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It’s something that pretty much has to be seen to be believed. So check out this video first, and then let’s continue the conversation below.

This week, Leap Motion, a San Francisco-based startup, unveils its Leap 3D motion control system. Leap Motion appears to so outrank Kinect in terms of its capability that it’s almost a category error to compare them. The technology, reports CNET, can detect motion with up to a hundredth of a millimeter accuracy; it’s nuanced enough to detect fingers, for instance, enabling the possibility of touch-free pinch-to-zoom. (Say goodbye to the question of whether touch screens hurt you.)

Leap, which was founded in 2010, has had investors excited for at least a little while–the company announced $12.75 million in Series A funding a few weeks ago–but it’s only now that they’re letting the rest of us in on the fun. When the device is available for commercial release, it’s expected to retail for around $70, reportedly. The device itself is fairly simple–a USB input device (plus an advanced software platform).

It might seem as though with a technology with such transformative potential, a hardware breakthrough must have made it fundamentally possible. But Leap’s CEO Michael Buckwald tells CNET otherwise: the product is the fruits of tedious years of careful mathematical research. His CTO (and childhood friend) David Holz is apparently something of a math genius. “It’s not as if we’re using lots of processing power or some new hardware that just came on to the market,” Buckwald said. “This is really about a fundamental scientific breakthrough, many eureka moments” that Holz accrued over a half-decade of painstaking work. Holz has clearly put much thought into the technology and its implications; “subtle motions are immediately occurring on the screen, so that there’s no distance between thought and response,” he said.

Buckwald is not risking under-selling his technology (to wit, a section heading in his FAQ: “We are changing the world”). But to be fair, it appears as though he has a right to speak in just about whatever terms he pleases. He states Leap’s aim as nothing less than “to fundamentally transform how people interact with computers–and to do so in the same way that the mouse did.” (For an interview with Buckwald and some cool hands-on footage with Holz, do be sure to head over to CNET for a look at the video near the top of their post.)

Holz lists a range of possibilities for the technology: consumers might use it to browse the web; engineers could mould virtual clay; designers could draw precisely in 2-D or 3-D; and new gaming possibilities could evolve. One is hard-pressed to name a profession that might not be changed by this technology: surgeons and pilots, architects and painters, cobs and robbers alike will probably have their uses for it.

Holz and Buckwald are wise in this: they are the first to admit that they don’t yet understand the full ramifications of the device. Whereas Kinect hacks started as a rogue and semi-tolerated thing that Microsoft finally brought into the fold, Leap wants openness to be in its product’s DNA. “We want to create as vibrant a developer ecosystem as possible, and we’re reaching out to developers” in many different fields, said Buckwald. They’re looking for a “few hundred” developers to get involved with their tech, and soon intend to send out as many as 20,000 free developer kits. When it’s officially released–in 2013, according to reports–will the Leap Effect quickly eclipse the Kinect Effect?

As Leap puts it, “This is like day one of the mouse. Except, no one needs an instruction manual for their hands.”

Take one more look at the technology, in a video that differs slightly from the one above.

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Tagged: Computing

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