we definitely want to embed this technology anywhere there is a computer. So in the near future, we would like to embed this not just in laptops, and desktops but also in everything from tablets, smart phones, cars, surgical robots, fighter jets the sky’s really the limit, I think.

Tim: Now those 12,000 developers to whom you’ve actually sent hardware and all the others who have access now and are working on things, what sort of access do they have? Is that STK, and is that going to be available to a wider pool at some point?

Michael: Yeah. In May, once anyone can get their hands on a Leap device, we will totally open the developer program, and anyone will be able to go to the developer portal and also anyone will be able to download the STK. So right now, the reason that we have selected those 12,000 is because this is both a beta test as well an opportunity for them to develop early things; then we have sent them physical units, but we want this platform to be as open as possible.

Tim: How many applicants did you have that you had to select from?

Michael: Just over 50,000.

Tim: That’s quite a winnowing process.

Michael: Yeah, it is a testament to people, particularly developers’ passion for what we are trying to do. I think we are very committed to using this technology to make the world a better place. We really believe that this is holding back computing in a fundamental way, and as accessible as possible, and I think that is one of the reasons we’ve gotten such a great response from developers, developers at their core, they became developers because they like creating things, they like building things, and I think they are as passionate as we are about making it easier for other people to create things.

Tim: Finally, it is just a few weeks or I guess a month and change before you start sending units. So where are they now? What is the process? Are things in boxes on ships?

Michael: Yes, we’ve received hundreds of thousands of preorders and we are building units to satisfy that demand as well as to get units to our retail partners like BestBuy and our bundling partners like ASUS; and we have units being mass produced; something that is in the US already being put in boxes; we are taking preorders globally so we have three global distribution centers that are currently preparing the devices. Our goal is to simultaneously ship to all many hundreds of thousands of preorder customers on the same day; it is a big logistical undertaking but it will be worth it.

Tim: Any last words that people should know about?

Michael: Well, South By Southwest has been a great show for us. It has been really great to see people that have preordered the device come for the first time, and get to use it , and see them to be happy and meet their expectations which is great. It has also been great to talk to people who have no idea who we are and what the device does, and get them to give us their feedback and thoughts as well.

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The Leap Motion Controller is Sort of Like a Super Kinect (Video)

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