Leap jumps to capture next step in motion control

AUSTIN, Texas – In a bustling tent set up in a parking lot here at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, people are pointing their hands and gesturing with chopsticks as they guide various actions on a dozen computer screens.

Some of the sharpest minds in technology have gathered in Austin, Texas, to ponder the ever-connected nature of the modern world. A big theme this year focuses on how to create more seamless interactions between people and technology, finding ways to control devices that go beyond mice, trackpads and touchscreens.

That’s where the Leap Motion a computer controller comes in. It’s the gadget’s first public appearance. On display are popular games such as the fruit-chopping “Fruit Ninja,” and a more challenging one involving a maze. One man paints a picture by moving his fingers a few inches from a computer screen.

Greg Dziem, who works in data management in Austin, is using the controller to play the maze game. “It’s pretty sensitive,” he says. “You have to go slow. You have to be calm, steady.”

The best-known motion controller to date has been Microsoft Corp.’s Kinect, which is used primarily for video games. People stand at least six feet from the device, which is usually mounted on or near a TV set. Cameras in the Kinect track users’ movements and transmit them to the computer. But while Kinect is meant for living rooms and dancing games, Leap Motion is designed for people to use while seated and moving their hands just a few inches from the screens of laptops and personal computers.

“The technology was born out of the deep frustration of interacting with computers,” says CEO and co-founder Michael Buckwald. While computers are “vastly different” than they were 30 years ago, he says, the way people interact with them hasn’t really evolved.