How do you give orders to your computer?
The only way to tell computers what to do in the 1960s-1970s was by typing the instructions on a keyboard, or, for the technical teams working on the machine by flipping switches up and down and pressing buttons. Then came the mouse and its variations such as joysticks and the like, followed by the more spectacular albeit noisier voice recognition. With the latter we were empowered to tell, literally, computers what to do. With time touchscreens became very popular and were also used to enter commands and instructions, to select menu options, and so forth.
Now motion detection, the latest input method, is the real thing and it beats all the above. It’s fast, accurate, clean and sublimely silent.
Motion detection, as the name implies, involves optical sensors (typically miniature cameras) that detect movement and translate it into commands and instruction to the machine. One such famous example is Microsoft’s Kinect, mainly found in gaming consoles. Insert a sport game into the console, stand before the system in your living room and start walking, jumping or moving any way you like. Your movements will be captured by the sensors and translated into similar movements on the screen.
The Leap by Leap Motion comes in the same vein but with improvement in the specifications that is nothing less than spectacular. The company claims: “It’s more accurate than a mouse, as reliable as a keyboard and more sensitive than a touchscreen… The Leap technology is 200 times more accurate than anything else on the market… [it] can distinguish your individual fingers and track your movements down to a 1/100th of a millimetre.”
Right now the hardware product is yet to be made available on the market although the company already is taking pre-orders that it says will be delivered in about six months time. Prices for the box are displayed on Leap Motion’s home page: as little as $70.
The degree of accuracy makes the Leap candidate for applications we have been dreaming of for years. Whereas till now motion detection devices have not not able to detect and react to very small or rapid movements, Leap will open new doors, especially when it comes to eye movement detection, a most fantastic form of the technology and that is going to be very much in demand in the near future.
For example, Samsung Galaxy S3, the manufacturer’s new flagship smartphone uses accurate sensors to detect movement. “It can detect eye movements and override the automatic shutdown if the user is looking at the screen.” (www.skynews.com.au).
Wouldn’t you like to flip the pages of the document displayed on the screen just by looking at it and blinking, for example? Or to dial the telephone number shown on your cellphone just by staring at it? I can easily imagine commands based on right-blink and left-blink action, just like we have become familiar with mouse right-click and left-click! Will there be a double-blink as well?
Another example: The automotive industry could introduce an eye movement detection security system that continuously watches the driver. If the latter keeps his eyes closed for more than one or two seconds, meaning he is falling asleep, a loud signal will be activated to wake him up and to avoid an accident. Software developers certainly have a mile-long list of ideas based on motion and eye movement detection.
What makes the difference here, again, is the level of accuracy. Leap Motion’s claim of 1/100th of a millimetre is impressive. The company, however, did not give any indication as to the reaction speed — not a minor point. It should also be in fractions of a second; less than 1/10th of a second I would say.
Of all the innovations in the world of ITC, the high performing, highly accurate and fast motion detection, and eye movement detection in particular, may prove to be the most significant of the last five years. Next year should show us some tangible results.