SXSW Interactive 2015: Future Perfected, part 2

sxsw-interactive-logo As I posted in part 1 of my wrap-up of the 2015 South-by-Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference, there was much exploration of what the world will be like in the post-smartphone era.   So what’s the next evolutionary step beyond our beloved handheld mini-computers?

According to the designers at Frogdesign, who presented a session at SXSWi, we may be using wearable drones just 15 years from now.

That’s right: wearable drones.

Why drones? Well, they’re the next logical leap forward. Current drone technology actually inherited a lot of its tech from smartphones (its cameras, gyroscopes, etc.).  They’ve even been nicknamed, “flying smartphones.”  Current drones do a lot of the same things as their grounded, flightless precursors: capturing protests, helping their users take selfies (or “dronies”), and even projecting interfaces on surfaces. Check out this video showing a prototype for Antonymous Wandering Interface (AWI) if you want to see the latter in action:

Drones are special because, unlike smartphones, smart-glasses, watches, or other wearable tech, they can go out and perform physical tasks for you.  That’s pretty handy. Imagine a near future when people will have their own personal drones, ones that integrate directly into their lives (in other words,  are wearable).

Frogdesign brainstormed a number of  ideas for what this could look like and shared four conceptual prototypes at SXSWi:

1) Pollution detector mask, called “Breathe”

“Breathe is a wearable drone that protects against air pollution in the city. This oval-shaped drone is made from a flexible plastic ‘lung’ and contains a small propeller at its base for both flight and air intake. It gently rests on its owner’s shoulder while monitoring the level of air pollution nearby. When levels become too polluted, the drone launches from the shoulder to supply fresh, filtered air by hovering several inches in front of its owner’s mouth.”

 2) Navigation guide, called “Flare”






“Flare is a wearable drone that assists with navigation in the city. This compass-inspired drone is made of glass and metal that clicks into an acrylic palm strap. The owner instructs the drone where to go via voice control and launches the drone with a quick flick of the wrist. After launching, the glass illuminates and rotates within the metal ring. The drone guides its owner through the city by flying several meters ahead until they reach their destination.”

3) Flying umbrella, called “Parasol”

“Parasol is a wearable drone that shields against weather in the city. This drone takes on a compact, cylindrical form and is made of gold as if it were a highly fashionable piece of jewelry. The drone hooks onto a belt or necklace and uses onboard humidity sensors and a thermometer to signal the exact moment it needs to protect against solar rays, rain or snow. After launching, the drone’s propellers spread into a large disk, adjusting its position to continuously shield off the elements.”

4) Rock climbing game, called “Scout”

“Scout is a wearable drone that facilitates exercise and play in the city. This drone is a highly durable sphere with a rugged rubber case, and it snaps into a magnetized clip that doubles as a health monitor. Once thrown into the air, Scout’s propellers expand and it quickly becomes a fast-paced rock climbing game. The drone projects an interactive interface onto the cliff face and maps out a route that challenges the user’s endurance and pace.”


It’s fun to imagine what these personal drones will be like.  Beyond the above visualizations from Frogdesign, I can see them being used to return or pick up loaned materials from the local library (a “drone-loan”?). Perhaps a library-owned drone will greet visitors as they arrive and project a catalog interface on the wall for patrons to interact with.  When a particular material is selected, the drone will then navigate the patron to the desired resource or service area.  Or perhaps it doesn’t have to be library-owned; one’s trusty personal drone could simply download the appropriate abilities upon immediately entering (flying onto) library property, and then take on the task of being a newly-minted, personal library assistant.

One wearable drone that’s actually going to be on the market soon is Nixie, a bracelet that can turn into a flying camera drone. It’s perfect for taking dronies.  (you know, I really hope that term doesn’t catch on.)

What’s beyond wearables?

Forget your physical objects and devices; we won’t always need them. Take Biyo, for example – a product that lets you make purchases with your hand. It identifies you by recognizing the unique veins in your palm.  And it’s not just veins – there other biometrics (blood flow measuring, EKG patterns, e.g.) being looked at that can be used to authenticate your identity. You can forget passwords in the future (and not accidentally). I saw a number of sessions at SXSWi discussing the ‘Death of the Password’.   Like we expect to do with smartphones, we’ll be moving to a post-password world.  Futurists predict we’ll stop using letter and number combinations altogether – they’re far too insecure and difficult for users to recall.


So how will we prove our identity and credentials? Two types discussed at SXSWi were:

1) Embeddables – We might embed microchips under the skin that can be scanned.  The most mind-blowing possibility I heard about was a chip placed within the brain that would enable to us simply think of a specific memory,  one known only to us, and that this mere recollection would activate the  log-in and passcode to authenticate us.

2) Ingestibles – Imagine swallowing a daily I.D. pill at work to allow you access to company resources or taking a daily WiFi pill to bypass the security on the network.  These ingested devices would enable one to avoid chip-embedding surgery and they’ll eventually leave the body, taking their identifying powers with them.  They’re great if you only want to provide temporary access to a resource.


