From SmartCities to SmartMobility: Our Top 7 Moments of SXSW ’17

The dust has just about settled (literally) on another SXSW Interactive, and the Music component is now well underway.

Looking back at the key trends for this year, there’s one thing that unites them all – a distinct sense of real-world context. While it’s all very exciting to hear about shiny new technology and flying cars (yes, that did actually happen last year), it’s not exactly very helpful when you’re looking at ways to be innovative over the next 12 months.

Happily, following last year’s highly commercially-driven program, with brands featuring far more than great speakers, it seems that this year the conference organizers kept it smaller, upped the quality of the sessions and dialed back the sponsor presence. The result was an altogether better event, with more of a focus on learning than branded experiences.

So what did we learn? We’ve listed seven of our favorite outtakes below, which all fall under the three biggest trends for 2017: SmartHealth, SmartCities and SmartMobility.

  1. When Wired’s Jason Tanz asked Beth Comstock, Vice Chairman at GE, what she thought was most exciting about the digital space right now, she answered immediately; 3D printing. “This has been overlooked way too quickly, and has over the past few years almost become passé. But the potential there is huge, from printing transplant organs to entire houses”.
  1. ‘Using Design & Tech to Create a Healthy Community’ featured the coalition of businesses responsible for the creation of ThinkEAST, a new residential district for the creative community. Having found that healthcare is just as much about people’s environment as it is the medical care they receive, the panel spoke about ways to get educational but actionable insights back in to the community. Turning to a celebrated local artist who engaged in some data visualization using street art, this was an important reminder that this isn’t just an approach that works for marketers. It’s a powerful community engagement tool when you present information in a visual and engaging way.
  1. It’s all too easy assume that your web, mobile, or Internet of Things (IoT) app will run on a fast and reliable network with great coverage. The reality for your app’s users, though, is often a slow and unreliable network with spotty coverage. What happens when the network doesn’t work, or when the device is in airplane mode? You get unhappy, frustrated users. Building on the principles of Mobile First, Offline First is an approach to application design in which a web, mobile, desktop, or IoT application is built for offline usage first and is then progressively enhanced to take advantage of network connectivity when available. This panel session hosted by IBM’s Maureen McElaney was so popular, they ran it twice.


  1. The launch of ‘integrated smarthome’ Kasita also drew crowds. CEO and founder Jeff Wilson mapped a unique vision that applied product design thinking to the smart home of the future. The 325 square foot unit was made available to purchase for $130,000 at the conference, featuring everything from Sage’s smart glass (which can simulate a sunrise or sunset at any time of day), Nebia Shower, Casper bed, Sonos, Alexa and more.
  1. Smart mobility was everywhere, with one of the key takeaways being that better transport is a key predictor of better health, better jobs. This rang true, even outside of the hundreds of sessions that focused on the automotive space. And there was a clear sense of wanting to understand and act on this better, concisely explained by Bill Ford.

    Quite simply, that every company’s charge should be to make people’s lives better, and if they don’t, they probably don’t deserve to exist.

  1. The other ever-present trend was that of Smart Cities, and all its encompassing features; IOT, data collection, smart roads, sensors and more. Two particular sessions that ran one after the other showed two extreme ends of spectrum. Responsive Cities > Smart Cities featured Scott Evans, Chief Digital Officer at Related Companies & Max Oglesbee from Intersection, who are together leading the Hudson Yards development in New York, which will be fully open by 2025.

Hudson Yards

The largest private real estate development in US history, Hudson Yards is a test ground for the world’s most ambitious responsive community. The session explained how the companies are building a complex data platform to manage & navigate all of the technology required to run this smart city. Immediately following was Connected Cities, Hackable Streets, where we heard from two professional hackers on the untold dangers of smart cities; with the (ever so slightly scary) message being that pretty much everything digitally powered within smart cities can – and has been – hacked, and warning us of a reliance on a ‘single data platform or source’.

  1. The Consumer Tech Association panel, featuring Facebook’s Oculus, Google and Open Source emerging-tech association R Street Institute, gave a refreshingly real-life perspective on what AR & VR will revolutionize next. The experiential storytelling and empathy-based learning examples were strong, but fairly easy to grasp. What was more interesting was the industries due to be affected next; museums and galleries taking exhibitions online, as well as libraries, education and training delivered in a cheaper, more immersive fashion, and even medical applications like helping burn patients with recovery using VR experiences of playing the snow.

posted by Magnify Team on 17/03/2017 @

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