By Geoffrey A. Fowler Cyborgs are descending on Austin, Texas.Some 25,000 of the technology world’s elite, many bearing devices that measure, photograph or otherwise digitally enhance their movements, are gathering at South by Southwest, the annual tech and culture festival that begins Friday.Traditionally a launchpad for newfangled social services and mobile apps that push the boundaries of software, South by Southwest’s interactive component this year is making more space for hardware.The gadgets range from so-called wearables, which integrate sensors and screens into jewelry and clothes, to new ways to interact with computers beyond the keyboard and mouse. Their arrival at the festival is one sign that efforts to build the Internet into everyday objects may be edging closer to the mainstream.Companies hoping to benefit from the buzz include Jawbone Inc. and Nike Inc., makers of devices that track human activities for fitness, health and other purposes.San Francisco startup Leap Motion Inc. will be offering the first public demonstration of its $ 80 device that lets you control a computer just by waving your hands.”The single biggest thing that’s holding back computing isn’t the power or cost of computers, but how people interact with them,” says LeapMotion Chief Executive Michael Buckwald. “There is so much more people could do.” Google Inc. plans to pitch its latest idea for getting rid of the computer entirely, replacing it with interactive eyewear it calls Project Glass. Google senior developer advocate Timothy Jordan is scheduled to give a talk on Monday on how to build software that could take advantage of this ostensibly less-obtrusive way to integrate the Internet into daily life.And that’s not even the most edgy idea. Stockholm startup Memoto, a finalist in South by Southwest’s accelerator competition, will show off its small clip-on $ 279 “lifelogging” device, which takes a photo of what’s in front of its user every 30 seconds, storing all those images online for future review.The inspiration for Memoto was that carrying around a camera is a pain, and you often miss capturing moments that later you realize were important, says Memoto co-founder Oskar Kalmaru. “If you could automate the creation of these memorabilia of your life, that would enable you to live life in a much easier way,” he says.Many such devices are going to require “new rules for engagement” in society, says Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester Research analyst who is giving a talk on Monday on the challenge wearables face going mainstream. “If I am wearing [Google] Glass and you are not, how does that change the power dynamic between us? Is it OK for me to film you without your permission?” she says.San Francisco startup founder Leslie Ziegler is scheduled to talk about a year she spent tracking and measuring everything she could about her life, including wearing at least 15 devices. “I learned there is not a whole lot you can do with your data unless you take the time to sift through it,” says Ms. Ziegler, 30 years old, who is now working on a startup called Rivet that supports health-care entrepreneurs in emerging markets.Another problem: Much of the new gear isn’t very fashionable. “We need to move away from bolting technology onto our bodies like cyborgs and consider ways that we can gracefully and beautifully blend these computing capabilities into the fabric of our lives,” says Jennifer Darmour, a designer with Seattle-based firm Artefact, who is giving a talk on smart fashion on Saturday.Ms. Darmour developed prototype Pilates clothing that can detect movement and gently give touch-based feedback from inside the fabric about how to improve movements. “We can have invisible interactions that you don’t have to take your cellphone out or launch an app to use,” she says. Write to Geoffrey A. Fowler at [email protected]
WSJ.com: Small Business
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