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SXSW Interactive: The Front End of Innovation

If the annual Consumer Electronics Show represents “The Back End of Innovation,” then the Consumer Technology Association’s presence at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas is the “The Front End of Innovation.” CES is curated and choreographed; it’s where products are launched. SXSW Interactive is scattered and chaotic; it’s where R&D folks talk about their processes for creating the products that might debut at some future CES.


Unlike CES, which is largely contained within the massive Las Vegas Convention Center, innovative companies exhibiting at SXSW are mostly decentralized. The action is spread around at themed sites, or “happenings,” like Analog, a celebration of pre-digital technology sponsored by fellow Clevelanders American Greetings. We spent a lot of time at Japan House, which hosted tech companies and researchers pursuing a wide range of projects related to the theme, “Extension of Humanity.”

Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Department of Systems Innovation, presented Geminoid HI-4, his astonishingly lifelike android doppleganger. Geminoid HI-4 and Ishiguro’s other robots can converse with people, albeit a little stiltedly. Ishiguro touts the android as a surrogate of sorts, able to go off and conduct business for its owner (which reminded us of a 1992 sci-fi novel, The Modular Man). It can’t walk, but as Ishiguro joked, it will fly economy class without a complaint.

Japan House also featured Hugvie, a vaguely humanoid pillow that allows you to hug and talk on your cell phone at the same time; QD Laser Glasses, which project images directly onto the retina; interactive augmented reality technology from Fujitsu; research into cures for human disease based on tarantula venom (a great example of biomimicry; and Yunchi, a low-cost VR headset like Google Cardboard.

On the last day of SXSW, the Consumer Technology Assocation hosted an “Innovation Policy Day” at one of the 6th Street venues in Austin. The day included a series of panel discussions on how government policy can either promote or hinder innovation. The CTA is in place to promote the quality of technology and establish standards for technology to both protect the user and the technology company. The CTA also host the CES Show in Las Vegas this company January 2017. One of the panel highlights was on the trend of “The Sharing Economy and the 21st Century Workplace.” Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb are true disruptive companies but the reason they are successful is that they all utilize resources that are sitting dormant. They empower customers to be the service provider in their “free time.” The CTA believes that disruption companies like these need to be protected. Disruptive innovation is essential in helping all of us move forward into the 21st Century.

You may hear some feedback on SXSW that the show was difficult to navigate and that there was “way too much going on.” But if you think about it, that is the essence of the brainstorming process. You need to have the mindset that there are no bad ideas. As a team, be open to the dynamic and sometimes chaotic and messy process of having too many ideas. Sometimes a “wild” idea can be a sensible idea in disguise. That is why the right team needs to be present in order to then bring the discoveries into focus.

We look forward to seeing how the companies presented at SXSW may or may not exhibit at CES 2017, where innovation is realized and exhibited on the global stage in Las Vegas.


Topics: News, VR headset, CES, American Greetings, Innovation, R&D, South by Southwest, SXSW Interactive

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