Growing up in southern Florida, David Holz was a tinkerer. “I had a large pile of all sorts of electronics,” he says. “I was trying to figure out how things worked.” In high school, he built a system that uses several microphones to pinpoint where a noise originates; the U.S. military now uses similar tools to locate snipers. Holz’s project took him to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, but he didn’t win a prize. “I lost to somebody who cured a disease,” he says.
Holz, now 23, has moved on from sound-mapping. His new startup, Leap Motion, is dedicated to changing the way people interact with computers. Holz and his co-founder, Michael Buckwald, have built a device about the size of a cigarette lighter that contains three tiny cameras inside. It attaches to a computer and turns any PC or Mac into a gesture-recognition device. The idea is similar to the one behind Microsoft’s (MSFT) Kinect, an Xbox add-on that lets people play games just by moving their hands and body. At $70, the Leap Motion is about half the price of a Kinect. It’s also far more accurate, says Holz. The software that analyzes the images from the three cameras can track all 10 of a user’s fingers and detect movements of less than one-hundredth of a millimeter. “It’s so precise that it tracks down to the tendon,” says Andy Miller, a former Apple (AAPL) executive and now a partner at Highland Capital Partners, which has contributed to Leap Motion’s $14.5 million in funding.