Each year, South by Southwest showcases some of the newest, hottest - and yes, weirdest - technology on its trade show floor. This year was no different. Here are some of the categories that caught our eye Wednesday:
Virtual reality experiences and products remain a crowd-pleaser at tech trade shows. They're also a popular way to draw conference attendees to an otherwise stuffy, corporate booth. At SXSW, people could check out two consumer-friendly VR cameras -- Theta made by Ricohand Vuze made by Humaneyes Technologies -- that can help them make immersive videos of their own. The cameras that cost $800 and under make videos that people can later watch on a VR headset or Google cardboard.
A line of people waited to try Birdly, a virtual reality experience made by Zurich-based Somniacs. To try it out, attendees put on headphones and headset, strapped horizontally into a machine with plastic wings and then swooped and soared over the Manhattan skyline. A fan in front of the flight simulator creates a breeze.
"It doesn't just use visuals," said Scott Fauteux, director of sales and support for the company's North American distributor D3D Cinema. "It brings your whole body into the experience."
He said the flight simulator and virtual reality machine is typically bought or leased by amusement venues, like museums, zoos and aquariums. The venues can then sell tickets or use the experience as an attraction. He imagines other VR experiences, like a manatee swimming in the ocean or a pterosaur flying over dinosaurs in a prehistoric landscape.
Health and wellness
In a time when people like to track the steps they take and the calories they burn, it seems only natural that people want more data about how their bodies work. Startups are tapping into that demand with kits that turn cheek swabs and blood samples into a genetic guidebook.
One example is Habit, a Bay Area-based startup that sells $300 kits to help people understand what types of foods work best for their bodies. The kit includes tools for the at-home test, like blood collection supplies. The startup uses the blood samples to recommend a personalized nutrition plan and even "hero foods" - healthy foods that might work best for that person. In the Bay Area, the company goes a step further: They deliver meal kits that match.
Another example is Boston-based Orig3n, which sells genetic panel hat cost about $100 and up. The genetic panel tests - with catchy names like Bliss and Superhero - test for genes that are linked to personality traits, fitness strengths and other attributes.
Eric Ellestad, CEO of Local Roots, stands in one of the company's indoor farms at SXSW. Local Roots, which has a mobile farm that can grow food all year round and in any climate, was on display during a trade show at the Austin Convention Center for SXSW. Thao Nguyen/Special Contributor
Across the trade show room, a company showed off a truck with an indoor farm of kale and leafy greens inside. Los Angeles-based Local Roots Farms is experimenting with how to improve global health with a food system that reduces waste, uses less energy and boosts freshness. Their solution is converting trucks into indoor, energy-efficient farms that grow vegetables and fruits that can be bought by restaurants or grocery stores.
From augmenting humans to making them conference call-ready, there's a gadget for that. Maryland-based Lockheed Martin -- which has a large Fort Worth facility - created an exoskeleton that they use to decrease fatigue caused by repetitive, stationary motion on a factory floor. The industrial-looking exoskeleton - called Fortis -- makes a worker look almost half-human and half-robot. They were tested and evaluated at a U.S. Navy shipyards. They're already being used by Lockheed Martin, an aerospace and global security company, and by other manufacturing companies to boost endurance and decrease stress on the body.
Tokyo-based skincare and makeup company Shiseido has gone digital with a software prototype that virtually applies makeup to make a person ready for a conference call or FaceTime session. The app, which is not yet available, comes in different styles -- from a natural look to a heavy-eyeliner look better suited for a night out. It also includes a feature that blurs the background of a room, for those who have work call on laundry day.
And paper gadgets
One of the booths at the trade show was not like the others. It showed off something that didn't require any batteries or a power cord -- paper.
The Paper and Packaging Board set up a booth framed by cardboard in the middle of the showroom.
They showed off different companies' creative uses of paper. One of them was a cardboard drumkit made byObilab that's a less expensive, portable musical instrument. Another was the boxes made by Baby Box Co., which turns cardboard boxes into gifts that hospitals give away to new parents to promote safe sleeping habits for infants.
And a third was a small replica of the origami-inspired, pop-up temporary shelters made by Cardborigami. The shelters have been used to house the homeless in Los Angeles and also at music festivals.
"We came here to stand out and disrupt it a little bit," said Maja Stevanovich, who works for the marketing agency behind the campaign. "We want to show that digital and analog can work together."