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Input Devices Technology

Woz & Jobs 2.0: Leap Motion's Holtz & Buckwald 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-until-one-has-an-awesome-Woz-beard dept.
theodp writes "Over at Popular Science, Tom Foste takes a look at the $79 Leap Motion controller and inventors David Holz and Michael Buckwald, best friends since they were fifth graders in Florida. Potential applications for the device are many, as proof-of-concept demos ranging from controlling Windows 8 (video) to driving JPL's Athlete Rover (video) show. 'If we're successful and build something that is a fundamentally better way to interact with a computer, there are essentially an unlimited number of use cases,' Buckwald says. 'Eventually, anything that has a computer could be controlled with it—every laptop, every desktop, every smartphone, every tablet, every TV, every surgical station, every robot, potentially even a Leap in every car.' And even if 'it's got some growing pains to experience,' writes Ars Technica's Lee Hutchinson, 'it's cool-it's extremely cool. It's not yet a game-changing interface device, but it could be.'"
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Woz & Jobs 2.0: Leap Motion's Holtz & Buckwald

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  • by Ignacio (1465) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:02PM (#44466323)

    Which one's Woz and which one's the salesman?

  • Also, you need the Windows 8 app store I believe
    • by oever (233119)

      The store with apps is not available on Linux and neither is a consumer targetted downloadable driver.
      There's an SDK that works on Linux. By works I mean it runs. The controller itself is not very good.

    • it doesn't work on Windows, much less Linux. I know, I know. They'll fix it in software. But that said, right now my shoulders are at rest while I type. The same is true for when I reach for my mouse. Give me one of these and now I end up moving my arms/shoulders into uncomfortable positions. Plus I lose all tactile feedback. If they want to give me a mouse w/o a mouse it might be cool. But I'm still not sold on the whole 'Minority Report' thing.
  • by denzacar (181829) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:02PM (#44466333) Journal

    By $ I mean money. And by how many I mean "how much".

  • So...I can't wrest my arms on the table anymore? Screw this* thing.

    * A more florid description was actually used.

    • by denzacar (181829)

      * A more florid description was actually used.

      Pink?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Em Adespoton (792954)

      So...I can't wrest my arms on the table anymore? Screw this* thing.

      * A more florid description was actually used.

      I wouldn't want to wrest your arms from the table... so how about you put this thing underneath glass? You could even put it on the floor and wave your feet over it too. Or, you could have it track your eyes, nose and mouth.

      To me the neat thing is the 3-D cone tracking more than the gesture interpretation -- it looks like it is actually tracking the shapes inside the cone, which could let you use it for small-object 3D modeling, high-quality facial recognition, etc. The fact that it tracks to 0.001 mm co

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The PC revolution started by Woz and Jobs had roots in the "hippie" movement partially. One of the ideas was that of taking control of the technology from big companies and putting it in the hands of the little guy. They were quite radical in their day. Woz even built blue-boxes to get free calls from ATT. The irony of Apple becoming a big company and partnering with them is delicious.

    Anyway, they built a machine for a cause--to change the world. They did that, even if it had a lot of unintended conseq

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I think that was Commodore. You know, computers for the masses, not the classes? Apple has always been overpriced. So much for the little guy.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Bingo. When I was growing up, the 'masses' had a Sinclair ZX81 or Spectrum. Apples, or even Commodore 64s, were for the rich kids.

        But I guess they must have had a good Reality Distortion Field even in those days.

    • by narcc (412956)

      The PC revolution started by Woz and Jobs

      You're joking, right?

      If not, start here [amazon.com].

  • Douglas Engelbart (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:09PM (#44466367)

    Seems to me these guys would be the new Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the mouse [wikipedia.org] or E.A. Johnson, and Hurst, inventors of the Touchscreen [about.com] rather than likening them to the twin gods of Woz & Jobs, who really invented nothing.

    If it works we may eventually see the demise of keyboards and mice.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Omestes (471991)

      Except you can buy mice and touchscreens... You can't buy a Leap Motion.

