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SXSW: FitBit Tech In Your Shoes; Streaming Video From Phones; Silkworm Sculptors: The Future Is Now
by Anne Bothwell 16 Mar 2015

New tech start-ups piled into Austin this weekend, all of them hoping to grab a foothold in the crowded digital marketplace. Alan Melson, KERA’s Vice President of Digital Media, has been blogging from the South by Southwest Interactive Conference.  We chatted about the trends that were really grabbing attention.

You’ve had a busy weekend with hundreds of panels and demonstrations. Is there anything  rising up that everybody is talking about?

AMWell, Anne, besides the usual marketing blitz, complaints about Austin traffic and the ongoing quest for the perfect breakfast taco, a term that keeps coming up again and again is the “Internet of Things” – the idea that more and more objects, like your watch or your thermostat, can connect to the Internet to either send or receive data that will make your life easier. Conference director Hugh Forrest estimated that over 70 sessions this year somehow referenced this concept.
sol cuff

Sol Cuff charges devices using solar power.

The Internet of Things was a hot topic last year too. Are there some new examples of these technologies?

AMThere were a lot of discussions about wearables. In addition to smart watches from companies like Apple and Pebble, many other players are now moving into this area. Ringly makes stylish rings that can vibrate or flash different colors to let the wearer know about emails, calls or other notifications from their phone. And this actually looks like a real piece of jewelry. Many people are familiar with the FitBit, a bracelet that measures your vital statistics and exercise, but now manufacturers are incorporating that technology right into their shoes and other athletic apparel. One startup at this year’s conference, SolCuff, offers a solar-powered wristband that you can plug your phone or tablet into for a charge. Other devices focus on security and safety. A startup called August is making a smart lock that allows you to control access to your home via virtual keys you can create or delete via their app. And there’s a really cool project in England that aims to make streets safer for people with physical or sensory disabilities by creating responsive street furniture. Overall, the trend seems to be moving away from gimmick-y gadgets and towards devices that solve real problems with less effort.
meerkat

Meerkat app took off like Twitter, but Twitter blocks it.

Let’s talk about video. Everyone can shoot a video and upload it to YouTube. But it’s more challenging to broadcast your videos live on the internet. That may be changing though, right?

AMOne of the breakout stories of this year’s conference is an app called Meerkat, which allows any user to create a live video stream from their phone and instantly post it on Twitter. The company has billed it as the easiest way yet for people to broadcast their own live event to a worldwide audience and there’s been a lot of buzz and people trying it out.

That’s interesting because Twitter itself really took off after South by Southwest several years ago. Is Meerkat going to take off like that?

AMWell, one of the ironic things is that right after the conference started,  Twitter announced it was buying a rival product and began restricting Meerkat’s ability to integrate with their platform, so it remains to be seen whether the product can maintain its overnight success.

You’ve been blogging all weekend for Art&Seek, and one of the really fascinating posts you wrote was about artists being influenced by biology and technology.

AMYeah, Paola Antonelli of New York’s Museum of Modern Art talked about how her museum collaborated with a local architect to construct a building out of bricks made from mushrooms and corn stalks, which proved to be surprisingly durable. She talked about 3D printing being used to create art, jewelry and even medical devices. And she also cited an MIT project in which designers created a beautiful sculpture using a robot and over 6,000 silkworms. We’ve posted a pretty amazing video of that process. 

Other posts from Alan Melson at SXSW

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