SXSW 2016 Forecasts the Future for Innovation

By Tamanna Desai,
Tech & Innovation Assistant Editor


South by Southwest is a music, film and technology conference held annually in Austin, Texas to foster creativity and market newcomers in the three aforementioned industries.
The conference is known to attract some of the most influential people in our nation from President Obama and executives of Yahoo to celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Katy Perry. This year, however, many reports mention a decline of attendance for the innovative section due to a decrease in funding in Silicon Valley technology startups.

The decrease in funding and consequently moderate atmosphere in Silicon Valley are partially a result of the ongoing Apple vs. FBI conflict. Encryption was in fact a prominent topic at the SXSW convention. Nonetheless, many startups did attend the conference and there were four main trends that have potential to become the next big development.

The McDonald’s happy meal box virtual reality headset revolutionizes the fast food experience. At the South by Southwest conference, attendees were transported into the happy meal environment. Creativity was stimulated by allowing them to decorate the virtual reality box they were in.

Similar to McDonalds in terms of enticing people to try out virtual reality, Samsung mobile’s new initiative is dropping off portable virtual reality boxes to those who tweet at Samsung mobile requesting to experience #VRonDemand.

A topic in which Twitter was also mentioned at the SXSW convention was the shift from social media to social messaging and what that means for marketers in terms of consumer behavior. Consumers are starting to steer their social media usage to applications that are more instant messaging based such as Snapchat. Many consumer reporters speculate that the main reason why Facebook is still alive and considered one of the top used social media applications is an outcome of the messenger component. This kind of medium is considered to be the dark social. Similar to the dark web, the dark social is an invisible space where intimate instant messaging takes place, i.e. Snapchat “chat” function and twitter direct messaging. says that “59% of all online sharing is via dark social and 91% of Americans regularly share information via these methods”. In regards to privacy and marketing, the government, and digital marketers will need to narrow their focus onto the dark social and initiatives need to be taken in that sector.

The third biggest topic discussed at the SXSW was artificial intelligence and the use of robots in everyday life from the emotive robot called Jibo to the flying camera named Lily. Jibo’s purpose is to assist people of all age through interactive methods physically and mentally. Although there are many things Jibo can’t do yet, some which include thinking on its own in response to human behavior, the emotive robot has been developing at a faster rate than expected. On the flip side, Lily the flying camera was introduced. USA Today calls Lily, “coolest scientific achievement or discovery that before 2015 was only possible in science fiction.” This unique device is thrown into the air and then, with a tracker, it follows the person wearing the tracking device and uses its GPS and computer vision to memorize the person’s face to make sure that it stays within a certain range of its person. According to, Lily can fly 100ft above, 100ft away and travel at a maximum speed of 25mph from where the wearable tracking device is located.

Along with emotive robots and wearable parts that come with them, is the topic of connected hardware that Sony’s research and development lab program introduced at the South by Southwest conference. The “N Project” is a neck collar that is connected to a set of headphones and can deliver what it is told via audio commands. The headphones have a built in GPS and camera. Sony also introduced and presented on the interactive table top that acts as a hologram projector for any IOS device. Sony Lab let attendees of the South by Southwest conference to be the initial testers of the product and requested feedback on ways to improve and develop it.

South by Southwest has been the premier conference for tech start-ups and multi-billion dollar companies to showcase their prototypes and ideas. It has been the biggest convention in the nation to host such influential figures and futuristic topics.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 22nd print edition.

Contact Tamanna at


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