The Technology That Will Make Touching Screens – Or Anything Else – A Thing Of The Past

Man takes another step towards being half-machine with Leap Motion

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This week’s slightly underwhelming iPhone 5 announcement contained one choice detail that managed to capture the world’s imagination – and no, we don’t mean the new ‘bling’ gold case.

The finger print recognition system – as well as being vaguely reminiscent of those needlessly tense moments passing through American airport security – is the most high profile example yet of a growing technology trend that will turn us into half-men, half-machines and (possibly) define the future of humanity.

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To be more specific, clumsy technology like keyboards, mice, security codes and even touch screens are on the way out.

‘Leap Motion’, a new USB stick sized device that allows you to control your laptop or PC using hand gestures (think Tom Cruise invading people’s thoughts in Minority Report).

With it you can navigate your desktop, browse the net, flick through pages of documents or even (cough) finger paint without touching a single surface.

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A recent review in the Independent found the technology frustrating but added: "With a little practice, apps such as Google Earth are an exhilarating experience: using natural hand movements you can leap, dive and soar around the Google globe, flying past sights such as the Grand Canyon, feeling like you're Superman." Sounds fun.

Meanwhile, this week at a TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco, a developer called Matthew Drake rather giddily unveiled his new invention, Secret Handshake.

Using Leap Motion again, it allows you to make online purchases using nothing more than your own hands and a bit of imagination. Forget phone apps and three different security codes – soon we’ll be paying for stuff with a personal secret hand gesture. We imagine the millionth person to sign up will have to perform something akin to an All Blacks Haka just to pay his phone bill.

Videos games, of course, have been making use of this sort of sensor detection technology for a while now, allowing people to play virtual tennis or dance around like pop stars where once they lounged in front of the TV.

But the arrival of Leap Motion takes it deeper into our every day lives. Suddenly, operating devices with a swipe of the hand will become something you do constantly throughout the day rather than for half an hour with the kids on a Sunday.

It’s not just personal computing, either. The renowned American inventor with designs on space travel, Elon Musk, is reportedly using the technology to help create his latest rocket part. How long before the technology is tweaked to point where it’s being used in other industries, like manufacturing, or medicine? 

Why the development of this technology feels like A Big Deal for the future of mankind is how much closer it pairs our very physicality with the digital world.

Already, many of us in the West have developed the ‘mobile phone twitch’ whereby we involuntarily pull a device out of our pockets while walking down the street for no good reason, or sometimes go to swipe a screen that doesn’t swipe.

Leap Motion opens up the possibility that before too long, we’ll all be carrying out our latest Amazon binge or social network stalk by swishing our limbs about like karate masters ("wax on to restart, wax off to close down").

A exciting new world? Possibly. Hilarious to watch on the tube? No question.