Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Leap Motion for Kids?

Leap Motion is a new device for gesture based computer interaction. Let's take a look at whether it will be any good for kids to use. The idea is that you set up the controller and instead of needing to touch a screen or use a mouse the controller tracks the motion of your hands and uses that to control a PC.

My kids have grown up with touchscreens. First it was coloring apps on their parents smart phones then tablets and when it was time to get a family PC that they can use we chose a touchscreen model. They still jab at my non-touch laptop and are surprised when it doesn't work. But this does mean that the screen is always covered in fingerprints! I'm forever cleaning the screen because it's usually off when they're at school and I'm working at home and fingerprints really show up when the screen is turned off.

So could gesture control be a new way for them to interact with the computer?

We have a Nintendo Wii console and they also have some games that make use of the webcam on the PC. They seem to work pretty well for interacting with the PC using big motions.

The Leap Motion takes this technology down to a finer-grained level so you can move windows around, do freehand drawing and writing, and generally all the stuff you would normally do with a mouse or touchscreen, and more because it has 3 dimensional awareness.

Let's take a look at what the Leap Motion can do (in general not specifically for kids.) If you're watching with kids note that there is a clip from a first person shooter video game in this video.

Pretty cool. So is it suitable for kids?

Well you probably spotted Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds being played using the Real Motion controller. I know some kids who would enjoy that (yes, and lots of adults too.)

One cool application that is brilliant for kids is Google Earth with Leap Motion support. What a cool way for kids to get to know their way around the planet. I grew up with very poor knowledge of world geography and I don't want that to be the case for my kids. 

Touch has become a popular interface, but many families can't afford a new touchscreen monitor. The Leap Motion controller is actually a cheaper option that lets you extend your existing PC. It has a launch price of $79 plus shipping. So the controller will be within reach for many families.

I've started doing some 3D modeling with my 6 year old so he can design things to make on our 3D printer. So far we haven't found anything he can really do on his own. I can see the Leap Motion being a brilliant way to do 3D modeling in future once we get the software to support it. There will be a 2D drawing tool at launch which looks fun.

Intially the Leap Motion is available for Windows 7 and Windows 8 which most family PCs are running. And also the Mac which covers most of the rest.

We'd like to see Android support as we've ordered a Mii PC, and also Raspberry Pi as we could do some very cool projects then. But support for those will come later.

We've had a lot of success with the kids using the touchscreen. I'm intrigued to see if the Leap Motion can do an even better job. I think we'll pre-order one and let you know how we get on.

The Leap Motion controller is due to ship in mid May 2013.

Pre-order (US / International) or UK.

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