      I was very excited to get my hands on one of these... But that interest has pretty much completely died now since they moved back an actual release indefinitely.

      Sure, there are pre-orders, which are a terrible idea, and the brief window when I could have got a beta dev version (which is useless to people like me, actual users).

      They are vaporware, until I can actually go to a store, hand someone $80, and take it home.

      I really wish that

      • by icebike (68054)

        When the mouse and touch screen was invented, you couldn't buy anything but a keyboard.
        That's the whole point of invention.

        And the first mice and touch screens pretty much sucked and were a total "Just So" story when first introduced. You had to contrive a use case, and the were more trouble than they were worth.

        And the mouse/touchscreen inventors were pretty much lost to history, and never made any significant money, and never built a cult like following.

        The point of my post was to rip the title of the su

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's IS shipping. Got mine about a week ago (preordered in April). And they didn't charge my credit card until it was shipped.

      • Re:Douglas Engelbart (Score:5, Informative)

        by chihowa (366380) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @07:43PM (#44467833)

        Do you want mine? I cancelled my pre-order a month after the first set of delays, but they sent me one anyway.

        I can't really tell what it's going to be useful for. The precision is too low for anything but vague gestures and there's no mapping between the screen and your hands, so you can't manipulate stuff on the screen accurately. [I was hoping that they'd use the localization for your head, as well as your hands, and use head location to guess eye location and let you actually manipulate what you see. That's not how it works.] You don't manipulate things by grasping or pointing, but my moving your whole hands in gestures. It's very much not a natural interface; if you don't learn the specific gestures, it doesn't do anything useful.

        It doesn't work well unless the room is absolutely dark. If the window shades are open, or I even turn on the room light (or sometimes if there is too much white on the monitor), it will complain about "bright lighting" and switch to an even lower precision mode.

        Then there are the lack of usable apps (ie, actual uses) for it. It doesn't come with anything but a game and a 3D molecule viewer (which I actually appreciated as a chemist, though the gestures are weird and unintuitive so my coworkers couldn't play with it without instruction first). There are apps in their app store, but I'm not too excited about spending money on them to find out that they are just as kludgy.

        It really could have been a cool interface, but it has a very rushed and incomplete feel about it, which is doubly frustrating since it was delayed so long and so many times. I don't see the Woz and Jobs connection at all, though. The device is neat, in concept, but badly executed and the PR and launch seem to be very poorly handled.

        • It's arrival last week caused a similar "Meh" in the office - unless executed so brilliantly that natural intuition and subsequent satifaction of use flow from it, it will be a 90s WinCE feature phone rather than the iOS to (maybe) come. The real lesson from this is that making a cool tech device under the early adopter impulse buy margin ($99?) will create massive pre-orders regardless of execution.
      • by Bogtha (906264)

        the brief window when I could have got a beta dev version

        I'm a developer who signed up in that window to get a beta dev version, and they've failed to do that even. They've sent me some generic marketing emails, but nothing that would help me actually get my hands on a device. Totally lost interest now. If they can't even figure out how to deliver the goods, chances are it's not going to be a great product.

    • Re:Douglas Engelbart (Score:4, Informative)

      by confused one (671304) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @03:23PM (#44466715)

      Woz and Jobs didn't invent anything but they were on the bleeding edge of commoditization of computers. The Apple II was one of the first computers available to the general public, which the average person could buy and use. The Commodore PET came out about the same time. There were a couple of CP/M based machines available a few years prior; but, in the 1975 timeframe even a CP/M system tended to be hideously expensive. It was unlikely anyone outside of a serious hobbyist would buy one for personal use. Machines like the Altair 8800 were the smallest and cheapest computers available at the time the Apple II was introduced, and a complete system could easily cost thousands of dollars.

      For the sake of full disclosure: I was around to see all of this (as a teenager) and learned on these machines.

