Leap Motion releases Free Form, an app that lets human hands sculpt digital clay (video)

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Michael Gorman
November 20th, 2013

When we reviewed the Leap Motion controller earlier this year, we found the application selection to be a bit lacking. Since then, the number of apps has doubled from 75 to around 150, and the Airspace store's newest edition is the coolest Leap app we've yet seen. It's called Free Form, and it's a 3D sculpting app (not unlike 3D Systems' Sculpt) built in house at Leap Motion that lets you manipulate and shape digital objects using your fingertips. David Holz, company co-founder and the man who figured out the math behind Leap Motion's technology, gave us a demo of the app and talked a bit about why Leap built it. Additionally, he showed us a new developer beta software that does 360-degree tracking built to address some of the original Leap shortcomings.

"A lot of new input devices, traditionally, there was some kind of content creation tool launched with them, like MS Paint," according to Holz, and he sees Free Form as the Paint equivalent for Leap Motion. And, after seeing it in action, we found Free Form to be both a powerful tool and a fun place play and create with digital clay. You can see for yourself in the video above, but in person, the app runs buttery smooth and shaping and coloring objects is a fluid experience as well. Users mold spinning objects like a potter and his wheel, but there are tools to add digital material and manipulate it in most any way you would a ball of actual clay.

Granted, Holz is far more comfortable using Leap user than we are, and therefore, a much more accomplished Free Form sculptor. However, we did have a grand time poking holes and scraping bits off of a digital orb, and it's easy to see how one could spend hours playing and creating things with the app. And, according to the company, Free Form runs on most PCs that meets Leap Motion's hardware requirements -- so no discrete GPU needed.

While Free Form can serve as a beautiful novelty and a great way to create custom 3D-printable files, the app is capable of much more. Holz thinks that Free Form will be "a place to experiment with new interface ideas" and he hopes for it to become a powerful platform for app developers. That's why Leap is open sourcing the application and is encouraging devs to build new experiences upon it and learn from its UI design. That's also why Free Form is, well, free, starting today.

After showcasing the virtues of Free Form, Holz then demoed a developer beta of Leap Motion's next generation tracking software. This update, slated to roll out to consumers early next year, is set to solve many of the Leap's finger tracking issues. You see, while the Leap controller is quite adept at following unobstructed hands and fingers, the system currently struggles with occlusion -- meaning it loses track of individual fingers when they are crossed or otherwise hidden from the device's view. The new code purports to solve the occlusion problem, and while brief, our time watching Holz demonstrate the new system indicates that the new code can do just that.

Unfortunately, while the demo we saw was most impressive -- we never saw the controller lose track of a single one of Holz's eight fingers or two thumbs -- it's not yet close to ready for public consumption. However, the work is ongoing, and it's good to know that a fix for some of Leap users' frustrations is on the way.

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