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March 19th, 2015

SXSW – Drone Umbrellas, Flying Cars, AI, Robots and Mobile Everywhere

Festival, party, conference, job fair or start-up bonanza? I don’t think anyone can agree what SXSW Interactive is so I won’t even go there. This year’s event was attended by about 5,000 hipsters, 5,000 start-up geeks, 5,000 “trendspotting” brand managers, 10,000 agency creatives and business developers selling to the brands, 5,000 big corporate “recruiters” and 2,000 investors. For the real demographics from 2014 see this demographics breakdown.

Here are my key take-outs on trends, insights and announcements to watch from SXSW 2015.

1. Internet of Things (IoT)
There were over 70 sessions this year mentioning IoT. Every presenter started their session with “I hate the term IoT, but the industry seems to have adopted it, so let’s talk about what it really is….”. Session titles include “Making the Internet of Things A Reality”, “Designing the UI for the Internet of Things” and “Exploring the Future of Connected Objects”. Just like with MWC there were lots of gadgets presented but mostly it was about best practice and discussions around designing hardware, user interfaces and managing security. Silicon Labs ran some of the most exciting sessions including 3D printing, drones and biohacking branded as SX Create. One useful thing was the Bluetooth beacons that were used around SXSW to activate the app with relevant information based on location.

The winner in the IoT category was Plum who makes a software-enabled light switch—call it a smartswitch, if you will—that works like a touch screen on a smartphone. Swipe up with a single finger to turn a light on, use two fingers to control all lights in the room, and pinch to turn off all the lights in the house

2. Wearables
There were less wearables than 2014 at the conference. Perhaps because everyone is waiting for the Apple Watch? In a panel titled “Beyond Wearables: Future Fabrics and Fashion Design”, wearable experts including Wearable Experiments, discussed smart fabrics and e-textiles.

The winner in the wearable category was Tinitell from Stockholm, Sweden, who offers a “wristphone for kids.” Made to be small enough to fit on a child as young as toddler age, and to accept voice commands as small as “Mom” or “come here,” the device was designed with today’s parenting methods in mind whatever that means.

The opposite to this was a “Smartwatch for elder people” by UnaliWear Inc. who presented its UnaliWear Kanega smartwatch designed specifically for independent seniors.

3. Mobile Health Revolution
With at least 30 sessions on healthcare there was a lot of interesting discussion and technology around mHealth. Subjects included “Finding a Cure for Cancer: What Needs to Change” and “Patient Power: A Data and Mobile Health Revolution”. As everything is now defined as IoT and mobile, here are the winners and runner-ups relevant in the mHealth category:

  • Admetsys who has developed a first-of-its-kind artificial pancreas for hospital and surgical care, leveraging adaptive learning algorithms and counterbalancing treatment of insulin and glucose.
  • Procyrion is a Houston medtech startup that develops a circulatory support pump that is thinner than a pencil and can be implanted in the aorta, the major artery coming from the heart, through a catheter.
  • Nanopore Diagnostics has built a test for bacterial infections, helping physicians and hospitals determine which antibiotics to use on patients.

4. Live Streaming Apps
As you’ve probably read elsewhere there is currently a Meerkat craze in the US because of Twitter temporarily blocking the live streaming video app Meerkat originally launched 21st February this year. This happened during SXSW where the tech journalists were hanging out. Otherwise it probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal considering that live streaming apps have existed since 2007 including Swedish Bambuser and these have never taken off as the interest in a personal broadcast is usually fairly limited.

5. Cars
Car manufacturers attended SXSW as well. Among the start-ups the only one that stuck out was Cargo who have built a device that connects to the computer system of, in theory, any and all cars. The software can do anything from locate a car that is missing to unlock it using a smartphone. The question is how that connection will actually happen considering that the car manufacturers are very protective about access to their system other than controlling music through CarPlay and Android Auto.

6. Flying Cars, Drone Umbrellas, Robot Zoo and More Craziness
Yes, I promised you flying cars, robots and drone umbrellas.

Our competitor Frog presented bluesky ideas about how drones can be used in the future including drone umbrellas, flying air filters and a guide when you’re lost. Read more here.

Slovakian company Aeromobil presented its mission to create a flying car which will be on the streets by 2017.

And finally there was a robot zoo where you could pet machines. Although it probably sounds a bit more exciting than it was, you can find more information on this here.

Whatever SXSW really is, one thing is for sure. People had fun!

Tags: insights internet of things IoT trends wearables

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