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New Sensor Technology Set to “Leap” Ahead of Microsoft

Back in December, I added spatial gesture technology – or the ability to control user interfaces using movement – to my list of top technologies to watch this year.

With good reason.

Take the popularity of Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Kinect device, for instance. This motion control attachment for the company’s Xbox 360 console replaces standard game controllers by tracking your body in three dimensions. The technology is surprisingly accurate at registering movement, making it a smash hit with consumers.

In fact, between its launch in November 2010 and the beginning of January 2011, consumers were buying an average of 133,333 Kinects a day. So it stole the throne from Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and iPad as the fastest-selling consumer electronics device on record.

But this year the technology is beginning to extend beyond video games. Recall, for example, how Queen’s University researchers are using Kinect sensors to track a user’s movement around a 3-D “telepod.”

And in February, Microsoft released new hardware and software for the Kinect that could capture motion as close as 40 cm. This capability allows it to be used to develop applications for Windows PCs, possibly changing the way we interact with computers from now on.

But there’s one major problem with this idea… As CNET says, “The Microsoft system has become a huge success by allowing developers to make games and other software that let people control what’s on their screens with their bodies. That’s great for dancing, fighting and sports games, plus many others, but Kinect’s ability to recognize motion ends at users’ hands.”

That’s not exactly ideal when it comes to working with PCs. Seeing as navigating a user interface requires a bit more finesse than punching at the screen or waving your hand.

But that’s where this new sensor from Leap Motion comes in.

100 Times More Accurate Than Kinect

This San Francisco-based startup uploaded a demo of its own gesture recognition technology yesterday. And it’s capable of tracking movements from multiple objects at once, including each individual finger. Plus, applications can be controlled with intuitive gestures similar to those you see on smartphones and tablets today, like pinch-to-zoom and swiping to change screens.

Only there’s no touchscreen required.

Check out the video below to see the technology in action…

It’s obvious that the device has incredible potential. Especially when you consider the benefits of Leap’s option over the Kinect…

Cost: Currently, you can pick up a Kinect sensor with a few games for around $140. Granted, there’s no price for what the PC-bound version would cost. But once the Leap device launches early next year, you can get it for just $70.

Compatibility: Of course, Microsoft is limiting the capabilities of its computer-bound Kinect sensors to its Windows PCs. Leap Motion’s sensor, on the other hand, can be used for both Windows and Mac operating systems.

Accuracy: Leap can sense movements as tiny as 1/100th of a millimeter. According to The Washington Post, that makes it “100-times more accurate than the Kinect.” This is crucial to the technology’s usability for PC controls. As the company’s website says, “It’s the difference between sensing an arm swiping through the air and being able to create a precise digital signature with a fingertip or pen.”

Bottom line: With its lower cost, vastly superior accuracy and ability to work on both PCs and Macs, Leap Motion’s sensor could easily steal the computer gesture control space from Microsoft. It’s no wonder over 1,000 developers have already signed up to receive the software kit for the device, and the company plans to distribute free Leap sensors to quality developers soon.

Now it’s up to them to create powerful enough applications – for PCs and beyond – to make us want to buy one.

Good investing,

Justin Fritz


Justin Fritz

, Executive Editor

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