The internet of weird things at SXSW: smart porta potties, light books and a robot zen gardener

Sometimes the internet of things is just there to mess with you. At the official opening night party for the SXSW Interactive Festival on Friday, design firm Frog Design created a party space where objects embedded with computing and wireless networks made party-goers think, laugh, and maybe even feel a little uncomfortable.
Frog, which has hosted the kick-off party for many years, called the series of interactive displays “The Other Singularity,” andĀ Frog Principal Technologist Jared Ficklin said they were meant to show tech in “unexpected places.” Ficklin said Frog was expecting between 4,000 and 7,000 people to pass through the party and play with the displays.
Augmented Reality Porta Potty
Frog Design
After you enter the porta potty, a video display is projected onto the door and it can show whether you’re standing or sitting and how long you’ve been in the biffy. While the installation wasn’t working for part of the party, this is the one that I thought would make party-goers the most uncomfortable. No one wants to come out of a porta potty that’s displaying how you’ve been sitting on the toilet for 10 minutes.
Paintbrush LEDs
Frog Design
This 8-by-32-foot display was filled with different color individual LED lights. Viewers could use wand devices to wireless change the color of the individual LEDs, making the display kind of like a huge Lite Brite. Ficklin said someday when the LEDs and technology get cheaper and smaller, this type of display could be used for a wall in a home or office, and the occupant could change the colors of the wall using a remote.
Light books
Frog Design
The premise of this installation was: “someday light will be cheaper thank ink.” These machines projected light and images into books, and stylized it to look like light books. And I learned a new word, “skeoumorphic,” which means digital objects that have been stylized to look real.
The Gutenberg Bible-version
The Robotic Zen Gardener
Frog Design
Think of this one like the Roomba meets a Japanese zen gardener. The robot traverses the sand path and rakes it with its embedded metal rakes. Cool? Or pointless? We’ll let you meditate on that one.
The crowdsourced DJ
Frog Design
Frog Design worked with TouchTunes, a company that makes digital jukeboxes, to build an installation of dozens of screens that enabled party-goers to vote on and choose the music being played at the party. Frog and TouchTunes execs said they were interested to see if the early-adopter hipsters at SXSW would stick to Top 40 or being more creative and choosy with their tunes. For the short time I was there, Top 40 ruled the airwaves (and my multiple selections of Bob Seger’s Night Moves alas didn’t play).
Rattlesnake light bike
Frog Design
It’s not connected, but it was cool. A huge rattle snake moved by bicyclists and glowing with lights.