One Giant Leap for Mankind

28 MAY 2013

Ready to toss your mouse? Leap Motion founders David Holz and Michael Buckwald are making it possible to control your computer with hand gestures.

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark and his nemisis The Mandarin show off all the tech innovations yet to be invented. Among them: the ability to control a computer by moving your hand through the air. In one scene, The Mandarin moves through a digital projection of his brain using minute hand motions to pinpoint the specific region that senses pain.

What’s science fiction to us, however, is day-to-day life for David Holz and Michael Buckwald, the founders of Leap Motion, which makes technology that lets users operate a computer by moving their hands in front of the screen.

How does it work? Users purchase a compact controller only slightly larger than an USB flash drive for $79.99, then download Leap’s software. Inside the controller are infrared cameras that track all 10 fingers within the eight cubic feet of space in front of your computer. As long as the user’s hands remain within that space, he or she can slash at fruit, move objects, draw, paint, browse the Web, and much more.

“This technology can be used in a range of categories, from gaming and education to drawing applications and 3D modeling,” says Buckwald. “We’re also looking at how it might be used in mobile and medical devices and cars.”

Holz began developing the software back in 2008 while he was studying for a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Frustrated by the limitations of the mouse and keyboard, he spent nearly five years developing the cameras in the controller. By the time he paired up with Buckwald, a childhood friend and entrepreneur, Holz had a prototype.

Unfortunately, the prototype was huge and took more than an hour to set up-;not ideal for giving a demo to potential investors. But one angel investor, Avid Technology founder Bill Warner, was impressed. “The prototype was big, but the devil is in the details,” he says. “It was amazing how the thing could track all 10 fingers at once. And it was amazingly fast with almost no lag time.”

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