Leap Motion Controller Hands-On: The Future Is Magic (Now With Apps!)

Greasy fingers are the bane of touchscreens, obscuring the display behind snail trails of oil and streaks of grime. Forget that mess. Leap Motion has promised hands-free PC navigation for months now, and after some hands-on time we can confirm that the future is here, and it's amazing.

As a brief refresher, the Leap Motion Controller tracks your hand and finger movements in three-dimensional space, allowing users to recreate multitouch input without actually touching anything. You just wave your hands and wiggle your fingers in the air over it and boom, your computer responds.

Leap Motion Controller Hands-On: The Future Is Magic (Now With Apps!)

It will be available for Windows 7 and 8, as well as Mac OS X 10.6 and above, when the $80 device hits store shelves on July 29th (though if you pre-ordered, it's out on the 22nd). It won't be available for mobile to start but the company is looking into potentially integrating the technology with a number of OEMs.

With a few waves of your hands, both native applications—from web browsers to Google Earth—and system navigations respond instantly to your commands. The company is also developing Airspace, an online hub for LeapMotion-enabled applications.

Leap Motion Controller Hands-On: The Future Is Magic (Now With Apps!)

"Everything you can do with a touch-based system, like Windows 8, can now be accomplished with LeapMotion technology. We want our users to have a magical experience, with easy and natural movements in the air leading to amazing interactions. This is the foundation for our approach to existing systems," David Holz, co-founder and CTO of LeapMotion, said in a press statement. "But this is only the beginning. The potential for our 3D interaction technology is really unleashed by applications built specifically for LeapMotion, helping drive the future of computing."

Leap Motion Controller Hands-On: The Future Is Magic (Now With Apps!)

I had the opportunity to try out the Leap Motion last week, and great googly moogly this thing is amazeballs. It tracks both hands—their position, angle, rotation, orientation, everything—in real time, as well as the positions and movements of all three joints in all ten fingers. The controller registers everything within a roughly foot-tall, 18-inch-wide dome-shaped area surrounding the controller and is wildly accurate, picking up even miniscule finger twitches. During the demo, used Google Earth to fly around Lower Manhattan like I was the kid from Flight of the Navigator, I played a 3D variation of Brick Breaker using my index fingers as paddles to punch, poke, and prod the ball around the arena, and I navigated around both OS X and Windows 8 systems by swiping my hands through the air.

It was strange, initially, getting used to moving the cursor without grabbing a mouse or tapping the screen but it only takes a second to get the hang of the process. The controller can also be set to use either basic controls (taps, swipes, and other common input commands) or more advanced gestures, which helps ease you into it as well.

Granted, I played with this device for all of 15 minutes in a controlled environment (LeapMotion's SF office) but that was a glorious quarter hour; I felt like Tony Stark using the Jarvis UI. July 29th can't come soon enough.