Interview: We chat with the CEO of Leap Motion

A few weeks ago, a previously unrevealed company called Leap Motion blew away technology fans with the first reveal of the Leap. the company claimed that the upcoming motion sensing interface device is "200 times more accurate than anything else on the market". The demo video showed some pretty amazing applications for the PC and Mac device and clearly has its sights set on the market that Microsoft is trying to enter with its Kinect add-on.

We got a chance to ask some questions to Leap Motion CEO Michael Buckwald to find out more about the Leap, which the company says it will go on sale later this winter for just $70.

First, how did the idea for the company come about?

Leap was initially inspired by the desire to model virtual clay as easily as you can shape an actual piece of clay. Molding clay is intuitive, but there was a barrier in the information exchange between a person and their computer – namely the limits of the mouse and keyboard—that made 3-D modeling a complex, technical task. Leap is the outcome of several years of research devoted to removing that barrier so people can interact with their computers in a natural, intuitive way.

How did the development of the Leap start?

Co-founder and CTO David Holz was pursuing his PhD in mathematics at UNC Chapel Hill when he made mathematical breakthroughs that led to the development of Leap. He left the program in 2010, and he and I founded the company that would become Leap Motion.

What details can you give us about how the Leap works in order for it to handle such sensitive and small motions?

The Leap device is about the size of a thumb drive and plugs into a computer via mini USB (no batteries required). It contains a series of small camera sensors that send out infrared light. The light emitted by Leap bounces off nearby objects, and with Leap Motion’s patented software, based on David’s mathematical breakthroughs, creates a 3-D interaction space that can track individual finger movements down to a fraction of a millimeter.

How is it possible to cram all that motion sensing technology into one small unit?

Leap’s hardware is a fairly simple array of sensors. The real power lies in the software based on David’s research. 5. How much power does the Leap use? Leap uses minimal processing power—about 1% of a single core of an i5 processor.

Microsoft's Kinect device also has a camera and microphone; could future versions of Leap add that kind of support?

Right now we’re focused on perfecting natural gesture control, but Leap is versatile enough to be embedded in devices like smartphones and laptops that already feature cameras and microphones, and future possibilities are endless.

How are you able to sell such technology for just $70?

One of the things unique about Leap is that we’ve taken a fundamentally different approach to tracking motion. It’s a very software-driven method, and the physical device is simple, which allows us to provide superior technology at a low price.

Could the Leap be made so that people could type with just moving fingers on a virtual keyboard?

Absolutely! This is definitely one of the applications we expect to see created as developers begin working with Leap.

The demo video certainly looked impressive. What else needs to be done before Leap can officially launch?

At this point, we’re just fine-tuning details. Leap is available for pre-order now, and will ship to consumers this winter.

Have you thought about using Kickstarter for pre-orders and also to raise mode like the Pebble eWatch team did?

Kickstarter can be a powerful tool, and the Pebble eWatch team is a great example of how well it can work. In our case, strong venture capital support has allowed us to focus our energies on perfecting the Leap technology and serving our customers, and we’ve had a fantastic response taking pre-orders via our website.

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