Early Leaps

Back in July, after almost a year of delays, I finally received my much-anticipated Leap Motion Controller. My immediate reaction to it was pretty satisfying – having dealt only with (relatively cheap) webcams up until that point, the precision of the Leap was incredible. I played around with the interactive training video, downloaded a few apps from the airspace store, and remained entertained for a few hours. Soon, however, I began to find that while the fidelity of the controller is quite impressive, the capability and application of the device is severely limited by the list of available apps.

Since the controller’s release, it seems that the majority of the development has been in the realm of simple fantasy games. Think Fruit Ninja, and then think of every variation of Fruit Ninja you could possibly create. Much like the tablet, the Leap took a quick step in a frustratingly inane direction. While I won’t deny that innovation and development are often driven by markets such as this, I will confess that I am disappointed to see such a device drowned in a sea of apps such as “Boom Ball” and “Serious Slice.”*

That being said, there are also several apps available that really start to unlock the potential of the Leap. Google immediately released a navigation tool that is a fantastic extension to their Google Earth software. Autodesk and Adobe have released early plug-ins for their software that are solid first steps in the realm of gestural design. There are even a couple components available for Grasshopper, with accompanying videos on the Grasshopper website showcasing inventive ways to use the Leap within Rhino.

Originally, with my webcam experiments, I was hoping to develop a gestural modeling toolset that would be refined enough to perform basic tasks. I intended to iron out the kinks in the setup prior to the Leap’s release, knowing that trying to make the webcams work for me was really an exercise in futility. Thus, when the Leap came out, the toolset would be ready to go, and further developments (i.e. Kangaroo implementation, etc.) would quickly follow.

Of course, like all well-made plans…things didn’t really go like that. My thesis work took a more research-heavy turn, I graduated, moved, got a job, etc. etc. The toolset never really developed past a few basic functions, and when the Leap arrived, I could do little else other than fool around with the available apps.

Maybe I needed the break from it, I don’t know. Whatever the case, I finally sat down to re-visit it. Instead of working towards a modeling toolset, however, I decided to keep it simple and focus on navigation.

The idea here is to keep the movement as exploratory and intuitive as possible. I want people to be able to use this with no prior instruction (I could go on and on about how amazing it is to watch computer novices both young and old navigate touchscreen devices…a topic for another blog post, perhaps). To this end, I even invited my girlfriend to “test-fly” the setup shortly after I had it running. After tweaking the sensitivity a bit, she was zooming around with ease. This was one of the most exciting results for me. Typically, my setups have been so delicate and difficult that no one else could really glean any satisfying result from attempting to use them. To see someone else immediately get it working was thrilling.

I suppose the architectural application of all this lies in the potential for immersive experiences and more engaged (and literal) client walkthroughs. Perhaps you have a laptop with a built-in Leap that you take to meetings, or maybe your office is equipped with several projectors to simulate one-to-one space. Perhaps the setup is used much earlier in the design process. Rhino, Revit, and 3ds Max all benefit from having multiple viewport windows of the same model open at the same time – maybe instead of a window, an entire wall is dedicated to gestural exploration of emerging designs. Right hand for mouse, left hand for Leap… Augmented reality continues to hold my interest, and I will continue to believe that there is real potential for it in fields such as architecture.

As for where this will go next, I think I will take another crack at a modeling toolset. I am also closely watching Dynamo – Revit’s node-based parametric modeling plug-in – with the hope that one day Leap will work directly inside of multiple software platforms.

*I myself have never actually played Boom Ball or Serious Slice. For all I know, they may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Forgive the rash assumption.

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