      • You're right that Jobs didn't invent anything; he was Apple's sales/marketing leader, and Wozniak was solely responsible for the Apple 1 & Apple II. However, the Apple I was their first computer, released in April 1976 (the PET came out in January 1977), and it *did* have some crucial features before competing systems. To quote Wikipedia:

        Unlike other hobbyist computers of its day, which were sold as kits, the Apple I was a fully assembled circuit board containing about 60+ chips. ... The Apple I's built-in computer terminal circuitry was distinctive. All one needed was a keyboard and an inexpensive television set. Competing machines such as the Altair 8800 generally were programmed with front-mounted toggle switches and used indicator lights (red LEDs, most commonly) for output, and had to be extended with separate hardware to allow connection to a computer terminal or a teletypewriter machine. This made the Apple I an innovative machine for its day.

        FWIW while I wasn't born until shortly after the PET came out, I've been heavily into "retro-computing" and industry history/lore since I was a young teen.

      • by Zaphod-AVA (471116) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @09:50PM (#44468011)

        Woz didn't invent anything? Well, since I can't stab you through the internet, I'll post something from the Wikipedia entry.

                US Patent No. 4,136,359 — "Microcomputer for use with video display"[34] — for which he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
                US Patent No. 4,210,959 — "Controller for magnetic disc, recorder, or the like"[35]
                US Patent No. 4,217,604 — "Apparatus for digitally controlling PAL color display"[36]
                US Patent No. 4,278,972 — "Digitally-controlled color signal generation means for use with display"[37]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:09PM (#44466373)

    I've ordered a Leap Motion and tested it an hour ago. I have to say, it's quite dissappointing. It becomes quite warm and the computer also uses 20-50% cpu. On top of that, it's not accurate at all. It's reasonable at detecting single fingers. The orientation of the hand is way off.

    Perhaps it'll improve, but right now, it's not usable as anything but a gimmick.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      For point-and-click stuff, it's atrocious - for now. However, for those running it on a Mac, BetterTouchTool allows you to bind multi-finger gestures to custom actions and works really well. It's the only app that has impressed me so far.

    • by janoc (699997)
      The high CPU usage is normal - all the processing is done by your PC by the Leap SDK libraries and they don't even use some GPU acceleration for the image processing. The device itself is nothing else but two cameras and few LEDs (that's why it gets warm).
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:11PM (#44466381)

    Maybe there is something revolutionary about this device - I don't know. But, watching the video, I kept thinking "that's actually more awkward than doing the same thing on my Mac's trackpad (or, in a couple cases, on an iPad's screen)". And while flying the jet racer in the game, the hand motions required looked more awkward than using a standard game controller.

    I'm sure the underlying tech is really cool; but I didn't see anything it did that was better than what's already out there.

    • And while flying the jet racer in the game, the hand motions required looked more awkward than using a standard game controller.

      FWIW the point of this sort of controller when playing games is to make it feel more immersive and fun to play; it's not to allow you to have the largest amount of inputs per second. That's something unique to game HIDs, but it is important.

      • by EdZ (755139)
        Waving my hands about with NO HAPTIC FEEDBACK is not in any way immersive for me. It doesn't matter how many tracking points you have, how fast the update rate is, or how wide a range of motions you can track. Whole-body non-haptic tracking will lose out to the most basic two-point haptic setup when it comes to actually experiencing an environment.
    • Did the first iPhone or iPad do anything better than existing solutions?

      You don't get the point because you are not a sheep.

      • Did the first iPhone or iPad do anything better than existing solutions?

        Yes, actually. The UI on the iPhone was a magnitude better than anything else. As an example, I don't know if you remember browsing the internet on those old phones......pinch-to-zoom made it so much easier to navigate a web page on a phone. Then think of visual voice-mail. And 6 months later when the development environment was released for iPhone, it was way ahead of BREW, J2ME, or WinCE.

        A lot of the things in the iphone seem obvious, and a lot of them actually are, but Apple was the first one to bring

      • by icebike (68054)

        Did the first iPhone or iPad do anything better than existing solutions?

        That isn't even close to the proper comparison.
        Those were complete system. This is simply an input device.

        Did the first mouse save any time over just using the keyboard? Did the touch screen (even today) save any time or effort over just using the mouse?

