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In new apps, hand gestures control the action

By Natasha Baker

TORONTO (Reuters) - Like waving a wand, new apps are bringing a bit of magic to computers, enabling users to zoom, pan and control the action with hand gestures.

A new app store called Airspace, launched by San Francisco-based company Leap Motion last week, has 75 apps that are all controlled with the wave of the hand.

"Right now in front of your computer, there's dead space. You're only using your desktop, where your keyboard and mouse rest, and the surface of your monitor," said Michael Zagorsek, vice president of product marketing for Leap Motion.

"We take all that otherwise useless space in between and make it come alive," he added.

All of the gesture apps from Airspace use a small device called the Leap Motion Controller, which costs $79.99. It has sensors that can detect motions and translate them for the apps.

Painter Freestyle, a free app for Windows created by the Canadian software company Corel, mimics how artists work. Lightly moving a finger, or paintbrush, toward the computer produces a light brush stroke, while pushing in harder makes a darker, bolder one.

Google Earth's free apps for Mac and Windows let users pan around the Earth with hand motions and zoom in to explore different regions.

With Unlock, a Windows app, users can password-protect their computers and unlock them simply by waving their hands over the controller. The app, which costs $4.99, works by detecting the unique characteristics of an individual's hand.

The popular game, Cut the Rope, has also released a free app for the controller. But instead of swiping on a touch screen, users swipe through the air to control motion. Gamers playing Sugar Rush can steer midair using their fists.

Thalmic Labs, a Canada-based startup, has developed a wearable device called MYO that uses gestures to control apps for gaming, 3D modeling and remote control of other devices. The company plans to ship MYO, which costs $149, to customers who pre-ordered later this year.

Microsoft's Kinect device, available worldwide, also uses gestures to control games, fitness and entertainment.

Although hand gestures are gaining in popularity, Zagorsek does not think the keyboard or mouse will disappear anytime soon.

"There's nothing wrong with the mouse and keyboard today. They have literally millions of pieces of software making those tools effective," he said.

But he envisions a bigger role for the technology for three-dimensional tasks.

"In the real world, you can mold something like a piece of clay in minutes, but to do it on a computer requires hours of training and hours of work," he explained.

"The idea of being able to reach into your computer and manipulate a digital environment is really powerful," he added.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Peter Cooney)

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