We’re all used to touch-sensitive screens, but now technology lets you control computers and apps simply by moving your hands around in thin air.
The Leap Motion Controller is a small rectangular device that plugs into the USB port of a Windows or Mac computer. When used with special software, it allows the user to control apps simply by holding their hands in the ‘3D interaction space’.
So instead of clicking a mouse or tapping a keyboard, users can browse the web, listen to music and control special apps using hand motions.
How does it work?
Leap Motion comes with two camera sensors and three infrared LEDs, which sense your hands and follow your movements.
The hardware itself is fairly basic, which means it’s easy to upgrade. But it’s the software that’s really clever.
What about the apps?
Apps need to be specially designed to work with Leap Motion. There are currently hundreds of apps compatible with Leap Motion. While the firm closed its official app store in June 2017, you can find a selection of compatible apps in the Leap Motion Gallery. You can also find them on third-party app stores like Steam.
Apps include games, navigation apps like Google Earth, and those that let you mould virtual 3D sculptures which you can make by sending to a 3D printer. All of the apps require you to use your hands for motion control instead of a controller.
In a demo, we tried a variety of apps. Games like Fruit Ninja were great fun, as you make chopping motions to slice the fruit. But Google Earth was slightly trickier as it felt strange using your entire hand to navigate and to get used to the freedom of moving around.
Who is it aimed at?
The Leap Motion Explorer is likely to appeal to early tech adopters – anyone keen to try new technology.
The controller also has educational uses. We had a demonstration of an app called CyberScience, where players can virtually dissect a human skull using the Leap Motion controller.
Leap Motion says feedback from teachers has been extremely positive as the combination offers a new way for students to understand the vast distances of space.
Where can I get the Leap Motion Controller?
The Leap Motion Controller is available from high street retailers and Amazon.
What about the future?
Leap Motion recently unveiled an augmented reality headset that's far cheaper than the Microsoft HoloLens. While the HoloLens retails for just shy of £3,000, Leap Motion's Project North Star only costs around £70. It combines augmented reality - where virtual elements are overlaid on the wearer's view of the real world - with the same motion sensing tech found in the firm's standard sensor.
The bad news? It will only be available to developers, so won't be sold to the general public.
What do we think?
Leap Motion is a really interesting idea, and certainly motion control is a growth area of technology.
It takes time to get used to using the Leap Motion Controller – movements vary within each game and some are more sensitive than others. But once you have, it has many advantages.
You might not like the idea of holding your hand in mid-air for prolonged periods of time. But then some people were sceptical that touchscreens would ever take off for smartphones.