        Did any of those inventions work to any real usable level right off the inventors work bench? No, of course not.

        The point here is that this is an early conceptual device, which might not come into being a commercial success any time soon, but they still s

  • Leap doesn't work (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ralph Barbagallo (2881145) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:13PM (#44466389) Homepage

    I've played a few Leap games and it just doesn't work at all. They were just totally unplayable. In one case the game was designed specifically for Leap and the other was using the Leap as a mouse/touch replacement. In both cases the game constantly freaked out when Leap couldn't figure out where your hands were, or started tracking some random thing like your watch or a sleeve, etc. I had to keep removing my hands from the view area to 'reset' the game. This happened consistently throughout the game. After awhile I just gave up in frustration.

    Kinect (both 1 and 2 which are each based on completely different tech) is a FAR SUPERIOR tracking solution--but it's much larger and expensive.

    It's funny to see this company get all this hype for a device that essentially doesn't work.

    • by rhizome (115711)

      Listen man, just pay attention to what their PR and image marketing staff is paying people to say, and think of it as the most awesome thing ever. You're obviously just using it wrong.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:26PM (#44466437) Journal
    They have controllers that would work for a UI like in Minority Report.

    In other words, if you have an immersive environment, with wall-sized monitors on three sides of you, and you need to navigate through a three-dimensional space, this control scheme would rock the socks. I would love a system like that. On a typical desktop-sized monitor, doing work in spreadsheets and IDEs, this is significantly less practical than a mouse/keyboard.

    In other words, what this controller needs is a "killer app", some place it can actually be used.
    • Remember how Tom Cruise had to wear gloves in that movie? That was probably to give haptic feedback, you know, feeling when you interact successfully (or not) with something. This thing is missing that, and that would be a killer feature.
      • I do agree that would be great. Usually a killer feature is an application for the device, some way it can be used. The interface is cool, but how would you use it? That is the killer-app question.
  • Not gonna work (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue (588132) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:26PM (#44466439) Homepage Journal
    except for a few times a day. You can't hold your arm up all day like that. This lesson keeps getting learned every few years or so, going all the way back to the first light pen on the SAGE. It was called Gorilla Arm back then.
    • I spend too many hours a day sitting in a chair. I can use all the exercise I can get, even if it's just holding my arms in the air and waving them around.
    • This lesson keeps getting learned every few years or so, going all the way back to the first light pen on the SAGE. It was called Gorilla Arm back then.

      Things are different now. With flat panel monitors, you don't need to stick it up vertically in front of you. You can stick it flat on the desk, or have it in your lap, or have it in some way that rests your arms. So gorilla arm is a solvable problem.

      These people haven't solved it, but it is solvable.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Things are different now. With flat panel monitors, you don't need to stick it up vertically in front of you. You can stick it flat on the desk, or have it in your lap, or have it in some way that rests your arms. So gorilla arm is a solvable problem.

        I totally want to work with a 24" monitor flat on my desk or lap and my arms continually moving to touch it.

      • This lesson keeps getting learned every few years or so, going all the way back to the first light pen on the SAGE. It was called Gorilla Arm back then.

        Things are different now. With flat panel monitors, you don't need to stick it up vertically in front of you. You can stick it flat on the desk, or have it in your lap, or have it in some way that rests your arms. So gorilla arm is a solvable problem..

        Actually, that would be much worse. Try this: hold one hand in a position you'd use for a vertical screen. Do likewise for the other hand, but extend it for a horizontal monitor. See how long you can hold those positions (it won't take long). You'll discover the horizontal monitor requires you to extend your arm in such a way that it will fatigue first. Or at least it did for me when I tried it.

      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        Let's assume that you stick the monitor in your lap. Now what's the advantage of the Leap? That you don't have to touch the monitor. Which is a non-issue since it's already in your lap. All you gain is that you are forced to hover your hands over the monitor in one specific place so that the Leap can track your fingertips... which is more tiring than just using a touchscreen. Okay, you gain limited 3D manipulation but due to the Leap's limitations that's not too hot, either.

