A little over a year ago, a new Californian company wowed the tech press with its first gadget, then titled The Leap.

The device promised to free us from the tedium of the mouse or trackpad, replacing them with pinpoint-accurate mid-air gestures.

Following a series of delays the controller is now available and it is tiny - around the size of a packet of chewing gum - hewn from a block of aluminium with a black glass top.

Under the glass are three infrared LED lights and two digital cameras that combine to detect hand movements in the air above the controller, covering a hemisphere of approximately three feet in radius.

Finger movements are tracked with incredible precision. The company claims a spatial precision of 0.01mm. While I was not able to measure that claim conclusively, it is fair to say the controller is far more precise than the person controlling it.

The technology is not perfect, though. Bring two fingers together and they are detected as one. Rotate a hand from horizontal (piano playing) to vertical (karate chopping) and the detection system fails completely, fingers obscuring each other from view of the upward-facing cameras.

The system only works with supported software, and right now the software library is fairly small. A number of existing games titles have already been ported to Leap Motion, joining a roster of bespoke apps created for the platform, some of which are free.

One standout title is Corel Painter Freestyle, currently free in its beta trial form. This title allows budding artists to paint in mid-air with a range of natural materials such as oils, chalk and ink. The airbrush mode is particularly impressive, reacting to distance from the canvas and angle of approach.

Using Leap Motion with a laptop computer is awkward. Even when the computer is securely planted on a desk, there is nowhere convenient to site the motion controller. Placed between the operator and the computer, the Leap gadget is far too close for comfortable operation or the keyboard and screen are too far away.

The perfect position for the controller would be where your hands naturally rest on the keyboard. Perhaps a future generation of the Leap Motion will come integrated into keyboards, removing the difficulties of placement.

Leap Motion is a clever piece of technology. Given the limited range of software support, and the ergonomic compromises the controller needs, it is difficult to recommend the Leap Motion for everyday use. That said, it is easy to imagine some subtle refinements that will make this system an invaluable tool in future for everything from 3D product design to medical research.

Perhaps one to watch, rather than one to buy.