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Over the past few years a paradigm shift has been underway – a shift that will alter the way we control and use our electronic devices.  It is entirely possible that within a few short years, staples of the electronics world such as the computer mouse and your television remote control may be deemed unnecessary…obsolete. Victims of our unquenchable thirst for technological advancement and the desire to more naturally, and intuitively, communicate with the devices we depend on.  The idea may seem a bit science fiction, maybe even downright absurd, but we all yearn to interact and control our gadgets in the digital world in a manner that feels more…human. Enter the Leap Motion controller.  Leap Motion is a new breed of motion and gesture recognition technology for electronics (currently Windows or Mac based computers).  It is a small rectangular device that is about the size of a Pez dispenser that is designed to be placed on a physical desktop in front of your computer monitor.  It is currently selling for about $80 on LEAP’s website (link below).  The little box does nothing on its own…it’s only after being plugged into your computer’s USB port that it’s true power is put on display. Apologies in advance for the following tech jargon…I’ll keep it brief.  Two monochromatic infrared (IR) cameras and three infrared LEDs allow the device to observe hand movements in an area that is roughly 8 cubic feet stretching up to about 3 feet above the device. It’s designed to “read” very small and precise movements that other motion and gesture recognition controllers (i.e. Microsoft Kinect) would be incapable of distinguishing.  While Microsoft’s Kinect is great at recognizing skeletons with joints at a distance of 40-300cm (think living room space), it is simply not designed for close range PC interaction like the LEAP. The LEDs project a 3D pattern of dots of IR light above the controller while cameras in the device observe the reflection from the user’s hands and send the collected information back to the leap software.  This information is then analyzed and the position and orientation of your hands is inferred by comparing the 2D images generated by the cameras.  In other words…the Leap controller knows when you point, press, grab, swipe, flick, reach, push, pull, raise, or lower you hand.  It is also easily able to distinguish between your fingers which allows it to recognize gestures that utilize a certain number of fingers (ie: a two finger point vs. a one finger point). [caption id="attachment_2145" align="aligncenter" width="674"]Leap Motion Visualizer Leap Motion’s Visualizer shows us exactly what it sees when a hand is placed in its field of view[/caption] Welcome to the world of gesture recognition.  It’s a world where a graphic designer can precisely edit an image without ever touching a mouse or keyboard.  Where an architect can zoom in on a 3D model of a new design by tactfully moving a hand towards the monitor, and then rotate the model 360 degrees in any direction by making the same hand movements he would make if the object were actually in his hands.  Where a fledgling astronomer can soar around planet Earth and through the Milky Way by placing her hand out flat and tilting up, down, left, or right as if it were an airplane.  Where the author of this post can navigate through the entire Earth, Wind, and Fire discography by subtly swiping a hand left or right.  It is in applications like this that the Leap Motion really shines. Now - you might be thinking “That all sounds pretty sweet but what exactly can I do with this thing right now?!”  The answer really depends on what you want to do with it.  There are a handful of apps and plugins available right now through AirSpace - the Leap Motion app store organized by genre.  The store includes games, creative tools, educational apps, and everything in between.  For basic navigation, web browsing and gesture driven shortcuts check out ‘AirInput’, ‘Touchless’, or ‘HandWave’.  These apps allow you to associate certain gestures and motions with actions and/or menu items.  The creative types might find apps like ‘Painter Freestyle’, ‘Freeform’ or ‘Draw in Photoshop’ amusing, if not truly useful.  These apps let you draw, edit images, and sculpt using hand gestures and “drawing” movements.  Those looking for more practical uses might be interested in ‘Flowboard’, which allows you to create presentations, similar to PowerPoint, and control them entirely using point and swipe gestures.  There is even an app called ‘GameWave’ which turns your hands into a video game controller/keyboard by assigning gestures and movements to different keys on your keyboard and mouse.  Coincidentally ‘GameWave’ is also a great app to control your computer even when not gaming.   My personal favorites include ‘Lotus’ and ‘Midnight’.  Both are visually stimulating musical games that have integrated the Leap Motion very well and help to demonstrate its true potential. [caption id="attachment_2146" align="aligncenter" width="674"]AirSpace Home You can update and launch installed Leap Motion apps from AirSpace Home[/caption] After demoing the device, we were inspired to develop our own app for the Leap Motion controller code-named “The Health Explorer”.  The app will allow a user to navigate the human body and select body parts to investigate further.  Once a section/body part is selected the user will then be presented with a library of health topics related to that section of the body.   It is a visual WebMD type health topic search…but instead of typing in search terms (so 2012) the user simply rotates, zooms, and selects a body part using LEAP.  (Shameless plug - Keep an eye out for the app early 2014!) So are you thinking about jumping on the gesture control train and augmenting your current keyboard/mouse setup with a LEAP of your own?  Is it ready for primetime, or it is…at least for now…still just a gimmick?  One thing we know for certain is that touch-less gesture control is no longer just another magical technology from a science fictions movie.  It is here, and it is ready to show you just how old school that little mouse really is.LEAP Motion Inc. Web Site - Motion App Store - first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates