Hands-on with The Leap: It’s smaller, better, and faster than you even thought

the leapCheck out our full review of the Leap Motion gesture controller.

This week consumer motion tech made big steps — leaps actually. Startup Leap Motion introduced The Leap, a pocket-sized piece of technology that turns laptops and desktops into hands-free devices.

And this isn’t just a Kinect thrown at a computer, far from it. The accuracy with which co-founders Michael Buckwald and David Holz were able to outfit the device with is astounding, and nearly defies words. The demo video that’s now been seen across the world wide Web looks more like sci-fi than real life. Fortunately for all of us, it now is real life.

I had the chance to go hands-on with The Leap (check out the video after the break), and its ability to capture the minutiae of your movements immediately calls to mind every time I’ve had to repeatedly wave my arm to get the Kinect to work.

Despite the obvious connection, Buckwald tells me that The Leap has its own origins. “It wasn’t motivated by the Kinect or existing technology, but by a deep frustration with something that should be simple,” he says. “A three-year-old can do something with clay, but it takes someone with an advanced education to do that with a computer.”

Buckwald and Holz are childhood friends, who started working on the idea behind The Leap some five years ago. “The way we approached this is fundamentally different than how other people approach motion tech… we didn’t iterate on someone else’s idea,” says Buckwald. “We started from the ground up and tried lots of novel methods that had never been used before. This is why we were able to make it dramatically smaller and more powerful, more CPU efficient, and cheaper. Normally all those things don’t align at once but they can if the method is new and different.”

There are lots of things about The Leap that are jaw-dropping, and one of them is the price. The device is available for pre-order now for $70. Buckwald and Holz tell me the price tag was a weighted decision.

“Lots of people we talked to said we should sell it for a lot of money, and there was certainly a temptation to go the easy route and sell them for lots of money to smaller markets… but we believe people and the human condition can be improved if you give people the incredible power that’s in all computers.”

“Giving people more power seemed more appropriate to make this ubiquitous. We didn’t have to, but it feels consistent with the vision.”

hands on with the leapIn person, The Leap is even smaller and more Apple-like than it seems in pictures. It’s incredibly lightweight, slim, and sleek. It’s nothing like some of clunky hardware accessories we’ve seen that give laptops and computers next-gen capabilities. Tobii and its eye-tracking tech comes to mind, and while it’s amazing, it’s still not exactly discreet (although it’s worth mentioning Tobii is making progress in this department). But this thing is barely noticeable, and it doesn’t feel breakable either.

It’s clear from my brief time using The Leap and talking to Buckwald and Holz that they’re personally excited about what they’ve accomplished. While taking me through its features, Holz was as excited as if it were the first time he’d played Fruit Ninja and used Google Maps with it — and by my approximation, he was days deep in demos.

Leap Motion intends to start working with OEMs to integrate this technology into bezels, keyboards, and monitors, to make the PC experience even more streamlined. And from there, the sky’s the limit: smartphones, cars, appliances — you name it, The Leap can be developed for it.

“It’s a very immature area of computer science,” says Buckwald. “People have been trying to do this for decades but it’s incredibly difficult. It’s still ripe for dramatic innovation.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

4 small appliances that have changed the way we cook food (for the better)

These are exciting times for home cooks seeking to advance or simplify their technique in the kitchen, thanks in part to four small appliances that have made a splash in the past few years. Here’s why you should consider buying them.
Wearables

Focals succeed where Google Glass fumbled (but do we really need smartglasses?)

It’s been seven years since Google took the wraps off Google Glass. Now, we’re finally getting a modern-day equivalent we want to wear. North’s Focals combine subtle style with an intuitive interface to craft smartglasses you’ll…
Wearables

To be blunt, the Vuzix Blade smartglasses just don’t cut it

We tried out the Vuzix Blade to find out if it’s worth shelling out $1,000 for smartglasses. Are these augmented reality, Android-powered glasses really ready for primetime or just an expensive gimmick that no one really needs?
Computing

Microsoft’s Presidents Day Sale cuts price of some Surface laptops by up to $200

It is a great time to save on Windows 10 laptops. Microsoft's retail store is running a sale on some of the best tablets and laptops, cutting pricing by up to $200 on the Surface Laptop 2 and more.
Gaming

Here’s how to set up a virtual private network (VPN) on your Xbox One

Online privacy is more important now than it's ever been, and gaming is happening online more than ever before. Here's a quick guide on how to set up a VPN for your Xbox One so you game in safe anonymity.
Computing

New Chrome feature aimed at preventing websites from blocking Incognito Mode

A new Chrome feature will prevent websites from blocking Chrome users as they browse using Incognito Mode. The feature is supposed to fix a known loophole that allows websites to detect and block those using Incognito Mode.
Photography

What’s the difference between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic?

Lightroom CC has evolved into a capable photo editor, but is it enough to supplant Lightroom Classic? We took each program for a test drive to compare the two versions and see which is faster, more powerful, and better organized.
Computing

Reluctant to give your email address away? Here's how to make a disposable one

Want to sign up for a service without the risk of flooding your inbox with copious amounts of spam and unwanted email? You might want to consider using disposable email addresses via one of these handy services.
Computing

Chrome is a fantastic browser, but is is still the best among new competitors?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.
Computing

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.
Mobile

Need speed? Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon X55, the world’s fastest 5G modem

Qualcomm is preparing for an even faster future: The silicon giant just unveiled a second generation 5G modem for smartphones, promising blistering download speeds as high as 7Gbps.
Mobile

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Photography

Luminar’s libraries gain speed, drop need for you to manually import images

Luminar 3 just got a performance boost. Skylum Luminar 3.0.2 has improved speed over December's update, which added the long-promised libraries feature giving editors a Lightroom alternative.