Leap Motion made a splash this summer with a futuristic motion-tracking camera, but they’ve spent the rest of the year on a trickier task: leveraging that camera into a software platform. This morning, they made their biggest step forward yet, announcing another 10,000 units that will ship out to developers over the next few weeks and an updated SDK that provides developers with a codebase for basic gestures on the Leap.
The extra units increase Leap's army of camera-equipped developers from 2,000 to 12,000 — an expensive move, but a necessary one if they’re going to have a fully stocked app store in time for their scheduled launch in early 2013. Aside from a few in-house programs, all of the software will be coming from those 12,000 outside devs. CEO Michael Buckwald told The Verge, "Our thinking is that if we can lay a great framework and a great foundation by seeding the developer community with units, we can launch with an established base of great content."
An MIT student built something he calls an "air harp"
A few months in, the strategy has produced few polished products, but a lot of hacks, many of which are featured on Leap’s YouTube account. In a single weekend with the Leap Motion camera, an engineer built something he calls an "air harp," which lets you strum and mute virtual strings. Another team used the camera to steer a drone by tilting their hands. Someone else played an awkward game of Doom 2 using only his index finger.
To give a sense of what a more polished project might look like, Leap is also unveiling their first in-house app, a Jenga-inspired game called Block 54 that was engineered by one of their interns.
The game mechanic is all about pushing and grabbing, another sign of Leap’s preference for physically intuitive motions. Buckwald is vocal about maintaining direct physical-to-virtual interactions instead of a more abstract sign language. In Block 54's case, that means your actions are all familiar — poking, pinching — but they operate on virtual blocks instead of real ones. It also means the skills of the game are roughly the same ones that let you win a real game of Jenga.
The new SDK commits to that UI philosophy even further, providing a codebase for basic actions like gripping, pushing and molding objects in virtual space. With this update, developers will have a library of approved gestures to draw from, with simple code they can drop in whenever they need a gripping mechanic. That makes coding easier and cheaper for developers, as long as they're working in Leap’s preferred style of interaction design. Developers can still code virtual keyboards and double-clicks into their apps if they want, but it’ll take a lot more effort.
Otherwise, it's all on the table. Leap isn't looking for a killer app themselves. They're happy to let developers beta-test the product and wait for great software to emerge on its own. That means counting on a great ecosystem. "The really exciting stuff is going to happen when there’s software that’s been built from the ground up for us," Buckwald told The Verge, "and that happens when we’ve got a platform."