It's pretty easy to get your mind blown at the SXSW Interactive trade show, where innovators and developers and big-time visionaries from across the globe descend on the Austin Convention Center to show us the very latest thing in high-tech awesomeness.
Inventors demo prototypes that the public won't get to see for months or even years, allowing us to experience their visionary take on the world and truly see what smart, creative people can do when confined only by the boundaries of their own imaginations.
Here's what we found to be the highlights, though they are by no means the only cool thing at the SXSWi trade show, which ends Wednesday.
Project Glass by Google
These smart glasses developed by Google X laboratories seek to blend the online world with the real one, overlaying things like headlines or directional cues on top of what the user is actually seeing.
The glasses were demoed at the trade show with a handful of apps, including one by the New York Times that will bring up headlines into the wearers field of vision — and then read them aloud in a speaker only the user can hear.
An "Explorer's Edition" will be available later this year for developers in order to expand the glasses' usage and abilities. Starting at the relatively accessible price of $1500, however, it can't be all that long before this Minority Report style view of the world is available to the rest of us.
Imagine wanting a pair of flip-flops. You go online, you download a pattern of sorts, and you print them out on your little desktop 3D printer, and presto - you've got your new pair of flip flops. Or your new heart, whichever is more necessary at the moment.
The idea of 3D printing is not an entirely new concept, as developers have been publicly discussing the idea of printing skin cells and organs and inanimate objects for a year or so. But the closer it gets to mainstream, the cooler it gets.
The MakerBot Digitizer was one of the most popular things at the SXSWi trade show, and a panel on the future of 3D was reportedly one of the most well attended. The idea has particular draw now because 3D printers are about to start hitting the consumer market. Exhibitors were wearing them around their necks, walking around, printing out wristbands for iPod Nano and crazy little figurines for people to see.
There were desktop models, while others showed industrial-sized printers — and said they were working on ways to use recyclable materials. Some of the desktop models started at around $1300, not cheap, but not out of reach, either.
This "Remote Presence Device" is billed as "your physical presence, anywhere in the world." What that looks like is a TV monitor at eye level, on a stand with wheels. Inside the TV monitor is the head of another person — FaceTime style — and you're interacting with that person as if the two of you were standing next to each other.
Amber, for example, was our friendly booth operator who happened to be talking to us from Palo Alto, California. She could see us and the room around us, and she could pilot the Beam machine to "walk" beside us.
The entire set-up starts at $16,000, so the applications right now are still going to be commercial (or for the Richard Garriotts of the world). You look at The Beam and think of doctors doing rounds at remote clinics three continents away, and suddenly the world seems so much smaller.
After all, we were walking and talking with a woman who was 1700 miles away. If that doesn't fire your imagination, nothing will.
The Texas company BlinkFX brings the magic of DMX to wearable blinky lights, turning your typical deejay-style light show into an interactive entertainment experience.
Little LEDs the size of ping-pong balls respond to an infrared projection — which can be put on a wall, on a ceiling, or anywhere else in view of the lights — and synchronize the lights to a set pattern, or to music, all controlled by industry standard DMX lighting controls.
The lights will be available to the masses closer to summer, and Joel Carter, the Argyle, Texas-based company, is excited to see how people plan on using them.
"People are coming at us with all kinds of crazy ideas," he said.
One he hadn't heard of: Using them on large group bicycle rides to synchronize the lights on hundreds of riders, helping with both visibility and just inherent coolness. That was a new one, Carter said with a smile. See? All of us can be innovators.
Powered by two Xbox Kinects and a projector, OpenPool, The Super Billiard, drew a consistent crowd to its open source project, which can only be described as a pool-table-slash-pyschadelic-light-show — a regular pool table with lights projected from above.
When the balls rolled, the lights followed them and made crazy disco patterns on the green. A school of virtual fish swarmed around and avoided the balls.
And when the balls knocked into each other, a comical "doing" kind of sound filled the air. The purpose? Pure entertainment. Sometimes, there's nothing else you need.