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TWTV Gear review: LEAP Motion Controller

I saw the pre-sales video on how the LEAP Motion Controller was going to change everything about interfacing with a computer. It sure looked cool and for 80 bucks, heck man, I willing to change the world for that amount…as long as I don’t have to do anything else. So I preordered this device and in time I forgot all about it.

Then when it showed up this week I was pleasantly surprised. It’s packaged very “Apple-like” inside and out. With a nice and easy set up routine, you can bring out your inner maestro quickly. Now, I tested this on my Mac running 10.8.4 with a 3.33GHz proc and 8Gb of RAM. It also works on Windows but I didn’t test that. Of course it’d be easy to start complaining about the sensitivity or that it’s not wireless and requires a cable.

Truthfully, I didn’t want it for that stuff. I was in presales for 6 years so I know the drill. I really wanted to see what it COULD do. I’m interested in writing code to this controller and how well documented and the structure of the API framework. Remember when the Microsoft Kinect came out? Many called it a disappointment and hated it. If you hated the Kinect, then you’ll hate the LEAP for sure. It will not replace your mouse or keyboard or Wacom tablet. At least the LEAP doesn’t have a dance off between Darth Vader and Han Solo….

What made the Kinect great was the API. It was a blast writing code to work in 3D space. I designed light controllers, a modeler using moveIT on Autodesk, etc. The openness of it made it awesome! Now it was cumbersome, and very “lab only” due to the bulky hardware, cabling, code base…but the LEAP…yeah…this could be the ticket.

Signing up for a developer account was simple as the set up. The controller supports C++, C#, Unity, Java, JS and surprisingly it also supports Python. I downloaded the SDK and watched day turn to night as I dug into the docs and begin at line 00x00. Coding in 3D space is something new to me and it’s really a fun challenge for sure.  

First off, my hats off to the LEAP folks for designing such an excellent API! It provides great abstraction and truthfully, for 3D rookies like myself, it’s good to see the libraries doing a lot of the work! For example, the LEAP has a ton of info on the human hand (palm position, speed, rotation, fingers, etc..) So if you make a fist then it sees no fingers or even use one of your hands and one of someone else’s.  It has those reference points built it.

Now operating spatially is difficult to code since most software is based on a flat surface as a reference then just add 2D input. Many 3D devices just use a basic trig functions to come up with 3D. The LEAP controller uses a right handed Cartesian coordinate system. So the movement is calculated from the center of the device. If you move right of center your +Y, +X and +Z. If you move left then your input is –Y, -X and –Z. Heck I smudged the sensor to see if I could trip it up and it detected it immediately told me to clean the sensor. Nice touch.

OK, long to short. Users will be like all; Meh… Code Jockey’s will rejoice!  I honestly believe these folks are onto something really groovy. I really like the potential the LEAP Controller has. Sure it’s version one but the LEAP folks put a ton of time really making this product extensible. Will it change the way you compute and get rid of the keyboard/mouse. Nope. Not a chance. Users demand a tactile feel. However, like a Wacom tablet, track ball, Nintendo Power Glove (just kidding on that one) it can really augment your experience.  It’s a fantastic API, great community support, great language support and it’s well documented. The LEAP crew is really interested in this product being successful. I called their support and they are really great. No mass of cursed IVR recursive loops. They just answer the phone. If you’re looking to use this like Tom Cruise on Minority Report out of the box you can forget that man. However, you can certainly code it up TO do that. The LEAP library has a fair selection of apps both free and fee based. Again, considering this is a new launch, the selection of apps tells me they have been courting and working with many 3rd party code houses to get ready for this.  I am working on config-ing Cisco Prime to interface with this right now and really making excellent progress even for a hack code jockey like myself! 

The TechWiseTV recommendation is 4 of 5 bottles of blue milk.

If you’re a code jockey and really looking to break into something new and groovy, this is the ticket.

Jimmy Ray Purser

Trivia File Transfer Protocol

The arcade game Space Invaders was so popular in Japan that it actually caused a coin shortage.

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