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Leap Motion giving 10,000 developers free Leaps

Startup with revolutionary gesture control technology is giving 10,000 more developers free units, and it is updating its SDK with a new library of pre-defined interaction APIs.

Leap Motion, which created an innovative gesture control technology that measures users' movements to an accuracy of a hundredth of a millimeter, is expanding its developer program and releasing a new software development kit.

According to Michael Buckwald, CEO of the San Francisco startup, Leap Motion is giving 10,000 developers free Leap units over the next two weeks in a bid to dramatically increase the number of potential applications being designed to work with the new technology.

All told, 40,000 people have applied to be part of Leap Motion's developer program, in part because the number of potential applications that could integrate the company's gesture control technology is almost limitless.

When Leap Motion first announced its technology, it expected the Leap would be ideal for disrupting industries like surgery, gaming, architecture, design, engineering, and more. But almost from the get-go, some of the most interesting projects developers were suggesting involved things like automatically translate sign language.

Some developers proposed using the Leap to fly planes or drive cars, or to support physical rehabilitation and special needs. More than 400 people suggested using the Leap in computer-aided design software -- the same computing challenge that led Leap co-founder and CTO David Holz to begin creating the technology in 2008.

Leap Motion has said that 14 percent of developers want to do gaming-related applications, while 12 percent want to use the technology for music or video applications, 11 percent for art and design, 8 percent for science and medicine, and 6 percent for robotics. At launch, the company plans an Apple-style app store, and more than 90 percent of developers asking for SDKs want to sell their work through such a store. All told, developers have proposed more than 40,000 different applications.

And that was before Leap Motion decided to include a library of pre-defined interaction APIs in the SDK. According to Buckwald, these are basic movements that can be converted into gestures, and which will allow developers to leverage the technology very quickly in any number of specialized programming environments. The library is also intended to divert developers from spending unnecessary time coming up with the same type of applications again and again. "A lot of developers want to reinvent the wheel," Buckwald said. "We have a very specific idea of how users should interact with their computer this way. For example, we don't think they should be leaning a lot of sign-language-esque gestures."

Leap Motion plans on releasing the Leap sometime in early 2013, it says. Though it will initially sell the Leap as a stand-alone peripheral, the company clearly is hoping to partner with consumer electronics companies that can integrate the technology directly into computers.

Though it has yet to decide which applications will be featured in its app store, Leap Motion did recently call out two demonstration apps that do a particularly good job of showcasing what the technology is capable of. In one, known as Air Harp (see video above), a user is able to play an on-screen harp simply by moving their fingers back and forth in front of their computer. In the second, known as Block 54 (see video below), a user plays a Jenga-like game by making careful pinching motions in the air in front of the computer in a bid to remove blocks from a tall stack.

Buckwald told CNET that Leap Motion is hoping to see its technology integrated with as many engines or frameworks as possible, and its efforts with the SDK are in part meant to take as much of the work, from a computational standpoint, off the developers. "We're going to be working for [several] years to make it easier to develop on top of Leap," Buckwald said, "until eventually someone can develop an app for Leap with their hands, without having any specialized programming expertise."

He said it could take about two years to get to that point.