Using Google Earth with the Leap Motion Controller

My Leap Motion controller arrived a few days ago and I’ve been spending some time getting familiar with it.  The SpaceNavigator has long been my favorite controller for Google Earth, but the Leap Motion is pretty neat.

The first few minutes with it were awful, but once I learned a few tricks things improved quickly.  Here is a short video showing off some of those tricks:

My day-to-day use will still likely be handled with the SpaceNavigator, but control via the Leap has improved quickly as I got used to it. The two keys, as shown in the video above, are:

  1. Enter the “airspace” above the Leap with your hand in a fist so that the earth doesn’t start spinning wildly.
  2. It’s very sensitive, so make very short movements.

Do you have a Leap Motion yet?  What do you think of it?

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. On the basis of several YouTube demonstration videos, Leap Motion appears to offer no interface with Layers or the GE menu bar, or any way of clicking on icons in GE. So its utility seems limited.

    • Mickey Mellen says:

      Fair point, but neither does the SpaceNavigator. I guess the difference there is that with the SN you still have one hand on your mouse, whereas with the Leap you typically wouldn’t.

  2. LeapMotion has an incredible “wow” factor, however I found it a bit quirky. Smooth movement requires a lot of attention and a pretty steady hand. Doing something with another hand (e.g. operating mouse or keyboard) often affects position of the hand over LM and movements in GE. There are also implementation issues: quite a few times I have been moved quite abruptly to another location, sometimes close to the place I was exploring, sometimes quite far.
    SpaceNavigator has no such problems. Steady and smooth movements, predictable. LM is a really cool and impressive navigation device, but more difficult to use than SN.

    • Mickey Mellen says:

      Well said, Jacek. For now, SN still rules the day on Google Earth. For LM, the best consistent use I’ve found for it is Fruit Ninja — it’s quite fun! 🙂

  3. Hey Mickey,

    At End Point, we used it with our Liquid Galaxy (in addition to our space nav) – I had the same issues with you in regards to how sensitive it is to finger movements. I think it’s good for navigating across large areas in Earth. We uploaded a video of one of our End Point guys using it on the Liquid Galaxy if you’re interested in taking a look:

  4. I’ve found the best way to navigate is to imagine that your hand is a helicopter and visualize flying to where you need to be.

Leave a Reply