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SXSW: Leap Motion Hopes to Eliminate Complicated UIs with Gesture Control

Mar 18, 2013

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 “User experience is holding us back because it requires people to learn motions or shortcuts first, rather than just doing and creating,” said Leap Motion co-founder and CEO, Michael Buckwald, at a Q&A at SXSW.

Leap Motion aims to eliminate the barriers that exist with its gesture-controlled technology, something the company is calling a “new frontier for hands and fingers.”

The technology, a device similar to a Kinect or Wii, but around 200 times more sensitive, allows users to control things on-screen using intuitive hand gestures. For example, if you want to zoom in on an object, just move your hand closer to the device. To zoom out, pull your hand away. To demonstrate how it works, co-founder David Holtz modeled a piece of 3D “clay” in mid-air by smoothing and shaping the 3D rendering.

Throughout the Q&A, the founders described the increased sense of learning one gets with actually moving and playing with objects, much like we do in reality. “[With Leap Motion], developers are building new ways to play games and explore things like galaxies of stars. There’s a certain physical intuition around that when you move through the spaces and content,” Holtz said. The team ultimately hopes the user interface as we know it will disappear altogether, allowing users to make things quickly and intuitively without having to learn how to navigate a computer or remember special hand gestures.

Along with exploring galaxies and making 3D renderings, the device also has less productive uses such as gesture-controlled Fruit Ninja and other Leap Motion–specific titles. Companies such as Disney and The Weather Channel have already announced titles for Leap Motion, including a virtual driving game and a freestyle painting app. 

With over 50,000 developers who applied for beta testing and around 12,000 with physical devices, the 65-person San Francisco–based company is optimistic about the future. When asked where they see the technology being used beyond the PC, the founders responded with a laundry list of applications from computers to tablets, to phones, to heads-up displays and robotic surgery.

Pre-orders for the Leap Motion controller ($79.99) are slated to ship May 13, and appear in stores on May 19. 


Photo courtesy of Leap Motion. 


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Lydia Leavitt