SXSWi Recap

Austin, beautiful city with a river crossing downtown, music niche, young population, cycling, brisket and the home of SXSW, a big multicultural conference for all tastes; Film, Interactive and Music.

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This was my first time attending the conference but Noel (@noelportugal), is a year-to-year attendee. It’s well known that this conference is not only a trampoline for small companies and startups to show off all the world what they are cooking up, but also a big exposure for new services, products, trends, you name it; that’s why we are very interested in this kind of conference that are very aligned with our team’s spirit.

VR everywhere.

I mean it.

Since Google I/O 2014, I’ve been following the steps to VR and AR. At that time, they released Google Cardboard; inexpensive googles for visualizing VR content and Project Tango for AR. Yes, I know you can argue VR has been around for quite a long time, but I believe they exposed the right development tools and a cheap way to develop and consume that technology, so a lot of people got engaged. However, some others remained very skeptical about use cases.

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But now, after two year, guess what? VR is on everyone’s lips, and SXSW wasn’t an exception.

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I have to say, I’m very impressed at how many companies had adopted this technology so fast. Of course, we all saw this wave coming to us with announcements of products like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Noon VR, Microsoft HoloLens and so on. Of course, as emerging technology team, we were already prepared to be hit by the wave.

I still can’t get used to seeing people with a headset over their eyes and headphones on, 100% isolated from reality. I tried most of VR demos presented and my brain/body is still not prepared for many VR experiences; I had headache, and I felt weird after so many demos.

Also, I could see people with red marks all around their faces from wearing the headset all day. Even so, this helped me to analyze and sum up that pretty much all demos follow the same use case: advertising and promoting products.

It’s really interesting that retail and product companies are investing in this technology to get more buyers and explain in a better way how it feels to hold of their product. This can be applied, for example, to automobiles, houses, travel agencies, etc. Funny thing is this technology sometimes is combined with motion to have a complete experience.

Note: don’t ever try a selfie while wearing a VR headset, almost impossible 🙂

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I would like to bring up a story of one of the panelist talking about VR that I found very interesting; his best friend’s rock band was in town for a concert while he was experimenting with VR. He suggested that they record one of his favorites songs in a way it could be post-produced to be seen in VR.

The band accepted, and he set up all recording production in front of the stage, but he remained backstage monitoring all the production while they were playing his favorite song. All went fine and although he missed the opportunity to see and hear his favorite song live, he could watch the VR video several times for a couple of weeks.

Then, when they met again, his friend asked him about the concert, and he almost could said that he was virtually in the front row, enjoying the concert like all the others, singing and jumping.

Examples like this are very impressive. They make our brain believe facts that we actually didn’t live. In the end, that’s what we are doing to our brains, cheating them.

This could be good or bad, depending the point of view and circumstances. But just think about this, health and medicine; helping people with Alzheimer’s cloud recover lost thoughts and memories with VR. That’s huge.

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Another common use case is training people or showing how to perform procedures. Imagine medical students being trained in surgical techniques, or how to react under stressful circumstances. Or how to work in risky areas like mines, radioactive plants or even places as simple as a warehouse.

VR is also being used as a human expression, like painting in 3D.

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Also companies are taking advantage of VR to sell product on top of it or to complement it. Like this microphone to record 3D audio.

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Speaking of AR, I saw this awesome concept that combines virtual objects with physical objects. Interactions between them are very natural, it could be possible to turn a physical object into virtual object and interaction is free hands.Check out the video.

SXSW AR from Osvaldo Villagrana on Vimeo.

Also, we witnessed beta release of the Metal Glass device; a combination of VR and AR. They claims that next year, monitors won’t be more necessary as VR + AR will replace them. Check out the video.

SXSW – Metal Glass from Osvaldo Villagrana on Vimeo.

VR is the thing and we, as a team, are working to come up with cool use cases.

Internet of Things.

This is a hot topic too. We saw a lot startups and companies offering products and services for office and home automation, security, etc.

Noel and I attended a couple of IoT workshops from companies and startups that are making very affordable and simple all this hardware revolution.

We are very convinced that still are a lot of use case out there and we’re going to continue investigating.

Also, a big concern in IoT for big companies is data privacy as small companies are not putting too much attention on it. IoT generates Big Data, which at the same time, can be analyzed and reduced it to analytics, behaviors, forecast and needs. Just imagine, where all your data that are collected from your fridge connected to Internet is going to? And your thermostat data? And your lights data? Here is where regulations may help to protect your data and privacy.

Humanoids, robots, AI and machine learning.

This is a hot topic too, not as big as VR, but, believe me, it’s the next big thing. Apps in general have raised the bar, so the bar has been raised and one way to reach it is with AI.

Apps cannot be the same as ~4 years ago, people’s need have changed, and this has raised the bar for apps developers.

Users want to accomplish tasks quickly with almost zero effort and interaction at all. Our team has raised the bar too, so that’s why I decided to attend Machine Learning sessions. They were very basic and not too technical, but it was so great to see that we are looking in the right direction.

It was very interesting looking combination of all this concepts together and companies investing in research to make more affordable futuristics concepts.

Here’s Noel losing to a robot at rock-paper-scissors:

SXSW – Humanoids from Osvaldo Villagrana on Vimeo.

And here’s a video of Pepper, a humanoid robot.

SXSW – Humanoids from Osvaldo Villagrana on Vimeo.

Wearables.

We saw all kind of wearables. Health tracking, pillow sensor, eye therapy based on light to recover from jet lag or insomnia, pet wearables that read your pet’s feelings, ergonomic wearables, gloves used as a digital interface controller that can interact with laptops, iPads, etc.

Sony unveiled a wearable device currently referred to as N that has hands free user interface and allows users to receive audio without having to put a headset. It has virtual assistance that helps to answer questions. Also, a camera is positioned on one end of the device, so via voice we can ask to take a photo.

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Javascript.

At SXSW, there are a lot of things to do including talks, sessions, lounge demos, expo and workshops.

When I was doing my schedule I noticed that there were a lot of JS workshops so I decided to join them. Most of them were self-paced and very introductory but was good to see new programming paradigms like react and functional programming into JS.

Wrap up and time to say until next year.

As a plus, Pi Day was celebrated during SXSW, and for that, we saw a cool implementation using Raspberry-Pis as a distributed system for searching queries.

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Here’s a video.

And that’s it. I love this kind of conference where you can observe where technology and new concepts are going. And more importantly, it can help us to innovate and improve what we do in our team.

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