        If you need 2D input there's al
        • Then don't stick it in you lap, find a different monitor arrangement or something. Be more creative.
    • by vux984 (928602)

      This lesson keeps getting learned every few years or so, going all the way back to the first light pen on the SAGE. It was called Gorilla Arm back then.

      While I actually agree with you, insofar that its not going to get rid of the keyboard and mouse its idiotic to pretend that there aren't lots of valid use-cases for this technology.

      Painters, for example, manage it for hours on end, canvas on easel... standing in front of it and waving their arms around. Hundreds of years of worth of art produced suggests t

  • Looks pretty cumbersome. I have yet to see any other input device that could match my keyboard. Over 100 distinct signals, each available in a fraction of a second, and better yet you can string those signals together to make words and string them together into sophisticated commands. A good keyboard will do well in excess of 100 words per minute if you practice with it!

    In comparison everything else seems slow, primitive, cumbersome. Perhaps one day this device will develop into something important, but it

  • by Sez Zero (586611) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:32PM (#44466459) Journal
    Why did I read that as "Woz (& Jobs 2.0)" expecting to read a story about Woz building a Steve Jobs robot?
  • I was hoping for something spectacular or at least interesting when I watched the JPL video. All that happened was it fired a few thrusters remotely. That's like claiming to remotely drive a car by turning the wipers on and off.

  • by janoc (699997) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @02:49PM (#44466543)
    We have two Leaps at the office, I had a chance to play with it and look at the SDK. Unfortunately, as the recent CNN article [cnn.com] points out, it is a solution looking for a problem.
    The device is nothing else but two cellphone cameras with an USB interface and 3 infrared LEDs behind an IR filter. It tracks the infrared reflections off your fingertips (or a pencil or whatever) in 3D using stereoscopic vision. It does work, as much as that technology allows (nothing really revolutionary there), but the device and mainly its software have some serious issues:
    • The device is way too small - the consequence is that the cameras are too close together and thus the tracked working volume is tiny. If you use both hands at the same time, you can barely move before you run out of space and the camera stops tracking your hand.
    • It is very sensitive to occlusions - if the fingers (or some reflection) aren't visible, no tracking. E.g. making a grabbing gesture is really hard, because closing the hand into a fist hides the fingertips and the software gets confused. Rotating a closed hand is outright impossible - the software doesn't know how to distinguish the top and the bottom of the hand unless it can see the fingers (i.e. you are holding the palm open and spread out)
    • The API is more targeted towards emulating a mouse or a multitouch desktop than actual 3D interaction. Unfortunately, a real mouse or a proper touchscreen are way more comfortable, accurate and robust to use for such tasks than the Leap, with its glitchy tracking and buggy software. There is no way to get the raw video from the SDK, so no custom algorithms are possible.
    • The available software is crap. There is no way around it. The very buggy "Airspace store" is full of paid apps that are often little more than a buggy demo that you would throw away after 5 minutes once the novelty of wiggling your fingers at the screen wears off. Yay for drawing with your finger in the air ... Many of the apps are things that could be hacked together in Flash in a few minutes. Furthermore, many of the available apps try to do things that would be way better handled using a simple mouse or some other controller, thus there is little benefit from using the Leap.

    So all in all - unless you are the type of person that wants to show off at the next Powerpoint presentation by changing slides by waving one's hands (and be a laughing stock when the device won't work or skip several slides instead), there isn't much to be excited about. It is really a solution looking for a problem.

    • Seriously. This is news for MBAs who exploit nerds. Don't you guys have techcrunch for that?
  • I have been thinking about such possibilities for a while, but was always beyond me to do the details of an implementation.  What would be of further interest is the possibilities of interactive feedback loops.  Rather than just controlling an otherwise fixed pointer, have a moving object that you have to counterbalance (that unbalances in a predictable way, like a bicycle) and then use the counterbalancing as a means to send a gesture language into the computer.
  • The Leap is great when it works, but the software is mostly crap at the moment. Many things didn't work in the initial release, then they pushed out an upgrade which broke most everything else.

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