While the main thrust of SXSW is the seemingly infinite sessions, the trade show is one of the highlights. For the uninitiated, the trade show opens on day 3 and is a collection of stands, exhibitors and curiosities from around the world. You’ll find everyone exhibiting from students, companies and quirky “proof of concepts” all the way up to entire countries. It can be a rather overwhelming assault on the senses at first but luckily, we put in the hours, walked the aisles and shook lots of hands to dig out the 5 best bits…
Densu rocked up with a weird sushi making robot thing as part of it’s Open Meals initiative. It’s a very early prototype but the idea is that the robot arm can pick up tiny cubes of flavoured gel and assemble them, one-by-one, into blocky recreations of real food. The gel cubes come in various textures from “jiggly” to “crispy”. Ok, it’s a little 8-bit at the moment but the idea is there. Blocky cubes will no doubt make way for seamless, high definition textures. One day, maybe all food will be assembled this way. It’s certainly interesting for astronauts.
Music is a cornerstone of the wider SXSW conference and there was no shortage of musical nic-nacs on display. One favourite was a physical demonstration of Yamaha’s YOO artificial intelligence duet system. There were two things of note. Firstly, the tech itself that listens to your playing style and plays along – adapting to your cadence, power and note sequences in real time. Secondly, and although it wasn’t the focus, the fact Yamaha chose to demo it on a physical piano was tremendous. They could have used a synth (or any digital instrument) but instead filled a piano with mechanical actuators to give the impression that your invisible musical duet partner was sat right next to you. Great fun.
Firefly rocket engine
The “Because, why not” award is also the joint winner of the “Seriously? How much?!?” award. Firefly Aerospace had a full-size rocket engine on their tiny stand. Why? They are developing the (rather unimaginatively named) Firefly Alpha rocket that will be capable of putting payloads of up to 600kg into space. How much will that cost? $10 million. We asked how much to send something the size of a mobile phone… $10 million. Cool. No discounts then.
Seems a bit of a strange choice but Japan always rock up to SXSW with exactly the right spirit… innovation and enthusiasm first, practicality and reality second. While other countries sport vast (and often slightly empty) stands, Japan just bring a bunch of crazy startups and demos. From personal levitation devices and AI avatars, to connected world holes and AI light-projected avatars, you may not know exactly what to do with them but you always wish you’d thought of it!
The Kuka Robotics‘ bottle-flipping-mini-robot-arm-thing from last year has made way for a ginormous articulated monster of a robot arm… with a TV on top. The idea is really just to show off their industrial robots in an artistic way for SXSW. It was easily the most videoed exhibit and was also the most noticeable example of the “robot arms making stuff” trend bubbling up at this year’s SXSW. By contrast, VR and drones were noticeably absent on the tradeshow floor this year.
Full coverage of SXSW 2018: