Over the next few years, billions of devices are going to spill onto the Internet and rewire our world in ways never before thought possible. Alongside augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things has the potential to change the world and how we see it.

That’s why with this year’s 3D Jam we created an Open track for desktop and hardware projects – opening the doors to experiments that build on the bleeding edge of this emerging space. In this post, we’ll look at some incredible past projects, plus some key resources and tutorials that will take your hardware hack to the next level.

Before we dive in, there are two things you should know. First, before you start building for the 3D Jam, please check out our approved hardware list. We’re open to hardware requests, but we want to make sure that we can judge your submission fairly. Second, you’ll need a computer to run the Leap Motion core software. This is because there’s a lot of image processing and math happening under the hood, and popular boards like the Raspberry Pi or Arduino just don’t have the necessary horsepower. With that out of the way, let’s have some fun!

Getting Started

Starting your journey into the world of hardware hacks can be tricky, especially if you’re used to the abstract world of ones and zeros, or your background is in music or design. Fortunately, communities like Hackster, Maker Faire, and Instructables have emerged to make getting started with hardware hacks easier than ever.

This week, Hackster’s Alex Glow hosted a quick workshop showing how you can create a motion-controlled LED sign with Cylon.js and an Arduino board. Cylon.js is a great library that abstracts away a lot of the irritating details of hardware coding, so you can focus on the fun stuff.

At the end of this video, you just need to wave your hand to activate a not-so-subtle GO AWAY sign – perfect for shooing away annoying co-workers! The full project and setup guide is available on Hackster.

PubNub is another type of glue that holds any number of connected devices together, with the ability to access them from anywhere on Earth. In the video above, they show how they combined the power of Leap Motion with the brains of a Raspberry Pi to create motion-controlled servos. You can find the entire codebase and building tutorial on PubNub’s blog. Both Cylon.js and PubNub lean on our JavaScript library, so you may also want to check out our getting started guide for LeapJS.

Finally, for all you multimedia designers out there, Vuo combines a number of hardware integrations (everything from stage lighting to an Arduino board) with a stellar suite of visual and audio tools. Currently, it’s for Mac users only, but if you want a visual programming environment that lets you make connections in a snap, Vuo is the way to go.

Mobile Phones

Sometimes the key to a great hardware hack is to solve a problem you never knew you had. Patrick Catanzariti was tired of being interrupted by his phone in the middle of an inspiration, so he decided to do something about it. Using on{X}, an amazing app that lets you control your Android phone/tablet and respond to events that happen on it, he wrote a script that brought silence with the twirl of a finger.

Here’s how it works. When you wave your hand above the Leap Motion Controller, it tells your phone to stop ringing. At the same time, it sends a text message to the person calling you, letting them know that you’ll call them back. Patrick posted a full guide to the project on SitePoint.

The Drone Revolution

The skies are about to get a lot more interactive. Just ask Amazon, whose upcoming drone delivery system is about to revolutionize the shipping industry. Drones are a great fit for motion controls because they operate in three dimensions, and they intuitively map to the pitch, yaw, and position of your hand. From Node.js and Faye and a mere 77 lines of code with Cylon.js to ingenious radio hacks, there’s no end to the possibilities of drone hacking.

Robots of All Shapes and Sizes

Speaking of Amazon, a major keynote at Amazon Web Services re:Invent on Thursday showcased a robotic arm being controlled by Leap Motion interaction, with the technology on display in the Maker area of the re:Invent expo floor.


This is just the latest example of bringing a new level of interaction with our future synthetic overlords. Robotic arms, humanoids, Lego Mindstorm robots, Spheros, hexapod spiders, and even massive NASA rover prototypes – if it has to navigate our 3D universe, it needs 3D input.

Interactive Installations and Exhibits

Whether you’re designing an interactive kiosk, museum exhibit, or art installation, there are a few best practices you should follow so that your visitors can get the most out of the experience. Our post How to Build Your Own Leap Motion Art Installation features everything you need to know, including:

  • Interaction design: Giving people freedom to explore
  • Physical design: Mounting and positioning the controller
  • Watch out for surrounding objects
  • Consider the lighting environment
  • Covering the controller

It’s important for 3D Jammers to know that, at a certain scale, interactive art installations go beyond the scope of our jury’s ability to judge. Our goal is to personally judge each project on its own, and we don’t necessarily have access to industrial robots or Australian universities. As always, make sure that you check the approved hardware list, and make requests based on the scope of your project.

Next up, let’s take a look at two of the most striking art installations we’ve seen using Leap Motion technology.

Aether: Industrial Origami and Organic Architecture

Technology is the story of how humans have embedded mind into matter, and architecture is no exception. This art installation from a team of students at the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design brought together a pair of KUKA KR150–2 robots with projection mapping to create a kind of industrial origami. Ultimately, their goal was to create “an immersive interactive environment that gives a glimpse into the near future of artificial intelligence and its effects on human existence in an environment that bridges the physical and the digital.”

Contact: Any Surface Can Be a Musical Instrument

Electric guitars, pianos, digital orchestras, massive virtual bell towers – there’s no shortage of musical projects using Leap Motion technology. But in terms of cross-platform complexity, this next project has a lot happening under the surface.

Contact was an exhibition at the Royal Academy of London that let people touch an interactive surface and build cascading patterns of light and sound. Bridging together contact microphones, a projector, loop pedal, and a Leap Motion Controller, creator Felix Faire combined  Arduino boards, piezoelectric sensors, and music programs like Ableton Live and MAX/MSP to bring Contact to life. Processing was the rug that tied the whole installation together.

The world is yours to hack – what will you build? Register for the 3D Jam, check in on the approved hardware thread, and bring your hardware dreams to life.

Alex Colgan is the senior director of marketing and developer community at Leap Motion. By transforming how we interact with technology, he believes we can make our world feel more human.

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