Fear, food and the internet of things at SXSW

Unfortunate timing means I’ll miss a huge chunk of this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival happening in my hometown of Austin, Texas this year. I’m both saddened a bit relieved since it is my 14th year attending the festival, and it will be a nice to have a break. And yet … there are always so many chances to see something new and fun and mind-expanding.

This year looks like it will be no exception. As always, I’ve scanned through the list of panels, sessions and random parties hitting my inbox to get a sense of the annual themes. What also emerges is a pretty good picture of how the event and my city has changed since 2001 when I moved back (I think I started attending SXSW again in 2002 if you’re counting).

Most people are aware that the event has shifted from a grubby collection of do-gooder nerds worried about web culture to a glossy, corporate crowd that still celebrates web culture and digs into technology and science in meaningful ways, although the marketing gimmicks and sports coats abound. Some of the sports coats are very fancy, European sports coats with deconstructed stitching that wouldn’t be out of place in the film or music festival.

But whether you’re sporting a hoodie or a Rag and Bone blazer, this year’s festival seems to have taken a somewhat darker turn in the post-Snowden-era. Despite Edward Snowden actually teleporting in (okay he did it via teleconference) for a session last year, many of this year’s panels feature government speakers, concerns about data privacy, surveillance or the implications of our love affair with data in all things. Some examples include:

Even if you aren’t worried about government surveillance, there’s an acute sense of monitoring, and how connectivity changes thing, not necessarily for social good, but perhaps merely for commence. In fact, commerce is a big theme, and maybe even one that should be examined a bit more deeply than it currently is in some of these panels:

And after showing up en masse in 2011, the marriage of technology and food has been a continuing these at SXSW ever since, and I for one welcome the idea that technology and sensors can help monitor consumption and improving growing conditions and perhaps somehow help make food more trackable online. Evidently there are many others who feel the same way because it’s still a common theme at SXSW as these panels show. I’d love to catch Nathan Myrvold speaking on Sunday about modernist cuisine on the Breaking a Few Rules panel.

And where would a post from me be without the internet of things? The connected world and sensors runs through many of the panels mentioned above but also gets plenty of its own dedicated events, especially on Saturday, and many of them are located at the J.W Marriott hotel.

Of course, there are many other themes you can tease out of the hundreds of events associated with SXSW. My advice to anyone attending is always to go with a loose plan in mind and to roll with the day as it unfolds. I will say that for the first time ever for a select amount (less than 5 percent) of general events programming, SXSW is offering pre-registration for some panels and talks.

Some SXSW events held in the new JW Marriott hotel that opened at the end of February will have a pre-registration for attendees. So for many of the IoT events, for example, you’ll have the chance to sign up to attend in advance. This will give you a guaranteed spot, but it also means that you need to pre-plan if you really want to hit up an event.

Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive Festival, said that last year the festival offered the chance to let people sign up for workshops in advance at the far-away AT&T conference center venue, and this year wanted to try it at the new, JW Marriott venue which has some smaller rooms. He wrote via email:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]People liked the ability to sign up for slots in advance. This was particularly so for the workshops at the AT&T (since the AT&T is about a 10 minute bus ride from downtown Austin and people didn’t want to make that kind of time commitment without knowing they were assured a spot in the given workshop room). … For 2015, we have isolated this program to workshops at the JW Marriott, as well as some of the smaller rooms at the JW Marriott. Since the JW Marriott is a new venue, we wanted to try to control some of the more complicated variables at this space. Smaller rooms definitely mean more complicated venues.

If the pre-registration works out, Forrest and his team may expand it next year. For SXSW 2015, though, you may want to check the schedule and see if any of your panels require (or offer) advanced registration. You’ll still need to arrive early to get a coveted seat near an outlet. After all, Forrest expects that the event will see somewhere in the neighborhood of 33,000 total attendees — a bit of growth from 2014, but not a whole lot.

And that’s the other aspect of SXSW that mirrors Austin as a whole. The city has grown like crazy in the last 15 years or so. In fact recent census data shows the city grew the most of any large U.S. city between 2010 and 2013. You can feel it in the growth of the festival, in the caliber of the hotels going up to serve the visitors to SXSW and the three-year-old Formula 1 track and in the quality of the restaurants and bars that now host the SXSW parties.

I remember attending SXSW events in dive bars with random bands and now I’m being invited to interactive parties being hosted by big-name corporate brands with TI performing. It’s certainly a much bigger scene on all fronts. And yet, underneath the glitter and glitz, the love of tech is still there. So if you’re heading down to Austin, don’t be afraid to push pass the branding to uncover the real reason SXSW is still going strong — the tech.

