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Map navigation drone Flare Frog
A map navigation drone called FlareFrog

5 most sci-fi tech predictions from SXSW

The fashion-tech section of South By Southwest throws up its best futurist prophecies

Now that the Interactive (read: technology) part of South By Southwest has closed, it's time to recap on what we learnt, other than the fact that the hype around wearable tech isn't going away any time soon. This year was a special bumper year for fashion at SXSW. For the first time, the convention curated a special programme called SXstyle that blended science, tech and fashion into one delightfully packaged look into the future of design. Here's five of the biggest predictions from the cutting edge of fash-tech.      


"Drones have gained a bad reputation as overhead spies and remote control missile platforms," said self-described tech futurist Adam Pruden. "It's a good bet that drones will become a prize gadget in our everyday lives." Turns out that a lot of the tech used in drones is similar to what you might find in your iPhone, leading one US senator to dub them "flying smartphones". Pruden has come up with early ideas for wearable drones that clip onto your clothing and launch themselves off you in order to perform certain tasks: there's a pollution drone called Breathe that monitors air quality and hovers in front of your mouth as a pollution filter, and a wristband-attached one called Flare that flies in front of you to direct you to your destination.


"I wanted to travel the world with half a carrier bag," said Abe Burmeister, the founder of Brooklyn activewear brand Outlier. To that end, technologists and designers on several panels were trying to create smart textiles that could sense changes in its environment and adapt accordingly. Imagine trainers with soles that could transform to match your activity, from growing extra cushioning for a job to spikes for uneven terrain. The ramifications aren't just for sneakerheads, either; as Pratt Institute professor Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman put it: "What if you had a single garment that could adjust your body temperature to whatever environment you're in?"


Ever smacked into a lamppost while looking at Google Maps on your phone? Several panellists at SXSW were all over this problem. Billie Whitehouse from WE:EX (Wearable Experiments) was modelling a navigation jacket that synced up to Maps and uses haptic technology to tap you on the right or left shoulder, depending on when your next turn is. One of Pruden's drone concepts was also a wristband-attached one that would fly in front of you to lead you to your destination. Outside of SXSW, there's also a team of MIT researchers who have come up with sneakers that guide you on your route by vibrating your foot in the right direction.


"There's a general consensus among designers that customization and personalisation is the next big thing," said Tinker Tailor co-founder Áslaug Magnúsdottír, whom Vogue once dubbed "fashion's fairy godmother". Her business allows customers to customise high-end designer clothing including Vivienne Westwood, Marchesa and Rodarte. But Print All Over Me's Jesse Finkelstein offered a way more radical way forward: his platform lets budding designers (or anyone, really) to upload prints and visuals onto over 100 silhouettes from sweatshirts to silk scarves, allowing them to order a garment for themselves or sell them for profit. Who needs fashion school when you can just DIY it? 


Looks like our prediction back in 2014 is coming true. One SXSW speaker pointed to the creation of Digital Ira as a sign that our fashion advertising will start incorporating digi-people. Admittedly, he's not the handsomest model on the block but the Institute of Creative Technologies creation is a photo-real digital human that looks (almost) exactly like the actual thing. The technology is already being used by Hollywood film studios to replace stunt actors in scenes that are deemed to dangerous for real humans. "By 2020, advertisers will be able to cook up digital avatars to act in commercials," predicted Stylus' Christian Ward. Beats having to deal with models and agents, right?