While covering panels and sessions at South by Southwest was fun, there was another section of the Conference that drew my attention.
The Trade Show, hosted every year in the bottom floor of the Austin Convention Center, sprawls out in every direction. While categorized somewhat by country of origin and type of technology represented, most attendees simply amble through, stopping here and there, cruising down various aisles. Marketing tactics to draw people in are in full effect: from people in costumes, to a chance to experience virtual reality and of course, free food. Oh, and the technology was pretty cool too.
Here are some of the notable things we saw:
The first booth that drew my eye had Star Wars on it, and I’m not even embarrassed to admit it. Zebra Imaging makes holographic prints using a lasers. That’s it, that’s the pitch. Lasers and holograms, easy sell right? Well the process is a little more complicated than that, and involves
etched refraction patterns onto film which creates a light dispersion that gives the image depth of field. But to keep it simple, we’ll just say lasers. The company was founded in 1996 by MIT students, and their work is stunning. There’s something about having a TIE Fighter jump out at you that beats a regular poster.
Scope out situations
Apps were also in plentiful supply one such app, Scoper, is an on-demand streaming service. Users can request live feeds from each other, so you want to check out the lines
at the venue somewhere you’ll be later that night. You could theoretically request a user there and get them to show you a live feed. The app is based on a credit system, where payments can be given or made to request certain peoples feeds. It’s an interesting idea, allowing people to have eyes all over the world.
Something a little different, the Eskin by Xenoma, was a sleek body suit with imbedded sensors. The function of this suit, other than looking like a high-tech diving suit, is to replace the ridiculous looking bubble-based motion-capture outfits. This hassle-free suit requires no camera tracking and could make capturing movements for dancers and other artists much easier. While mostly targeted at visual effects and animation studios, it’s
fun to think about average users getting this and turning themselves into everything from a purple dinosaurs to their cartoon characters on the computer.
See how your pooch feels
Ever wonder how your faithful canine companion is feeling? Do you also enjoy flashing lights? Then the Inupathy may be for you. This flexible silicon device that a dog would wear like any harness or leash has imbedded heart rate monitors, and the lights flash and change colors according to the dog’s current state. The designer used his own (adorable) corgi as his test subject. He showed us an early prototype where his
corgi was upset after an earthquake. He attempted to reassure his pet by talking softly to it, but the LEDs still flashed an alarmed orangey-red. After reaching out to pet the dog, the dog grew more relaxed and the LEDs turned to a soothing green, then blue. Though I was initially lured in by the cute corgi, (can you blame me?), this technology can have extremely practical applications when it comes to working with search dogs. These animals grow more excited when on the right path, and could help handlers more easily track them in dark conditions.
Modular homes are cute, albeit not in a corgi kind of way, but still equally interesting, The Brazilian company HomeTeca showcased modular homes that were sustainably designed. Touted as the future of
home design, customers could choose from variety of room designs online and have them shipped and built in under 10 days. The average 81-square-foot home costs around $45,000, and even more for high-end features and other expansions. It imagines a future where homes are ordered online with as much ease as a pair of shoes.
Continuing along the international vein, Canada was
represented on the floor by none other than a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. The booth, however, had far more than than a stellar example of Canadian law-enforcement. The trade commissioner for Canada encouraged business and trade with our northern neighbor. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my desire to move to Canada, and the commissioner joked he’d been hearing that a lot recently and that Trump might be great for the Canadian economy.
NASA, of course
NASA was out in full force. Their booth was one of the largest ones, and boasted several interactive elements from cutouts of astronauts, to build-able models, to spacesuits that made the perfect photo op. They also had several VR units, a trending theme this year, and participants
could go through a simulated space station, or learn more about the science behind rocket launches. The presence of NASA at the show and their expansion into the field of VR brings much needed attention, and hopefully funding, to the space program.
Imagine being hungry, but your fridge is empty and so is your wallet. Luckily for you, you have your own food printer! No longer will you be faced with the burden of shelling out five dollars for a store bought pizza, or having
to tip the delivery guy. Now with this piece of technology, you can print your own pizza in no time at all. Systems and Materials Research Corporation, the company behind the food printer, was funded by NASA to produce the printer as a possible viable solution for astronauts during deep space travel. While I’ll personally hold off on the appetizing printable for now, it shows one possible future of food production.
Don’t sweat it — it’s just VR
Notable youtube celebrity Philly D was spotted on the floor testing out the Pressure Chamber, a VR experience from the Discovery Channel that uses virtual reality to put the viewer into heart-racing situations. From canyon
jumping to rollercoaster rides, the booth monitored your heart rate and reactions to see which experience really got the blood pumping. The sponsor of the booth, Gillette, subtly boasted that if you start to sweat, they’ve got you covered.
Tattoos make a great marketing tactic
While not actually a part of the Trade Show, Suicide Squad’s marketing team was taking full advantage of the event. With signs posted everywhere, visitors were encouraged to visit the Harley Quinn tattoo parlor to get
their favorite bad guy inked on them. The artists were all in full bad-girl regalia, and though I kept my ink temporary, I walked away pumped for the new movie and rocking my new Joker tattoo.
All in all, did I attend SXSW sole for the loot? Of course not — like any intrepid member of the press, I went in with the noble aim of trying to discover new technologies and issues facing the tech world. But, I will admit, the free stuff was a pretty nice perk.