When the dot.com boom came and went in the late 90’s, one of the problems was a glut of technical wizard-laden companies creating products that had little or no consumer interest. Some great innovations but no customers meant that some companies were short-lived.
When producing new technology, it’s tempting to be innovative for the sake of it. It’s really important for any enterprise to remember that the customer is king, and to put themselves in a client’s shoes when coming up with new products.
So when we saw a new piece of kit called Leap Motion, we wondered if this was a nice, but unnecessary, jump in the virtual tech world. It’s a motion sensor that’s accurate to 0.01mm, responding to the user’s movement in a way that sensor-based games consoles like the Xbox 360 Kinect already use and without the need for a handset like the Nintendo Wii. It means you can grab at the screen and move text, pictures and 3D imagery around like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, although he’s probably wishing that there was a virtual Katie Holmes package that he could get his hands on.
Seeing the Leap Motion in operation in the video above, its uses for the gaming industry are obvious but it’s more like a tweaking of the current technology than anything really new. The telling phrase is on their introduction page: “For four years, we’ve been obsessed with one question: how can we interact with computers in a better, more natural way?”
So, not ‘how can we cure cancer?’ or ‘how can we be a hit with the laydeez?’ They wanted to interact with computers in a better, more natural way. It’s the sort of thing that keeps us awake at night too. And vast amounts of coffee. And those strange people who live two doors down.
The trouble with wanting to interact with computers naturally is that computers aren’t natural – they’re artificial, man-made and not designed around people. When you see Leap Motion’s Avinash Dabir demonstrating the product to the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones what do you think he’s doing? It turns out he’s cutting fruit with his finger, which is a relief. When did you last use your finger to cut fruit? It isn’t the natural way to cut oranges and apples, you use a knife. But he’s not the only one, there are other developers who can wiggle their fingers at a PC screen, so it’s good to know that finger-wiggling has moved on since Stan Laurel invented it…
Other uses include a pencil writing in the air with the word appearing on screen. Why not just write on the screen? The writing-on-something idea has been used for hundreds of years and has proven pretty effective. The writing-in-the-air idea was first invented by The Snowman and hasn’t really caught on with us mere mortals. You can also use the Leap Motion to knock over some blocks in a game using chopsticks. Great, that’s useful.
If this technology could be put to use to assist surgeons performing microsurgery or for people living with disabilities to perform acts or to communicate easier, then it’s a good thing. But we’re only told that those things could happen and that the limits are our imagination. And even though I’ve got a very vivid imagination, as the people from two doors down know only too well, I want to see it in action before I jump up and down about it.
The Leap Motion is being touted and feted as the next big thing in virtual technology. It certainly could have benefits to the medical community and take gaming interaction to a new level. But until the applications are made clear and visible it’s going to remain an impressive piece of technology with great potential. Let’s just hope that when it rolls out in the next month it’s more than just a chance to do a Tommy Cooper impression in a virtual mirror.