SXSW (South-by-Southwest) is Austin’s annual festival of panels, expos and keynote presentations oriented around Music, Film and Interactive technology. This year promises some very exciting debuts and startups, which will have a profound impact on how society is shaped and the new directions that technology is currently pushing us towards. Here are some highlights of the final day of the Interactive festival.
Today’s first panel was DIY Everything with In-Car Augmented Reality, presented by Steve Schwinke of General Motors, Trak Lord of metaio Inc, and Jay Donovan of TechCrunch. Augmented Reality refers to digital virtual information added into the real world in front of the users view. The first instance of AR tech is OnStar, which provides the availability of customer assistance along with medical. With OnStar, first responders are able to give medical advice, remedial situations remotely, and have even helped coach baby deliveries in backseats. If able to access camera in car through AR, could help with assessments.
Beyond OnStar, the future of AR in cars is very promising. The goal is to reshape technology to work for drivers while they’re driving. “There will be an increase in connectivity without sacrificing safety, security, or comfort,” Schwinke said, adding that “the most important screen in the car is the windshield.” According to the panelists, we’ll see an increase in interactive manuals, a new developer network for direct-to-car apps, and in-car eye tracking that can be used to detect people falling asleep at the wheel and provide a wake up. Google Glass is currently being test for use alongside AR in cars as well.
Playable Cities Versus Smart Cities was a creative panel presented by Ben Barker of PAN Studio and Claire Reddington of Watershed. The panel discussed the rise of smart cities, which use networks and sensors to join up services and collect data from citizens. As cities expand upon this model, are we in danger of rendering our cities isolated and less humanistic places? ”We cannot just drive ourselves to efficiency and coldness,” said Reddington. “We must make the city out own…. if you give people permission to play in their city then you’ll give them a better sense of connectedness.” In order to provide this connectedness Playable Cities looks for themes in technology that creatives and artists would makes better.
An example of city play combined with tech was in 2.8 Hours Later, an international city game inspired by the 28 Days Later franchise. It’s conducted by a downloadable app that delivers content, objectives and mapping for players to follow. For collective games such as this, Reddington emphasized that the city is the best set you could have for camaraderie between strangers connected through similar interests.
Making a city more playable can also include making it more aware of social issues. In Stockholm, a famous example of playability mixed with functionality comes in the form of Piano Stairs. People who took this particular flight of stairs would play notes with each step they took, which promoted exercise and increase stair usage rather than taking the adjacent escalator. An outfit in Helsinki called HeHe made a smokestack ‘green’ in order to highlight pollution concerns among the public.
Playable Cities’ latest venture is Hello Lamppost, an experimental city-wide platform which invites people to interact with objects and leave messages for other users through SMS texting. Lampposts, mailboxes and other misc objects can be given an identifying code that provides a natural space to have a conversation and share memories with the public at large “The city gives us geocaching of memories,” Barker said, “and cities should be art forms fitted to human condition.” While cities become more tech savvy, so too should they retain a humanistic soul.
The next panel I went to was From Rosie to Siri: Shifting Perspectives in Robotics, presented by David Reeves of 22squared. Reeves began by describing his fascination with robotics as he grew up watching late night SciFi shows and movies. He noted that our view of the future was limited by modeling robots after humans. “When we project anthropomorphic qualities on robots,” he said, “not only do we project the best of us, but also our worst tendencies.”
A common misperception about robots is that a robot has to have all of the answers to be useful or efficient. Reeves emphasizes that this isn’t the case, that real value was better than super-intelligence. Going into the future, we must understand that robots aren’t meant to be based in our image but should go beyond our limitations. The exponential growth of technology within the last several years is indicative of our society casting off the views held decades prior about what the future looks like. One of the biggest takeaways from the panel is that we’ve all been turned into roboticists overnight. “If you use a mobile phone, you are a roboticist,” Reeves said, adding “accept that you’re a roboticist and the ethical responsibilities of being one.”
Overall SXSW Interactive was a global meeting of minds based around technology and data trends. The big takeaway from the convention was the incoming wave of wearable technology and how we will be able to better interact with our environment because of it. Cloud technology, too, was also a prevalent theme, making it easier to use big data in order for us to collectively access even greater depths of information and interaction. 2014 is proving to be the year of technological singularity.