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March 14, 2018

Sushi robots, AI pianos and jump jetpacks on SXSW’s show floor

by John_A

The SXSW show floor hosts a treasure trove of strange, innovative and ridiculous experiences from around the world. A vast array of industries are represented in the heart of the Austin Convention Center, including virtual reality, 3D audio, medical technology, sustainability, interplanetary rockets and rovers, and even bespoke, branded socks. This year, some of the most eye-catching installations are all about robotics and artificial intelligence.

Japanese companies showed up at SXSW with a handful of concepts for the future, including Lunavity, a jetpack designed to help the wearer jump higher and farther. It simulates jumping in a low-gravity space — hence the lunar namesake — and opens up new sports possibilities. One developer specifically mentioned quidditch, for instance.

And then there’s the sushi robot from Japanese manufacturing company Denso and its partners. The project itself is called Open Meals, and the goal is to digitize different foods and then have robots recreate those recipes anywhere in the world (or in space, as the marketing video demonstrates). The food itself will be constructed out of a gel that can take on a variety of textures. In the concept phase, sushi created by the Open Meals robot resembles something out of a 16-bit video game, but hopefully with investment and additional development time, it’ll eventually look like the real thing.

Yamaha showed up at SXSW, too, with a demonstration of its Yoo artificial intelligence technology. Yoo is an AI system that listens to the music someone is playing — in the case of this demo, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the piano — and responds in real-time with an accompaniment. Yoo has already made its debut in Japan, where it’s been used in professional concerts. In one case, the AI system joined a quartet — while the strings sung, a pianist-less piano played along.

There’s also the AI-powered Gochan mascot created by Nextremer, a team that builds natural language processing systems (chatbots, essentially). Gochan is the face of TV Asahi, a Japanese television network, and at SXSW, she came alive, asked me questions and then wrote a rap about my life. It was adorable, if not exactly practical.

That’s the beauty of the SXSW show floor — some of these products are far-fetched concepts, some are practical solutions to everyday problems, and and still more are simply a lot of fun.

Catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2018 right here.

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