From sculpting to space exploration: How Leap Motion has us reaching for the stars

It's about more than OS control

TODO alt text

Each time a new motion control-based device shuffles into view, it feels like it's brought a piece of the future with it.

Popularised by the Wii's pick-up-and-play appeal and evolved by competing games consoles, hands-free motion control finally made its way to PCs and laptops in the summer of 2013 courtesy of California-based company Leap Motion.

Formerly known as OcuSpec when it was founded in 2010, Leap Motion has amassed a growing global developer base tasked with creating apps for its gesture-based controller, which can be bought as a plug-and-play USB device or picked up as an embedded peripheral in laptops and keyboards.

We spoke to Leap Motion co-founder and CEO Michael Buckwald on the company's progression so far, how the controller is evolving on a technical level and how it might be handy for business in more ways than one.

TechRadar Pro: The company had a busy three months at the end of 2013. What went down?

Michael Buckwald: In the past three months there have been a lot of important milestones. We expanded our global distribution significantly since our US launch, growing to find ourselves in around 3,000 retail stores globally.

We have partnerships with Maplin and Amazon UK, and MediaMart in Australia and Switzerland. Then there are stores in South Korea and Canada, and we're entering Japan.

There's been lots of great traction - we've got great retail partners partnering with us to build great experiences. We've also seen the number of apps in our app store, called Airspace, grow from 75 at launch to over 150 today. The total number of developers in the ecosystem using our SDK has grown to 80,000, and they're spread out in about 110 countries.

Leap Motion Mac planet
In a galaxy far, far away...

TRP: How have developers taken to Leap Motion, and do you think your Airspace app store will grow quicker than it has in the past year?

MB: The developers are very spread out. There's probably about 20 or 30 countries that represent that majority of developers, but the '110 countries' stat is a cool one as it shows just how global the reach is.

TRP: In which regions is Leap most popular?

TRP: I'd say the US and Europe, which probably makes up 60% of our developer base, but countries like Japan and China are very well represented too.

A map showing which countries have joined in the Leap Motion party
Countries that pre-ordered Leap Motion

TRP: What can you tell us about Leap Motion's technological progression, in terms of both hardware and API?

MB: One of the things we've done over the past few months is create a new module reference design that takes the module at the top of the peripheral, which is about 10mm, and reduce it to 3.5mm so that it's easy to be embedded in things like laptops and ultra-thin keyboards.

TRP: How about mobile devices – smartphones and tablets?

MB: We've been saying that our goal is to have Leap Motion in everything that's a computer or has a computer, so I think that tablets and phones are a natural next step. Our conversations are ongoing, but that could happen as early as this year - not only integration into tablets and phones but we'd also like to see additional OEM partners on the PC side.

TRP: Will separate apps need to be created for mobile devices, or will there be universal ones that work on PCs too?

MB: I think it depends. Most of the time it's probably going to be a universal app where there may have to be small modifications. For example, you can assume that the user has both hands free on a laptop or desktop, but that may not be a valid assumption as a tablet app developer - you make want to make it so that the user has one hand free while holding the tablet with the other hand.