News & Views

SXSW Debrief / Austin

by Contagious Team

Entrepreneurs and technology combine to bring about sustainable living, manufacture new hardware, produce duplication software, develop business ecosystems, put location to work, enter space and design, tweak and create

Audacious Ideas /

Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, inspired the audience in Austin around the potential that big audacious ideas can have. The entrepreneur talked about his latest ventures - Solar City and SpaceX. The businesses originated from what Musk sees as humanity's key problems, thinking both terrestrially and extra terrestrially: how can we extend life beyond earth and how can we sustainably produce and consume energy?

Musk urged entrepreneurs in the audience to ask themselves if what they are doing would result in disruptive change? Musk justifies his ventures by the belief that he can create something substantially better than what has gone before, pushing humanity forward, such as the Tesla, which Musk describes as 'pushing the advent of sustainable transport forward a decade, maybe two.'

SpaceX is in the process of developing a reuseable rocket that can land anywhere with the accuracy of a helicopter, which will allow mankind to get to space faster, more cheaply and better. Musk explained: 'I thought we had lost the will to explore and push boundaries, but in fact the US is the distillation of the human spirit of exploration.'

The Next Industrial Revolution

Bre Pettis
, CEO of 3D printing company MakerBot Industries unveiled the MakerBot Digitizer, which will, he believes, work along with Thingiverse (a place to share and download designs), to help his company shift from being a producer of 3D printers to being at the heart of a digital reproduction ecosystem. The digitizer scans objects of up to eight inches in height with a laser and two web cams and produces a digital 3D model on the computer, which allows infinite copies of the object to be produced without having to input complex CAD files or designs. Pettis spoke of how MakerBot is 'empowering people to make stuff, faster and in more affordable ways'.

Emerging Markets


Gareth Knight
, founder of Tech4Africa, and Toby Shapshak, editor of Stuff Magazine, Johannesburg, spoke about the impact that mobile is having in Africa in their panel The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa. Despite systems and services running predominantly off basic phones, through SMS and Java, 80% of the world's mobile money transactions take place in Africa. The pair explained that much of the mobile innovation that they see in Africa is around functional necessities, such as helping people access money, electricity, petrol and healthcare, but the impact that this is having is helping the population pass through the threshold from subsistence to becoming producers, who are able to earn and save money.

Shapshak spoke of Africa's growing middle class and the 'latent demand for services from people getting above the poverty line'. According the the IMF, Africa is home to six of the fastest growing economies in the world, housing 40% of the world's population, the majority of whom are under 30. The wide population, which encompasses multiple languages and governments as well as countries, is benefiting from technology aiding development. Companies like Nokia are helping to produce Creative Commons text books for the South African schooling system, while the panel cited entrepreneurs launching services based around utilities, such as Samasource, a non-profit that helps people find work, and Fundamo, a digital currency service similar to PayPal.

Hardware


Julie Uhrman
, CEO of open-source gaming platform and run-away Kickstarter success OUYA, was on stage on Monday to discuss how the console would 'open up the world of TV gaming'. Instead of being locked to designing games at great cost for one of the existing console franchises, Uhrman hopes that 'anybody with a great idea can now build for TV gaming'. She hopes the console will maximise the largest screen in most people's lives, and attract some of the innovative and popular gaming developers who have been working to design for tablet and mobile more recently, restricted by a lack of funds and employees to work on major gaming console titles.

The $99 device will ship to its 63,000 early Kickstarter supporters shortly, and will be on general sale in June. Designers are given the option of how they will monetise the content they have produced. Uhrman described the launch 'as a new hardware moment - we can engage our supporters, fans and audience'. The console's development has been iterative and highly based on feedback - even down to the buttons on the controller - which spell out OUYA rather than being coloured circles, to help colour-blind gamers. The alternative layout was decided by a survey on Reddit.

Location

Foursquare
founder Dennis Crowley explained how the check-in app has positioned itself to be at the centre of location, as its API powers the location elements of numerous social media platforms such as Instagram and Vine. In mapping, for example, Crowley looks to a time when social data will be overlaid to create personalised maps, much like Harry Potter's Marauders Map. He said: 'Local is important and we're in a better position to provide that social layer.' Tying data together, Crowley showed how journeys and habits can be tracked via the app, and looked to a point where retailers would be connecting the dots to drive customers into their stores.

Fleishman Hillard's Black Box was on hand at the festival, analysing social media chatter, and, as of Monday, more than a million tweets had been sent, while positive sentiment registered at around 73%.