The Best Tech From South By Southwest

The 2015 festival debuts the latest and greatest technological innovations.

By Molly McManus

With a history of innovative technological design, South By Southwest Interactive appropriately kicked off with an impressive keynote from Paola Antonelli, curator for the Modern Museum of Art, who discussed the intersection of art and design, science and technology, and the natural world. Everyone left excited for the discovery, connections and educational experience Interactive was sure to provide, and, more importantly, who would launch the next Twitter.

SXSW Interactive is known for debuting technological advancements, and with the addition of the SXSW Accelerator pitch competition in 2009, the festival continues to serve the growing startup ecosystem, especially through recognizing these individuals and organizations at the annual Interactive Innovation Awards. This year, there were a few standout applications and tech developments that we will undoubtedly be hearing even more from in years to come. 


Investment App: Acorns 

Winner of the New Economy award at the Interactive Innovation Awards, Acorns makes investing simple for the everyday user. Described by Forbes as an app that “makes investing effortless,” Acorns is, as The Verge explains, “a virtual piggybank that puts your nickels and dimes to work.”

The app tracks your purchases and you have the option to invest the spare change from each exchange into a diversified portfolio. Say you spend $85.17 at the grocery store. You have the option to invest the remaining 83 cents from the dollar through the app. It is truly the first of its kind, allowing you to open your own investment account through your device, build and optimize your portfolios and keep them on track with automatic rebalancing and dividend re-investment. 

This is the perfect investment opportunity for young people and for people who are looking to invest in an inexpensive and approachable way. There are no commissions and once you invest, accounts of less than $5,000 cost $1 per month, and .25 percent for accounts of more than $5,000. 


Going Green: EDGEhome

Named as one of ATX Man’s Must-Haves From South By Southwest, EDGEhome uses built-in wireless devices installed into electrical outlets to allow users to control and track their power usage through a smartphone or tablet. There’s no monthly fee, just an initial installation fee from a builder and/or solar-energy provider.

At the SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards, EDGEhome won in the Sustainable Technology category, with the product helping to cut back on individuals’ carbon footprints and spending. EDGEhome estimates a savings of 20 percent each month on your electricity cost, so it really is a win-win. 


3-D Printing: Project Daniel 

From Not Impossible comes Project Daniel, a development in 3-D printed prosthetic arms for children of war in South Sudan. Daniel Omar, a 14-year-old who lives in the Nuba Mountains of South Sudan, lost both his arms in a bombing while he was tending to his family’s cows. Through the use of 3-D printing, Omar now has use of one prosthetic arm and is able to be self-sufficient once again. After receiving the prosthesis, he was able to feed himself for the first time in two years.

Not Impossible set up the first-ever 3-D printing prosthetic lab and school in a hospital in the Nuba Mountains so local doctors and clinicians could learn to create 3-D printed prosthetic arms. Currently, Omar is helping to construct arms for other victims. Since Not Impossible left the hospital about two weeks ago, four new arms have been created. 

According to Project Daniel, winner of the Interactive Awards for the Innovative 3-DIY category, the project enables any person in need to have access to this technology, with the company using it for its best purpose, to restore humanity.


Personalized Radio: Cone

It’s a music player that reads your mind. Winner of the Music Discovery award at the Interactive Innovation Awards, Cone listens to your requests, picks up on your habits and learns your tastes to create the perfect soundtrack for any mood or moment. After you purchase Cone ($399), the player gives you free access to more than 30 million songs from Rdio, more than 25,000 podcasts from Stitcher, plus thousands of Internet radio stations. 

Cone not only creates personalized playlists, it also serves as a sort of Shazam hybrid, allowing you to tap the middle of the speaker and request any song or artist you’d like to hear. Finally, you have someone something that really gets you. 


Online Protection: Disconnect

We live in a world in which hackers and trackers are everywhere, and what we do online is available for the taking. We are all susceptible to privacy and security threats through unsecured connections and hidden requests for personal information, but Disconnect allows you to block trackers and hackers so your information, identity and passwords are protected. 

Disconnect won the Privacy and Security award at the Interactive Innovation Awards for its ability to block trackers, sources of malware and identity theft, and prevent trackers and hackers from associating your Internet activity with your real identity. It also eliminates Internet censorship (Yes, what Google presents to you in its search engine is censored information.) and bypasses filters and firewalls to access blocked websites and apps while remaining private and accessing content freely. 

The basic install is free, and the premium version is $50 per year (or $5 per month) and covers as many as three devices. 


Directions for the Visually Impaired: Guide Dots

Guide Dots, the winner of the Transportation Advancement award at the Interactive Innovation ceremony, provides audio-based directions for the visually impaired. Combining Google Maps, Facebook and crowdsourcing technology, Guide Dots features an accessible interface designed specifically for the visually impaired and calls out locations and other audio notifications, tags route details, allows users to interact with the app using simple voice commands, and alerts you when friends are near, all to provide a new level of independence and awareness for those with visual impairment.



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