Highlights from SXSW Interactive 2015

SXSW Interactive Logo on crowd

South By Southwest™ or SXSW may not sound very familiar to you – but it is one of the more popular yearly events in the world right now. This set of film, music and interactive festivals and conferences is held in Austin, Texas, usually occurs within the month of March and was first held in 1987. Over the years it has boomed, and SXSW has now become the place to be for film buffs, music lovers and tech enthusiasts.

This event is well-known for showcasing new, undiscovered talent and startups. We kept an eye on this year’s SXSW news, and present to you the best tech-related stories to come out of the event.

AeroMobil taking cars to the sky

The sky is usually only the playground of birds and planes, but a company called AeroMobil is planning on changing this.

The CEO of AeroMobil, Juraij Vaculik, has always dreamt of creating a flying car. He regards airports, traffic and bad infrastructure as prisons, and feels that having a car that rises above this can get us out of incarceration. Self-driving cars, according to Vaculik, are only a partial solution to the problem.

Plans are to have a flying car in the works by 2017. The car will be a two-seater and include a parachute. It seems that the prototypes that have been showcased in previous years are now in working order. AeroMobil is now busy with crash testing, finding the best type of engine to use, and making sure that essential safety components are in place (similar to those found in aeroplanes and cars currently being built).

But don’t get your hopes up just yet. The flying car is being marketed only to the wealthy, which means that the general public will most likely not be able to access this technological wonder.

Google planning an Ingress convention

Around 2012 a startup within Google called Niantic Labs created an augmented-reality multiplayer online role-playing GPS-dependent game (what a mouthful!), called Ingress. It was first made available on Google’s Play Store and later on Apple’s App Store. It has been downloaded over 10 million times, with the vast majority of those downloads currently active.

Players of Ingress can choose to belong to one of two factions, either the Enlightened or the Resistance. These two are pitted against one another for virtual control of real-world landmarks (such as monuments and museums). Portals are created at these real-world landmarks, and players have to physically be within the area in order to interact with a portal. When a portal is accessed, the player gets access points that unlock special abilities or items.

Niantic Labs have organised meet-ups before (not specifically for Ingress), and found them to be extremely popular, drawing crowds akin to those usually only seen at conventions. They were also inspired by similar conventions held for players of Eve Online and Minecraft. They have been quite tight-lipped about a possible Ingress convention, but the consensus is that it will happen by the end of this year.

NASA needs you!

At the end of 2013 NASA, the famous US space and aeronautics government agency, held an online competition. The aim of this competition was for the public to hunt for near-earth asteroids that their existing software has not yet discovered. Using these data NASA’s asteroid-finding systems could become better at pattern recognition – something that humans excel at. Ultimately this will help to find rogue asteroids that can be pulled into the moon’s orbit.

The competition eventually led to collaboration between NASA and the asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources, and together they developed asteroid-tracking desktop software. This software can be installed on any Windows- or Mac-powered laptop by the public to hunt for asteroids and possibly save the Earth from a threatened collision in the future.

Steve Jobs documentary

A documentary about the life and times of Apple creator Steve Jobs premiered at the SXSW film festival. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine was created by Alex Gibney, a man known for exposing corruption in the Enron Corporation and delving into the mysterious world of Scientology.

The documentary moves chronologically through Jobs’ life while highlighting certain key points. However, the film has been criticised by most for being too focused on the negative aspects of Jobs’ life and his notoriously difficult persona instead of providing a more objective view.

Yahoo’s new password-free logins

There is usually only one way to set up or secure an online account, and that is by entering a username or email and a cryptic password of your choice. However, Yahoo is gunning to do away with passwords completely.

The company calls their new method ‘on-demand’ passwords, and it is similar to two-step authentication (where a confirmation code is sent to someone’s phone or email). Instead of seeing a text box where you enter your password when you sign in, you will see a ‘send my password’ button (only if you enable the system). When you click on this button you will be sent a unique, time-sensitive code either through an app or a text message on your phone to use in accessing your account.

However, many have said that this ‘on-demand’ password system of Yahoo is less secure than traditional password creation, and is more for the convenience of the customer.

Alongside their idea on how to eliminate not-so-user-friendly passwords, Yahoo showed off their end-to-end encryption system at SXSW. This will make it easier for emails to be encrypted, and is similar to an extension or add-on in your Internet browser. However, it will only be available for use on certain emails, and it is only the contents themselves that will be encrypted and not the time stamp, subject line or recipient. This system should be available by the end of 2015.

Meerkat, the most-discussed app of SXSW

No matter how many other cool apps came out during this year’s event, Meerkat was the one that had the most attention focused on it.

It was talked about for two main reasons. Firstly, it is innovative – it’s a video app for either iPhone or iPad that allows you to live-stream content on Twitter. So you can take a video of, say, a parade or protest happening and it will be shown to your followers in real-time.

The second reason is because Twitter may have killed it before it even had time to gain traction. The social media giant has curtailed Meerkat’s ability to import social connections from Twitter, which means that Meerkat users won’t be notified automatically that a live-stream is occurring, and this may affect its usability in the long run.

Final funky fact

Just one last funky fact about the 2015 SXSW – it had the first-ever robot petting zoo! Attendees could touch, operate and program robots. The aim of this petting zoo was to educate people on the valuable work that can be done by robots in disaster and emergency situations.