Leap Motion: My Non-Minority Report
After months of waiting and anticipation, my Leap Motion finally arrived last week. I was eager to get started “playing” with it and see if it really is as cool as their promo video makes it out to be and what educational benefits it might have. What follows is my review of their product and some ideas for potential educational use.
Packaging, Presentation and Set-up:
From the get go, the box and packaging has a very “Apple” feel to it. It’s a simple white box with the Leap controller reflected on the cover. Inside, you’ll discover the Leap controller, two USB cords of different lengths and a simple getting started guide. The sticker on the Leap controller advises you to go to a set-up site first and download the driver for your computer and the AirSpace store. This is the app store for the device and it surprisingly already has quite a few apps in there. Following a brief set-up and orientation, the Leap is configured and ready to go in a matter of minutes.
Early Glitches and Perceptions:
Running through the orientation on my Macbook Air didn’t seem to cause many problems. I noticed once I launched it my screen resolution changed,(much like when you plug in an A/V adapter) but didn’t think much about it. As I was in a meeting when I set this up, I tried not to draw much attention to myself, but I found that next to impossible. Some people across the room thought I was waving and pointing at them. Another person asked if I was feeling ok because it looked like I was conducting an invisible orchestra with music in my head. I could tell right away that the very act of physical motion with this device is new and distracting to others around the room. Sitting in a board meeting, I can’t imagine my Superintendent using this to look at her computer as it might appear like she’s swatting at invisible gnats.
Besides the physical nuances, I noticed some glitches when I installed it on my 27″ iMac. The orientation didn’t seem to go well and it was very jerky, almost like it was having a hard time processing. I shut down all other programs and had the same issue, but discovered that my screen resolution was causing problems. I changed it to 1920X1080 and it started working with little to no issues. Unlike my MacBook, my iMac didn’t detect and automatically change resolution. I’m guessing those folks with PCs and Macs will need to adjust this a bit before really taking off with it.
Being a cheapskate when it comes to apps, I created my AirSpace account and immediately dove into the Free App section. As of this post there were 28 free apps in the AirSpace store. The store seemed evenly split when it came apps for various platforms (78 for MacOS and 82 for Windows) although I was disappointed to see there were no Android or iOS options. One glitch I noticed on my iMac was the lack of icons in the AirSpace program. I could see the names of the apps I had downloaded but no icons for them. (they do appear on my MacBook which is strange)
While the AirSpace program (which is downloaded on your computer before use) had some pre-installed apps, I decided to try out a few freebies too. Boom Ball was by far the most interactive and least glitchy. Imagine the 80′s game “Breakout” only with a 3D element and you use your finger at various angles to control where the ball will go next. Another game I tried was Roshambo. Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is: Rock-paper-scissors with a computer generated contestant (in this case a pirate in a bar it would seem). Being a new store, they have “Free App Fridays” where an app will go free for 24 hours on Fridays. Since there are only so many apps, I could probably get most of the apps in the next few months for free.
While the games were interesting I also wanted to see what kind of tools and learning apps were available. The Molecules and CyberScience 3D app have some serious potential, especially for kinesthetic learners. Imagine being able to move an item around with your hands? It’s almost like we are living in the Minority Report!
One tool that I was most interested in, was the most basic: Touchless for Mac. This allows me to turn my finger into a mouse. I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting, but I wondered how this could help my productivity by being able to move windows out of the way and open and close things without the cumbersome need to move a mouse around. Unfortunately, this was not as great as I thought at first as it does take quite a bit of time to get use to moving your finger around (keeping your hand very still is the key). Alas, my dreams for Minority Report like control will have to wait, as I wasn’t able to “grab” and move windows around or zoom in and out with this tool.
Pros & Cons:
Cons: As this was a first generation device, I knew there would be some negatives with being the first of its kind. Here are a few items that I hope will improve with future generations:
- General glitches and the need to be used at certain screen resolutions.
- Not a lot of choices in the App store, but I know this is just starting.
- The device is limited to just two platforms for use. I’m hoping they think to expand that in the future.
- The games were fun but I was hoping for more in the educational realm, but I imagine that will expand as well. One major thing I wish was different was the fact that it connects via usb. I was hopeful it would have a bluetooth connection so I could really stretch the limits of where I’m using it. There might still be a way to rig that, but I’m thinking they should make second generation bluetooth capable. (like my keyboard and mouse)
Pros: Being the first of its kind does have merit. Here are a few items I particularly like:
- Setup is very easy. Just launch the site, download the necessary software and the orientation starts.
- The AirSpace store is web-based, has a clean design and very easy to navigate.
- The early apps really highlight the potential of the device. Between the games and the educational apps, there is some serious creative potential here and you feel it when you interact with the various apps.
- It’s new. I know that seems cheesy, but the fact that I’m doing something different, moving things with my hands, it feels different and exciting. That newness will wear off which is why the app store needs to continue to grow.
I will definitely say that the interaction with the Leap Motion is the closest I’ve ever come to the feeling I had when I first interacted with the iPad. That sci-fi feeling and the newness of maneuvering items through the air around your computer without a mouse, keyboard or screen-touch is pretty unique. I think the potential educational benefits of this device are great, assuming the address some of the cons listed. Being in a 1:1 environment, it would be very strange to walk into a classroom with each kid using this device. It would look like some weird combination of Grease’s hand-jive and “the wave”, but eventually I can really see the kinesthetic learner loving this. We ask our kids to sit in the same spot for hours on end, and this could really open up the mind through movement. The potential for this device and the many knock-offs to come is potentially powerful. I think the early price point is a little steep ($79.99 at BestBuy), but to be expected with a new device. (For frame of reference a bluetooth mouse is about a 1/4th of the price) That said I’m excited to see where and how this potential fits in our educational space.