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Leap's 3-D technology could change the way you work (and play)

It’s always neat to see gaming technology going mainstream. Microsoft pretty much won the peripheral battle against Sony and Nintendo when they introduced the Kinect accessory. It’s basically a camera with some backend intelligence and motion tracking that lets gamers jump and wave to manipulate their games without a dedicated controller.

Microsoft has extended that experience to its PC users as well with Kinect for Windows, which also can be adapted for geospatial and data visualizations.

And now Leap Motion is planning to bring a similar, more fine-grained experience to PCs running Windows 7 or 8 or Mac OS X. The Leap 3D System is an iPod-sized box that connects to a computer using the USB port and creates an eight-cubic-foot interactive space, according to the company. Once set up, it lets users swipe, grab, pinch and move their data around as if they were using a touch screen, except without actually touching the screen. The comparisons to "Minority Report" computing are obvious.

In a couple ways, it’s better than a touch screen. One difference is that the Leap actually allows for a wider range of gestures since users are working within a 3-D space — you know, the real world — as opposed to moving around on a flat 2-D screen.

Also, because you don’t actually touch anything, there are no smudges on the screen. I wrote a column a little while ago about how the Germans were using candle soot to prevent fingerprint marks on touch screens, but I wonder if they ever thought that the best way to combat smudge marks is to simply keep people’s fingers off altogether.

Given the pending release of Windows 8, which combines the desktop and tablet interface into one operating system, the Leap 3D System could be ideally positioned. Certainly the fact that Xbox 360 game console titles will be available for Windows 8 is good news for Leap.

But beyond just fun and games, this could actually be a better input device than a mouse and even a keyboard. Leap Motion says some of its potential uses include allowing engineers to interact with 3-D modeling software and surgeons to move data on screen without taking off their gloves.

In the video above, it looks like there is a good mix of serious programs in with the fun stuff.

With an expected retail price of $70 ( a lot less than Kinect, for those who want it for the computer but don’t play Xbox) and universal connectivity via a USB port, it’s something worth looking into if nothing else.

It’s expected to be released by the end of this year or the beginning of 2013, although there are some available for pre-order from Leap Motion’s site.

If it can do everything a mouse is capable of and more, then it might just become the input device of choice. They say business is all about building a better mousetrap. In this case, Leap may have built itself a better mouse.

Posted by John Breeden II on Sep 19, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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