Leap Motion Controller

Adam Turner
29 November, 2013
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Leap Motion Controller

Leap Motion, www.leapmotion.com

Hands-free control of your Mac
Struggles under artificial light


The Leap Motion is a tiny USB sensor which sits on your desk, either in front your keyboard or between the keyboard and the monitor. Armed with several cameras and infrared sensors, it tracks your hands as you wave them in front of the screen – letting you control your Mac with a flick of your wrist and even manipulate objects on the screen with both hands. Rather than simply replacing the trackpad and arrow keys when navigating through menus, the Leap Motion integrates with a range of desktop applications such as Safari and iTunes. You can wave your hand to flick through web pages or pause the music in the background and even rotate your finger to dial the volume up and down. Gestures aren’t limited to these basic apps, they also work with specialist apps downloaded from the Airspace app store. Pre-installed apps include the Water Waves screensaver, which lets you play with ripples in a pond, and the Molecules app which lets you interact with DNA strands.

Explore the Airspace app store and you’ll find more than 100 apps, with most supporting both OS X and Windows. They’re mostly touch- friendly games such as Cut the Rope, but you’ll also find a few educational and productivity apps in there. You can dissect a human skull in Cyber Science 3D, zoom around the planet in Google Earth and even take a guided tour of the solar system in Solar Walk. At first the Leap Motion seems to live up to all these amazing promises, letting you elegantly swish and wave at your Mac like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. But its limitations become clear as soon as you attempt anything requiring a high level of precision. The sensor is extremely sensitive to visible and infrared interference. It struggles under incandescent light bulbs and halogen downlights, although it copes better with fluorescent lights. Even sunlight coming in through a window can upset it. Unfortunately there’s nothing to warn you of these issues during the set-up process. Once up and running you might be told; “external infrared light detected, compensating” – but you’re not told how much this impacts on performance. It’s up to you to hit Google to decipher this message and decide what to do about it.

If lighting conditions aren’t perfect then the Leap Motion struggles with most tasks. Even a broad wave of your hand can be hit and miss. Considering how crucial lighting conditions are, it’s foolish not to bring them to your attention during the set-up process. Unfortunately even perfect lighting doesn’t solve all of the Leap Motion’s troubles. It’s still frustrating to use – especially if you’ve watched the slick demo on the Leap Motion website. If you’re looking for broad control of your Mac rather than just a specific app, it’s worth exploring the ‘Computer Controls’ section of the Airspace app store. You’ll also find browser plugins such as Leap Touch in the Chrome app store, which is designed for basic movements and copes a little better with poor lighting conditions. Bottom line. If you’re secretly jealous of Windows 8’s touch support, don’t view the Leap Motion as a substitute for a touchscreen monitor. It’s unlikely to let you control your Mac as elegantly as a maestro conducting an orchestra. The Leap Motion is an interesting concept but, to avoid disappointment, it’s better to view it as a glimpse of the future rather than the new cornerstone of your user interface.

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