Nation & World

SXSW: Robots will make your lattes

And in the future, grocery shopping will be like gaming

At South by Southwest, as entrepreneurs and celebrities mingle to discuss the future of tech, but practicality remains part of the recipe. (Dreamstime/TNS)
At South by Southwest, as entrepreneurs and celebrities mingle to discuss the future of tech, but practicality remains part of the recipe. (Dreamstime/TNS)

AUSTIN, Tex. — At South by Southwest, as entrepreneurs and celebrities mingle to discuss the future of tech, a lot of the hype focuses on attention-grabbing projects such as flying cars.

But there also are ideas on display with a more practical bent — projects that could get into consumers’ hands sooner.

Thousands have flooded downtown Austin for the annual event that runs through this Sunday and includes a tech conference, movie screenings and music concerts. For techies, there is so much to see, do and experience that it’s easy to miss the new ideas that could transform whole industries.

But tune out the noise, and you could find prototypes for products that could shape everything from how we buy groceries to how we build houses in the future.

Gaming grocery

Remember Pokemon Go? The augmented-reality technology that made it possible for people to chase and catch the cartoonlike creatures with their smartphones may be coming to a grocery store near you. That’s the idea behind a prototype from Fjord.

Grocery shoppers first put together a shopping list, adding items manually or through voice commands to a virtual assistant such as Amazon Echo. When shoppers go to the store, they can hold up the smartphone app to see labels pop up above store aisles, which indicate where desired items are located.

A cartoon-looking yellow brick road guides shoppers to each item. When shoppers scan a QR code next to an item, they can read reviews of a wine or find suggested recipes for a particular box of pasta.

Robo-barista

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Coffee Haus enables robots to make coffee and other espresso beverages that customers can personalize based on temperature, flavor, caffeine strength or numerous other preferences.

Charles Studor, founder and chief technology officer of Briggo, said by designing a connected coffee system, customers get a consistent cup of coffee and “more of the cost of the cup can go into the quality of the ingredients.”

Printed houses

Jason Ballard, one of Icon’s co-founders, sees 3-D printing as a way to build affordable, energy-efficient homes that create less waste.

Last summer, they began working together to develop a large 3-D printer that can work in an environment without reliable access to power and a user-friendly design so it can be operated by people in the community. It can build 600- to 800-square-foot homes in 12 and 24 hours.

The goal is to build the homes for $4,000 each — cheaper than the $6,000 cement-block homes that the nonprofit typically builds.

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