Of course, this is all just the tip of the iceberg.  And there are numerous ramifications to these technologies still to be worked out, with analysis and discussion (as one finds at the SXSWi conference) just getting started.  What does it mean for privacy and the dangers of identity hacking?  With Big Data and the Internet of Things (see part 1) – in which all the objects in our lives are collecting, sharing, and broadcasting data about us – many questions and concerns are being raised, chief among them being who will own this data, and how will it be used?

In this future world that is just within our reach and getting closer, digital literacy becomes absolutely essential. And who is in the key position to provide digital literacy to the community now and in the future?  The Library.

SXSW Interactive 2015: Future Perfected, part 1

sxsw-interactive-logo I recently attended the 2015  South-by-Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference, and perhaps the biggest take-away I got from the 5 days worth of informative panels and sessions was a focus on making the long-desired (previously pipe-) dreams of the future become a reality sooner rather than later.

When I’ve attended in the past, there seemed to be more of an emphasis on the present: What was the newest, most exciting thing happening right now?  Which trendy app with the most buzz can I download to my smartphone and get in on the ground floor of the Next Big Thing?  New social media tools such as Twitter were first launched here, after all.  But this year, I noticed SXSWi had its eyes less on what is in our hands now and more on what is just out of our reach. It’s become the world’s best think-tank for discussing, planning, and preparing for the future that we’ve all been pining for since our youth – one filled with robots, flying / self-driving cars, and virtual reality.

It’s a future that’s right around the corner in fact – and libraries will need to be ready.

Smartphone Shmartphone.

I heard more than once that we have entered the “post-smartphone era” – a strange thing to hear since smartphones are more popular than ever. But for the forward-thinkers at SXSWi, they are mere objects in our hands that have to be lugged around everywhere – limited (and limiting) personal devices that have little integration into our life.  Instead, there’s a desire to have everything around us be smart – not just our phones, and to have them be woven seamlessly into our day-to-day existence. The way to achieve this is to make them wearable.  Wearable Technology is going to be the next big step beyond the smartphone, and the large number of sessions discussing the topic at SXSWi is a testament to that fact.  The conference itself fell just a week after Apple made its big announcement revealing their new Apple Watch.

Beyond wearability, there’s also a desire to have the objects in our lives be responsive to our needs (that’s where the “smart” comes in to play). Nicknamed the “Internet of Things”, this is the idea that the world we inhabit will be more fully interconnected. For example, a smart home might know to turn the lights on when you enter a room, or the refrigerator will alert you that your milk is expired. The gentleman in front of me in line for our conference badges was actually working on making a smart gas tank for the home – one that could alert you if there was a dangerous leak.  Your things will know they’re broken and will tell you so.  And they will know you personally – your habits and preferences – so they can respond predictively to what you want them to do.

So how does that work?

Sensors, Sensors Everywhere.

It’s all about sensors, which will be built into everything. And with huge amounts of data now capable of being stored in the Cloud and transmitted via broadband, there will be a whole world of interconnected data from multiple sources swirling all around us.  Numerous sessions at SXSWi set about discussing the implications of “Big Data”.

To illustrate what this might look like, here are two areas of our lives that could be dramatically affected by Big Data and the Internet of Things…

1)      Emergency response

Radar_speed_sign_-_close-up_-_under_limitHere’s an early, proto-version of the smart object: your friendly neighborhood speed radar sign. These receive data from the sensor in the road or camera and then provide you, the driver, immediate feedback on you and your fellow drivers’ current speeds. And it works – use of these signs cuts down  speeding dramatically.  In one SXSWi session I attended, the idea was proposed: what if you made these signs even smarter? What if it collected data from all the cars, took in data about current weather and traffic patterns, and provided you a recommended speed based on the immediate situation?

Have you heard of Shotspotter? These already exist in some neighborhoods: microphones placed in high crime areas can recognize gunshots within 10 feet and immediately alert police so they can investigate.
For the future, imagine the roads themselves telling pedestrians that a crime event is occurring nearby and to steer clear, with prominent impromptu road signage automatically generated to direct traffic. The responders themselves could have smart glasses that use facial recognition software to identify individuals, and have personal tracking set up on their person. Too stressed to handle the event? A supervisor can read the signs and pull the officer from the situation. How about crowdsourcing emergency assistance? The people in your neighborhood with CPR skills could be alerted immediately if their services are needed near their location. Actually, this one already exists. Check out the app PulsePoint.

2)      Genealogy

1A big topic of interest for library patrons since time immemorial, I predict it’s about to become even bigger with Big Data.  Crowdsourcing and Internet collaboration has allowed more people to figure out their ancestry and connect to each than ever before.  It’s predicted that in twenty years, we will have put together one single giant family tree, with every human being on it.  Imagine if you could look at a stranger on the street and immediately be alerted that they are your fourth cousin, twice removed.  This could definitely get children more excited about history (Albert Einstein is actually Cousin Albert) and might even (fingers crossed) improve human relations the world over – hey, we’re all part of the same family, and the data coming in proves it!


…to be continued.