One of the main draws to any year’s SXSW is the chance to sample and explore some of the best new technologies in development before they hit the big time. Some of these are in early deployment, some are maybe in Beta testing, and most of the truly exciting and game-changing ones are not-quite-here, but just around the corner. While we were at SXSW this year, we took the opportunity to explore some of the techs with the biggest potential to change our lives, and society and the world at large. As an entrepreneurship accelerator, it’s important for us to keep our eyes on what’s coming next.
To Infinity… and Beyond!
The dream of space travel for everyone is too tantalizing a prospect not to spend some time thinking about it. And these days, from Elon Musk to Richard Branson to Jeff Bezos and more, it seems like every tech leader and visionary has some kind of space-related inspiration or project dream. But as of now, these dreams are still very much centered on industrial and research launches, as the work of SpaceX shows. However, this year at SXSW, we were able to get a taste of some of the space-related technologies and possibilities that, while they still might be a decade or more away, but have the potential to bring legitimate space travel to millions. Attendance was of course packed, as the famous Bill Nye the Science Guy was on the panel, along with Richard Garriott de Cayeux, whose companies worked with every private citizen who has flown to space so far, and who has been to the International Space Station itself.
Whenever you’re talking about breaking free of the Earth and ascending into the stars, there are some pretty serious physics and science involved to overcome, but if the history of science and technology has taught us anything, it’s that every barrier or obstacle is just another challenge for some brilliant scientists and engineers. Let’s get packing for Mars!
Melding the Oldest and Newest Technologies
It’s long been something commonly-agreed upon by historians and archaeologists that the first technology of settled civilization was agriculture. When we, as a society, learned how to plant and harvest in a predictable way, we started making our cities. And well, we’ve never stopped needing food, or getting better at agriculture. But in the last few decades, as the information technology revolution has grown at phenomenal speed and proportions and spread through the world, it was something of a conundrum to people how this technology, which seemed entirely non-substantial and without physical representation, could possibly ever end up helping improve mankind’s oldest, and arguably most central, technology?
Well, those days of the confusion and conundrums are over, as “AgTech” is growing as quickly as corn in the summer. And at SXSW, we were privileged to be able sit in on a discussion with Melanie Shimano of the Food Computer Program. Her project aims to bring the benefits of Ag Tech to the smallest scale, teaching people how to code a Raspberry Pi computer to help automate processes and management within urban hydroponic growth spaces.
With these kinds of advances, and by spreading the knowledge to everyone, we were able to see how big cities and metropolitan areas, as well as locations in agriculturally-marginal geography could begin to be more food-sufficient on their own, reshaping planting and transport patterns. It looks like civilization’s oldest tech is in for some assistance from one of our newest!
Exploring the Limits of the Robots
In any kind of industry or field, humility will always be a crucial personality trait. Once you recognize that no matter how passionate you are about your own work, and how much you know that it’ll do amazing things, stepping back and realizing its limits is also really important. It was with that in mind that we went to see Erik Nieves of Plus One Robotics talk about the limits of what Robotics can do, and what these limits mean.
Despite his decades in the robotics industry, Nieves is firm in his belief that robots will never be superior to human intellect, insight and cognition, and that, by fixating on these concerns, we overlook the true capacities of both robots and, more importantly, of humans. Because, of course, the limitations of the robots are necessarily going to be places where humans will be able to shine. He pointed out that if we spend more time thinking about the ways that robotics can help improve human working capabilities, rather than compete with them, we will find new opportunities that we’re too scared or confused to find right now. Changing the way you frame a question is can be really powerful.
At Start it @KBC, we’re in the business of helping the founders of what’s next do it best. And one way that we can be sure we find and nurture the best, and give them the best chance, is to stay on top of what are the big trends happening now and soon. At SXSW, there are literally too many glimpses of the future to stay on top of all of them, so we have to focus our attention on only a few at a time. But simply being here is inspiring and exciting, and gives us confidence that the startups of today are going to be the giants of tomorrow!