Leap Motion is a 3D controller that made its public debut this week, after two years of work on the device, during which time founders Michael Buckwald and David Holz raised $14.55 million in funding. The Leap Motion is a motion control interface designed for use with existing computers, and in demo videos the device calls to mind natural, sci-fi interfaces like the one found in the Tom Cruise blockbuster Minority Report. It’s motion control that doesn’t look gimmicky or full of compromises, and CEO and founder Buckwald told BetaKit in an interview that in terms of underlying technology, Leap is heads and tails above most of what’s out there.
“Our technology is the only one focused on bringing motion control to the desktop, rather than trying to take what’s been built for TV (large gesture sensing) and making it work for computers,” he said. “We incorporate natural motions in closer range (three cubic feet from the device), in far greater detail and sensitivity, than any product on the market, and we’re the only solution that tracks all 10 fingers individually in 3D space, making Leap about 200 times as accurate as other motion-control technologies.”
Unlike other motion-control options like Microsoft’s Kinect, Leap’s focus is all about up-close-and-personal interactivity and delineating subtle, specific movements. That means people can interact with their computers in a much more natural way, instead of having to stand far back and be overly gestural and demonstrative in order to have tracking sensors pick up their movements. In terms of being a practical tool people can use for daily productivity tasks, instead of, say, emulating jumping up and down on a river raft, that provides a very marked advantage.
Leap’s tech provides advantages not just over existing motion control interfaces, according to Buckwald, but also over boring old consumer tech standards, like the mouse and keyboard. “Today’s computers are incredibly powerful, but traditional mouse-and-keyboard navigation has limited our ability to harness that power,” he explained. “Things that are easy to do with our hands in the real world—like molding clay or signing our name—have until now been very difficult to accomplish with a computer.”
Buckwald thinks that the evolution from our current desktop input methods, which are basically as old as the PC itself, and 3D motion control will be “happen faster than most people expect,” and others like Apple and Microsoft are clearly banking on that being the case. The biggest challenge might be convincing consumers that 3D motion interfaces can successfully replace traditional ones for things like text and data entry, but advances in voice input and recognition could help significantly shore things up in that regard, too.
Leap’s vision is ambitious, and it will require the backing of software developers to make it a reality for consumers. Buckwald said the company intends to send out “thousands of software development kits” over the next few months to developers in various feels to jumpstart the Leap software ecosystem. The company is backed by prominent investors, including Highland Capital Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund and more.
As for when consumers can get their hands on one, Leap is anticipating a December 2012 or January 2013 ship date for the product, and is accepting pre-orders now. Its success will depend on how much software it can make available for early adopters, who will likely become powerful evangelists if Leap can do what it promises to in the company’s promotional videos.