During the Interactive portion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, downtown Austin, Texas, becomes a hub of activity and excitement. Droves of entrepreneurs and investors gather to showcase innovation at the confluence of technology and creativity.
I've been here since the festival started on Friday, sitting in on panel discussions and scouring the trade show floor and venues across town to find out what new ideas the brilliant minds in tech are dreaming up next. While far from exhaustive, here's a look at three of the coolest products and concepts I've come across so far:
1. Leap Motion's 'hands-off' approach to using a computer.
Lured in part by the smoky smell of barbeque, I walked into a tent in a parking lot across East 1st Street from Iron Works BBQ. Inside, I found people of all ages furiously waving their hands in front of monitors, slicing lemons and watermelons. It turns out they were playing the popular game Fruit Ninja using Leap Motion's new motion-controlled device and software.
Forget using a mouse or a touchscreen. Leap Motion's sensor essentially enables you to control your computer with a simple wave of your hand or lift of a finger. Users can browse the web, read articles, flip through photos or play games. It seems particularly handy for designers, who can use it to draw, paint, sculpt, mold and build 3-D objects. Think of it like Nintendo's Wii, but specifically for computers and monitors.
Leap Motion says it is taking pre-orders for the device ($79.99), which is expected to start shipping in mid-May.
2. Google's talking shoe.
Yes. A shoe, that talks. Part of Google's Art, Copy, Code project which aims to "connect" ordinary objects to make them more interactive and social, the tech giant says these flashy kicks -- seriously, they flash -- can talk to and ideally motivate the wearer to be more active.
The sneakers use an accelerometer, gyroscope and pressure sensors to capture movement data of the user. That data, Google says, gets uploaded to an app on the user's smartphone that translates and broadcasts amusing phrases to encourage the person to walk, run or play sports. "That commentary then gets pushed to banners and social media, creating new, interesting content in the digital world from something happening live in the physical one," Google says on the Art, Copy, Code site.
While existing products like the Nike+ FuelBand can also track and measure a person's activity, none of them, to my knowledge, are as good at trash talking as Google's shoes. "Are you a statue? Let's do this already," the shoes tell a man in a promotional video. It doesn't get any better than that.
3. Defiance: A TV show and video game -- all in one.
This is something I haven't heard of before. A TV network (SyFy) and a video game developer (Trion Worlds) have spent the last five years collaborating on a new fantasy TV show called Defiance that's directly linked to a video game.
Essentially, the events and storylines in the game and show weave together to create one seamless narrative. So, something a player does in the game could wind up affecting characters in the show. Events that unfold in the show can dictate things that happen in the game. Pretty cool.
The game launches on April 2. The show, which will air on Mondays, premieres in the U.S. on April 15.
To promote the show and game at SXSW, SyFy took over a parking lot and installed a "container village" in an attempt to recreate aspects of the futuristic world of Defiance. Not only are visitors able play the game and mix with cast members, three of the containers were converted into fully functioning "hotel rooms" for invited guests. Not a bad idea for a city that's crunched for accommodations during the big SXSW event.