Come see August, Electric Imp and more at our SXSW Hardware House

No matter what you think about South by Southwest Interactive, tens of thousands of people still head to Austin, Texas in the Spring to partake of tacos, barbecue and some decidedly weird tech culture when the second and third weeks in March collide. So this year Gigaom and Stage Two have teamed up to throw a celebratory happy hour to honor those who love and build gadgets and connected devices.


On Friday March 13th we’ll have an evening event — The SXSW Hardware House — featuring interviews with Jason Johnson, CEO of August Locks; Hugo Fiennes, CEO of Electric Imp; Sam deBrouwer, Co-founder of Scanadu; and Nick Yulman community manager for hardware and design at Kickstarter, all prepared to share their insights and tips about getting your products off the ground and into consumers hands. They’ll have stories to share about manufacturing, crowdfunding, government regulations and finding the right retail partners.

Between each of these interviews we’ll also have demonstrations from some of the most exciting products out on the market, and some that haven’t even launched yet from companies like Leeo, OMsignal, MetaWear and more. We’re still looking for some demos, so if you are interested fill out this form by the end of this week and we’ll evaluate the applications and let you know if we have room for your demo.

The event kicks off at 6 pm at the WeWork space at Sixth and Congress Ave. at the heart of the SXSW action. We’ll have some space set aside for tables and demos on the first floor for smaller startups and then an elevator ride up we’ll have the main event with tacos, beer, the presentations themselves and even live music for the full South by experience. If you’re into hardware and the internet of things, I hope to see you there.

Here’s a cancer-detecting bra that’s better than a mammogram

Early detection is vital to helping halt the spread of breast cancer and permit a full recovery. That’s why many women endure the discomfort of having their breasts smooshed once a year or every few years as part of a routine mammogram. But what if instead of making an appointment at an imaging center and having a machine flatten your breasts, all you had to do was put on a bra?

The prototype iTbra

The prototype iTbra

Cyrcadia Health, a startup, has pioneered a system that includes a series of temperature sensors embedded in a bra, along with an algorithm and an app that purports to detect breast cancer earlier than a mammogram and better than a mammogram when it comes to dense breast tissue. Rob Royea, CEO of Cyrcadia Health, says that by 2016 he aims to have FDA approval for the iTbra in the U.S. so doctors can offer it to patients in place of a mammogram. Eventually, consumers would be able to buy the product over the counter and use it in place of monthly self-exams.

The product looks like a sports bra and will eventually hold a grid-like mesh of sensors, manufactured by Flextronics, inside the fabric. The sensors would track temperature changes to monitor increased blood flow that correlates with the growth in cancerous tumors. Early trials at Ohio State University have shown that temperature-sensing tech does detect cancerous tissue. Further trials are ongoing, as well as the continuing FDA approval process for the new digital product (the original FDA approval process was for an analog version that contained a wearable data pack).

As with any connected device, the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. The wireless connectivity linking the bra to the doctor’s or the patient’s phone makes it far more comfortable to wear than the older analog data pack. The cheaper and smaller sensors make it possible to get a large enough cluster of them inside a bra in the first place. Pulling data off the sensors and analyzing it against other patients and what we know about cancer formation, then tying that back to individual patients immediately, lets detection happen quickly.

Broken down like this, it’s easy to see how the internet of things isn’t some amorphous concept but a series of technological advances that are now being applied together in new ways. For example, The iTbra is getting a boost via a documentary film backed by Cisco, which will be shown at SXSW Film in Austin, Texas next month. [company]Cisco[/company] is getting involved because it hopes to build a big business helping old-line companies understand how to bring technology into their day-to-day operations. Really, what the internet of things will do is let the internet invade pretty much everything from our buildings to our bras.

Airbnb acquires UK-based Crashpadder for Olympic flats

Airbnb expects a ton of bookings during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but it wasn’t the only game in town. So the U.S.-based startup is taking out some of the competition, with the acquisition of Crashpadder, which is its biggest competitor in the U.K. market.

PayDragon offers one-click mobile shopping for the real world

A new app called PayDragon hopes to make it easier for small businesses to accept orders from users without their having to wait in line to order. Once a user has downloaded it, he or she can add items from a menu simply by scanning a QR code.

Why you should go to SXSW. No really!

You should have come down for SXSW. I know it’s too big and it was cold. Sure it was overrun by startups pitching me-too apps and corporate brands, but it was also a celebration about what makes the web awesome, if you looked for it.

Why Path limits you to 150 friends

Do you want to see the most relevant stories from all your friends, or all stories from just your best friends? That’s the fundamental difference between what Facebook will show you in your news feed, versus the information shared on Path.

This is cool: An open data standard for food

An open data standard for food has emerged on the web. This way restaurants, food apps, grocery stores, the government and other interested parties can tell that arugula is also rocket salad, no matter where on the web it occurs.