Saturday 20 April 2013

NASA Space Apps Hackathon - the Leap Motion Experiment

I headed over to the Royal Ontario Museum to check out the NASA Space Apps Hackathon this Friday with a clear goal in mind- to play around with the leap motion controller. This being my fourth hackathon, I noticed many familiar faces. Some folks recognized me from the LinkedIn space apps hackathon, where I had fared pretty well, and I rather enjoyed the attention.

The mandatory goody bag was replete with pens and mementos (a Google puzzle, and jarringly enough, a "Rogers"-mobile branded t-shirt). They had ethernet cables on every table, a vast improvement over the spotty wifi typically deigned to attendees. The inexorable banalities soon followed - presentations, sponsors, etc. 


A bit of background- I had applied for a developer version of the Leap Motion device many months ago. This little piece of hardware is essentially an "Xbox Kinect"-type infrared device which can be plugged into a USB port, enabling gestures on your machine. Unfortunately, I wasn't sent the device then. I was thus pleased to hear that these devices (not yet released) were being made available to hackathon attendees.

It was only around 8pm that I actually got a hold of these babies. No SDK access though. I lingered around till around 11pm, when I received an e-mail granting me SDK access. By then, I was thoroughly exhausted. Ever the masochist, I fired up the SDK, and after a few hiccups, got the damned thing working. The sample apps accompanying the SDK were interesting, and I rather enjoyed playing around with my "miniaturized Kinect". The Java example was rather bare-bones. In contrast, the C++ examples were well integrated with OpenGL and looked pretty cool. It was at this crucial point, that the organizers jettisoned everybody out of the venue. Unlike other hackathons, there was no overnight component.

I left the Leap Motion with the organizers (they had held my ID hostage) and decided not to return for the subsequent evenings. It was clear that two days would be insufficient to build an application given an unfamiliar SDK (Leap Motion had not made the SDK public yet). Moreover, integrating Leap Motion with a NASA challenge would be difficult, given that there were barely any developers using it, casting aside any opportunity for collaboration.

From my interaction with the Leap Motion, I felt that it would make a suitable gaming accompaniment. However, it is difficult for me envision any other scenario where this device, at its current stage, would be a useful tool for activities such as web browsing, typing, etc. It's an interesting concept, and very portable, but I would rather rest my hands on my laptop than strain them atop the Leap Motion for most things. 

Leap Motion

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