A Week With: Leap Motion Controller

An idea that deserves a big hand – a pity it's not mine

Price: £62.99
Length: 7.6cm
Width: 3cm

What is it?

The thrilling future of computing: a tiny, motion-sensing device that sits in front of your laptop or PC and tracks your hand gestures. The aim is to allow you to ditch the mouse and keyboard and instead use your waggling digits to control all the action on your computer, like Tom Cruise did in Minority Report – or the character Tony Stark did in Iron Man.

How does it work?

The device sits on a flat surface in front of you, and using built-in infrared LEDs it projects an invisible three-dimensional dome of light into eight cubic feet of space above it. Two embedded cameras can then pick up any finger movements within that zone, down to a miniscule 1/100th of a millimetre.

What can I do with it?

Not much out of the box: first you'll need to download compatible apps from the device's "Airspace" app store, because they've all been designed specifically to work with this device. Right now there are only 75 motion-operated apps available, from games such as Cut the Rope, to newspaper apps, finger-painting programmes and even music-creation software.

Does it work?

Well, sort of: rarely has a device led to such wonder and frustration in equal measure. The good news is that, remarkably, there's no discernable time lag between air gesture and on-screen movement. And with a little practice, apps such as Google Earth are an exhilarating experience: using natural hand movements you can leap, dive and soar around the Google globe, flying past sights such as the Grand Canyon, feeling like you're Superman.

It also works well for more pedestrian pursuits: reading The New York Times' app shows what the nascent technology is currently good at: using simple circle gestures for browsing through articles, to make reading on a computer effortless.

Any drawbacks?

For many apps, hand control is clumsy. Finger painting with the Corel Painter app, in particular, shows the limits of the system: while the infrared sensor can track very precise movements, unless you're a surgeon your hovering fingers aren't steady enough to control the on-screen cursor to that precise degree, leading to works of art a six-year-old would scoff at.

Most disappointing of all was trying to work the Touchless for Windows app: using my unsteady fingers rather than my trusty mouse to scroll, drag and click around Windows 7 was like trying to type on a keyboard with my elbows: cumbersome, imprecise and so frustrating that I wanted to rip my arm off by the end of it.

What about the games?

There's a clutch of touch-controlled games in the store, many of them free. Some work exceptionally well and are great fun, such as Breakout clone Boom Ball. Others, such as Cut the Rope, work much more intuitively in their native format – a smartphone's touch screen.

Anything out there now that's similar?

Not for PCs, though there is, of course, the pricier motion-sensing Kinnect, for the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One's soon-to-be-released Kinnect 2. The latter promises even more sophisticated ways to track your motion, by detecting facial expressions and even your heartbeat. A version for the PC will eventually make its way over, which could be an even bigger game changer.

Is it worth buying?

The potential to pimp out your PC like Tony Stark's IT is exciting, but right now, as a 21st-century replacement for mouse, keyboard and even touch screens, it's too fiddly and frustrating. But as app makers get to grips with this tech, it could lead to a huge shift in how we control our computers (check out how German musician Ryo Fujimoto uses Leap Motion to beatbox), and when that time comes, I will greet it with open hands.

world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

    JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice