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South by Southwest 2016 – A few highlights

This year’s South by Southwest festival promised bigger crowds, bigger performances, huge headlining speakers - like First Lady Michelle Obama and lastly, an introduction to the next wave of dazzling technology.

As droves of people descended upon the 29th annual SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, they were expecting to see the next big thing in cinema, music and technology. Everyone wanted to be a part of a festival that could quite possibly introduce the next *Twitter or Foursquare and they knew there was a great chance they were going to be a part of something historical. 

Well, SXSW 2016 is in the books, here are a few highlights from SXSW Interactive

Doppler Labs’ Here Active Listening System

The piece of technology crowned victor at this year’s SXSW 2016 Interactive Innovation Award - an award based on four criteria: creativity, form, function, and overall experience went to Doppler Labs’ Here Active Listening System – wireless earbuds linked to an app that lets you customize your real-time listening experience. One cool bonus: It will come with a 5-band equalizer that will let you alter incoming sounds with say an echo or that old school LP cracking sound people love. 

Asking price is $199, sign me up!


Not Impossible Labs – Technology for the Sake of Humanity 

“Everything that we stand for is this concept of technology for the sake of humanity”, so said Mick Eberling, founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, about what inspires him. He deliberately breaks or modifies existing technology to turn it into something that will help people with a ‘fundamental human need’.  

At this year’s SXSW, Not Impossible Labs introduced a digital solution designed to assist those unable to speak. The interactive software essentially mimics Augmentative/Alternative communication through letter boards, then synthesizes the letter board message into an electronic voice. For Don Moir, an ALS patient unable to speak for 15 years, he was able to independently express how much he loved his wife and how much he looked forward to spending the rest of their lives together after living in a silence for over a decade. 

Architected by Eberling and computer software designer Javed Gangjee, they were able to design a technology that can take a person completely unfamiliar with computer technology and transform them into to a person capable of typing two-and-a-half words per minute or more. The program gave Don Moir his voice back and even more remarkable, he gained independence back as well.  

As in years past, this year’s SXSW did not go without its dissenters and naysayers that shouted about technology becoming too overwhelming and too large. While there are moments I absolutely agree with that sentiment, it’s when technology does something like this that I feel a tiny light has been lit inside the darkness of Silicon Valley and for that I applaud our progress. 

Watch Not Impossible Labs film here about their relationship with Don Moir:  

Virtual Reality is here; it’s everywhere!

As SXSW wrapped, the deafening buzz was around 2016 being the year of virtual reality. (Let’s get our Tron on people!) McDonalds offered a SXSW VR experience that included a walk through a Happy Meal with an environmental space of 15 ft X 15 ft in scale. You could decorate the place with colorful balloons, paint brushes and whatever doodle you thought would be cool and then walk away with a printed copy of your masterpiece!

What’s great about this type of technology is that as it emerges and companies like McDonalds, Gatorade or Gillette convert them into incredible interactive marketing, it also allows for the technology to become mainstream, making it easier to get access to. The technology companies on the forefront of the VR movement are Oculus, HTC, Sony and Google and are currently building entire teams and infrastructure around the VR product offering, successively shrinking the price point without losing the quality. 

And I’d be remise not to mention that this type of technology is already being used for good. A children’s hospital in Atlanta is looking at VR as a means to immerse their patients into a completely different environment while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The result: Children are less medicated. Because sedatives aren’t as necessary for the patient, the physiology and psychology associated with it has been measured with overwhelming positivity. Doctors are hopeful they can incorporate this technology in other aspects of medicine like surgery. How cool is that?



*Well, o.k., not introduce, but help make popular. Twitter actually had launched nine months prior and became hugely popular after the show. 



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