A device that makes it possible to control a computer with fluid midair finger motions will be bundled with some PCs from Taiwanese company Asus in coming months. The distribution deal is the most significant move yet by startup company Leap Motion to distribute its first product, which allows desktop software to respond to swipes, pokes, and grabs made in front of a screen (see “Leaping Into the Gesture-Controlled Era”).
The deal will see Leap Motion’s sensors and software packaged with some “high-end” laptops and PCs. The bundled products will appear in the first quarter of 2013, says Leap, around the same time the standalone Leap Motion device, priced at $70, is due to begin shipping.
Michael Buckwald, Leap Motion’s cofounder and CEO, says Asus agreed to use his company’s technology because it believes new ideas are necessary in the PC market. “They, like us, believe this will revolutionize interaction on the PC platform,” says Buckwald.
Depending on how the deal with Asus works out, it could result in many more people being exposed to the novel way of controlling a computer. “We’ll be watching closely to see what they do with it,” says Buckwald.
Buckwald says the Leap’s technology allows for more natural computer interaction than a touch screen or a computer mouse. “It’s much more intuitive because you don’t have to remember a new sign language,” he says. “Someone can reach out as they would in the real world.”
The software preinstalled on the Asus PCs will allow a person to control Windows 8 using finger and hand gestures. Gestures are a central part of Microsoft’s new operating system (see “The Woman Charged with Making Windows 8 Succeed”), and it is plausible that some people may find them easier to perform using their fingers in the air than with a mouse.
Leap Motion has impressed journalists and gadget fans with in-person and online demonstrations of its technology, but its biggest challenge will be persuading software developers to add gestural controls to their applications. Without that, people that do buy a Leap Motion device will have little they can do with it.
The deal with Asus, one of the world’s largest PC manufacturers, could help. “We want developers to feel confident that there’s going to be a significant market around Leap,” says Buckwald. His company plans to operate an app store where users can buy, and developers can sell, LeapMotion-enabled software. By the time the Asus-Leap bundles reach consumers, a first wave of apps will be available, says Buckwald.
The Leap device is roughly the size of a pack of gum: three inches long, one inch wide and half an inch thick. One side is black glass, under which are two small cameras and a handful of infrared LEDs gather the data needed to track fingers to an accuracy of one hundredth of a millimeter.
Buckwald says that the same functionality could be added to even smaller devices. “Even today, it is possible to put Leap into a tablet or smartphone,” he says, by using smaller sensors. “The accuracy and power will stay the same.”
Leap also announced a new round of investment funding, taking the total raised by the company from $15 million to $45 million. “The main reason was to support a very dramatic ramping up in our manufacturing,” says Buckwald.
Smaller design teams can now prototype and deploy faster.