I’ve always been fascinated with mobile user interfaces. After having used mobile phones for almost 17 years, I can say we’ve gone leaps and bounds in how we interact with our devices. While we used to have to memorize menu-key combinations and navigate through clunky file-folder representations, touch-based interfaces and apps are now the rage.
But there’s a rising trend in computing devices, which no longer involve touch. Take Siri, for instance. Apple’s intelligent assistant communicates with users in a more natural way — through speech. The same idea is being utilized by Google Now, which runs on the latest Android devices on Jelly Bean. But yet another emerging trend involves motion-sensing devices. Are you fond of playing Kinect-based games on your Xbox 360? Pretty soon, you might be interacting with your mobile devices the same way.
In mid 2012, a San Francisco startup called Leap Motion introduced a small device called The Leap. The gadget is as big as a USB thumb drive, but could do so much more. The Leap uses several cameras and sensors to create a three-dimensional map of up to 0.22 cubic meters. The main differentiator between The Leap and other similar devices is its accuracy of up to a hundredths of a millimeter, or about half the diameter of human hair. Another differentiator that The Leap has is its ability to distinguish between different parts of the body. The device knows if you’re moving your pinkie or your thumb, for instance.
Think Minority Report, but without the three-fingered gloves, and without you looking like Tom Cruise.
Embedded into devices
In August last year, Leap Motion offered developers the ability to play with the device so that they can develop applications based on gesture controls. Qualified developers were given a free device, which was then planned to retail for US$70 apiece once it was ready-to-market.
In recent news, Leap Motion has reportedly partnered with Taiwanese manufacturer Asus to embed its motion-sensing technologies into high-end notebook computers and top-of-line all-in-one personal computers. Leap Motion is also planning to launch an app store within the year, noting that such hardware will not be relevant without practical applications.
What’s exciting here is The Leap’s potential in mobile devices. Leap Motion CEO Michael Buckwald says that embedding Leap into mobile devices should not be too difficult, given the size of the device. “The cameras are actually very small,” Michael told CNet in an interview. “The actual sensors and software [can] fit in even the smallest form factors.”
Leap Motion has announced a Series B financing in the amount of US$30 million led by Founders Fund and High Capital Partners, and had earlier raised US$15 million in capital. The funds will be used to support its expanded production process, given that the startup is now producing “between hundreds of thousands and millions of Leaps” to meet with its partner company’s needs.
A leap into mobile?
Industry observers might even go beyond smartphones, tablets and notebook computers, when considering The Leap’s potential. How about a partnership with Google, which is developing its Glass Project? Google Glass is an augmented-reality device that incorporates a display into an eyeglass-like accessory. Google is still looking into the practical applications of this device, and considers using a mix of voice control and gesture controls in interacting with the device and the Internet.
If yo’re fascinated with mobile interfaces, this would be an interesting startup to watch. Then again, there are even other startups focused on exploring alternative interfaces, such as PredictGaze, which tracks eye movement and body language to predict how you want to control your TV. But that’s anther story for another day.
Check out the video below for what The Leap can do.