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Leap Motion Leapfrogs Kinect for Hands-Free PC Control

The Leap device promises a degree of precision and interactivity that far surpasses what Microsoft Kinect is capable of delivering.

Microsoft didn’t set out to be in the business of motion control for PCs, but thanks to an uprising of resourceful hackers (in the good sense of the word), the Kinect motion sensing system originally developed for the Xbox 360 gaming console has been adapted for the cause. But, as Microsoft reluctantly embraces the new role of Kinect it may already be obsolete thanks to Leap.

Leap Motion unveiled a new device which appears to leave the Kinect in its dust. Leap Motion claims the $70 Leap device is about the size of a flash drive. It connects via USB and sits on your desk in front of your monitor where it generates a four cubic foot, three-dimensional field of interactivity.

Within that field of motion, the Leap is capable of detecting movements and gestures with precision. Leap Motion states that it can distinguish and track your individual fingers down to 1/100th of a millimeter--200 times more accurate than any competing product. In what appears to be a jab at Microsoft Kinect the Leap FAQ says, “This isn’t a game system that roughly maps your hand movements.”

I have my doubts about the long-term value of both the Kinect and the Leap when it comes to interacting with a PC. I have a 23-inch touchscreen monitor sitting on my desk that I never actually touch because it’s uncomfortable and unnatural to constantly reach up and work with my hands outstretched in front of me.

I use a wireless Magic Trackpad with my MacBook Air which enables me to use the pinch-to-zoom and other multitouch gestures familiar to smartphones and tablets. It sits on my desk next to my keyboard, though, where it’s easily accessible.

If you can situate the Leap in such a way that the field of interactivity can track your motions nearer to the keyboard rather than up in front of the monitor, it could be awesome. A video from Leap Motion shows the device working flawlessly and seamlessly through a wide variety of motions and gestures. Of course, vendor videos always make the device or product look phenomenal and aren’t necessarily a valid indicator of real world performance.

The device is still in development. It’s not expected to be available until December 2012, or possibly even January of 2013. Leap Motion unveiled the device and shared the concept video to begin building some anticipation and to attract developers.

The Leap Motion video makes the device look rather impressive. It certainly seems worth the $70 price tag if it can deliver an experience anywhere near that depicted in the demo.

I pre-ordered one for myself. I’ll share more hands-on experience if and when it arrives on my doorstep.

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