If you think using the Leap Motion controller for playing air guitar and typing without a keyboard was cool, try using it to control a NASA rover. Victor Luo and Jeff Norris from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab got on stage at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco to do just that with the ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer), which was located 383 miles away in Pasadena. As Luo waved his hand over the sensor, the robot moved in kind, reacting to the subtle movements of his fingers and wrists, wowing the crowd that watched it over a projected Google+ Hangout.
We spoke with Luo and Norris after the panel to gain further insight into the project. As Luo explains, one of JPL's main goals is to build tools to control robots needed for space exploration. Seeing as the gaming industry is already rife with user-friendly controllers ripe for the plucking, it made sense to harness them for the job. "We're very used to the bleeding edge," he said. "From the Kinect to the PlayStation Move, they represent major investments into usability." Hit the jump for our impressions of the simulation software, a look at JPL's grander goal and for video clips of the demo and panel itself.