SXSW 2015: VR for my feet, pedicabs and a biohacking party
South by Southwest Interactive showcases 'cutting edge technologies and digital creativity'
I hadn't arrived in Austin until late afternoon, but by the time I make it to the biohacking party organized by Toronto-based Synbiota, I'd already had a busy afternoon that included navigating a virtual cave using controllers designed for my feet and riding a pedicab through the traffic-snarled downtown core.
Themes range from fashion and wearable technology to gaming to health and medical technology.
Kids and costumes
On my first day, I checked out the SXSW Gaming Expo at the Palmer Events Center, an event open not just to festival badge-holders, but also the general public. Unlike the rest of the festival, it was crowded with children and families. In the tradition of "geek culture" events, many visitors were in video game-inspired costumes.
The event featured a wide range of activities and technology, from retro arcade games to virtual reality experiences featuring new kinds of controllers. Los Gatos, Calif.-based Sixense was letting people train with "virtual light sabres" controlled using hand-held, motion tracking devices that vibrate when they make contact with another virtual light sabre.
Toronto-based Ground Control was showing off controllers that consist of two plates for your feet that let you jump and squat by tipping forward and back, or move by sliding your feet in different directions. The company is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the device. Navigating a virtual cave with it was an interesting experience, but not intuitive for me.
Keg party with E. coli
After the Gaming Expo, my plan for the evening was to head to Synbiota's biohacking party – one of many intriguing private events that are linked to the festival but aren't on the official program. After struggling unsuccessfully to find a pedestrian route that crossed the nearby interstate, I decided to hail one of the many pedicabs or bicycle rickshaws that seem to be one of the only ways to get around. It was a pleasant change from walking.
At the party, the company's chief operating officer Justin Pahara walked party-goers through the steps they needed to take using a computer plugged into the TV in the living room to design genetic modifications for their E. coli bacteria to turn them different colours.