If you’ve ever participated in SXSW, you know what a phenomenally crazy experience it is. For those who haven’t, I’ll tell you a bit about the event before jumping into what all we learned this year. SXSW is an annual convergence of music, interactive media, and film festivals and conferences that take place over a 10-day period in Austin, TX. It has grown from 700 attendees at its launch in 1987 to over 420,000 today. The Interactive portion of the event alone drew over 30,000 participants and included topic areas such as Design, Intelligent Future, Style, Social Impact, Virtual Reality (VR) / Augmented Reality (AR), and more. It’s day after day of mind-blowing innovation, interactive experiences, and network-building.
SXSW 2018 did not disappoint. We at CUR8 were spellbound not just by the innovative, futuristic thinking presented during the conference but by the innovative products and solutions being introduced to market today. Turns out we’re not the only ones passionate about smarter, healthier design. Here are some highlights from our SXSW experience.
Smart is Sexy
As usual, there was plenty of sexy tech talks and products introduced at SXSW this year. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the subject of many panel discussions I attended. AI is changing the game in retail and in product design. With today’s data analytics, AI can not only predict trends (versus hashtags) but even tell us what’s missing and suggest product design opportunities. Stitch Fix, the subscription clothing company, has quickly grown to over $250M in revenue by using AI in this way. They collect voluminous amounts of data from their subscribers and leverage AI not just to match clothing items to each consumer but to identify product gaps. Stitch Fix then closes those gaps in collaboration with their brand partners. Retailers are also taking advantage of AI in big ways. Just look at Alibaba’s success. Black Friday in the U.S. generated $7.7B in sales last year while Single’s Day in Asia saw $25B in sales, most of which was transacted on Alibaba with the help of AI to match buyers with sellers at scale.
Smart, or Internet Connected, innovation was also everywhere this year. I participated on a panel with leaders from Meural (digital art canvas) and B8ta (retail pioneer of smart products) on the topic of next generation, smart interiors. As I’ve discussed in previous stories, smart tech is growing beyond devices like door locks and security cameras and into the very fabric of our homes in the form of interactive furniture, art and decor.
On my tour through Google’s Fun House, I was able to ask Alexa to make me a margarita (which she kindly did), feed my pets, play my favorite tunes, and water my yard. At Sony’s Wow Studio I interacted with a super realistic robotic pup, drew on a virtual graffiti wall, and played music from a table top with a projected piano keyboard. At the exhibit hall I interacted with a full size, digital retail sales associate who responded not only to my words but to my body language and in the conference center I interacted with an amazing wall-size art installation.
At the Accenture House (my former employer), I experienced Halographic lenses through which I explored a new airplane design inside and out in hyper realistic 3-dimensional form. I also learned about adaptive commerce, a blending of online and physical shopping experiences. For example, Whole Foods is developing an adaptive commerce solution for users of their mobile app that will, while you’re shopping in store, tell you what foods to avoid based on allergies or recommend a wine to go with the fish you just put in your cart. Pretty cool stuff.
Sustainability is King
In additional to high tech products, technology is also driving innovation in sustainability. Circular design, creating an infinite number of loops in a product’s lifecycle, was a key topic. Advancements in recycling and in newer manufacturing methods like 3D printing took center stage. In a topic entitled “The Future is Garbage”, Austin’s own Re:3D announced their new 3D printer that makes it easier to use recycled materials as input instead of our current reliance on virgin plastic.
Beyond recycling, thought leaders from around the world also engaged on topics related to material innovation and biofabrication. Did you know that astronauts can now turn their urine into bioplastic and 3D print their own machine parts and tools in space? Okay, so that may not be the best example of how most of us will benefit from biomaterials (but it’s pretty crazy). More applicable innovation includes: bioplastics grown from algae or made from shrimp shells that can be tossed in the ocean to biodegrade; mushroom-based mycelium that can be used to grow décor objects for the home; spider DNA used to fabricate spider silk for a new generation of textiles; agricultural bi-products like Orange Fiber fabric being used by luxury fashion labels; and tiny, biodegradable electronics for use in more sustainable smart wearables.
Austin is Still Weird
At SXSW, the mayhem is as much a part of the experience as the learning.
As a long-time Austinite, I enjoy watching others take in our weirdness. From flyers marketing relationship break-up services to this random Martian patrol, our town never ceases to deliver a memorable SXSW experience.