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Sensors Give Us Superpowers (SXSWi)

2013 March 10
by Henry Stokes

I’m at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), getting a glimpse of what amazing technology trends are just around the corner… and which ones are already here.

Josh Clark, in his session, “Beyond Mobile: Where No Geek Has Gone Before”, makes the point that the sensors in our mobile devices – the  GPS, camera, proximity detectors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc. – are effectively giving us superpowers.  For example…

Shopper helps you maintain your grocery list on your smartphone, but it can  change the order of the list based on which grocery store you visit. So if you’re at HEB, and the dairy section comes before produce as you’re pushing your cart, the milk will move above carrots on your list.  You, the user, don’t have to do anything; the app just senses where you are and makes the adjustment.

Another example is IntoNow.  When you’re flipping channels while watching TV and you don’t know what the show is, simply run the app, have it listen to the audio of the show, and Voila! –  it will figure out exactly what the show is – down to the season and episode number.

With Shopper,  IntoNow, and other such technologies that use the built-in sensors, you don’t need to engage with the screen… it just knows.  In his talk Clark made the point that we’re going to see this hands-off, automatic magic happening more and more.

He also highlighted some fun examples of apps that use Augmented Reality, a technology now more possible with sensors. With AR, you gain the superpower of transforming the world around you.

He showed off a game called Skinvaders, which uses the camera to place alien enemies on your face which you then can using the touch screen to defeat.    Check out the trailer.

My personal favorite is Word Lens (trailer).  In your device’s camera, simply view some text in another language, and the app will translate it on the screen in real time for you.  This one’s right out of Star Trek.


And it’s not just visual information that can get transformed.  With Table Drum (trailer), your device senses when you’re drumming with your fingers on the tabletop and plays sounds as if you were performing on an actual drum set.  You can even program new sounds to play when you tap specific surfaces.

AnyTouch (trailer) lets you turn any set of objects into an interface.  More and more, we are starting to see the physical and the digital merge.

Leap Motion (trailer) is a brand new device (ships in May) which plugs into your computer and senses your hands as they hover near the computer.  You can use your fingers to interact with what’s on the screen, such as molding a 3D model, or drawing a picture. For many applications, this input method could take the place of the mouse or keyboard.


More to come from 2013 SXSWi!

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