SXSWarmer Day 3: Seeing the light

Screen shot 2012-03-10 at 8.03.52 PM.jpgGrant Hunter, regional creative director APAC of Iris Worldwide - who divides his time between Singapore and London - is at SXSW in Austin, Texas this week, and reports exclusively for Campaign Brief.

Things have warmed up on day 3 out here in Austin. The sun has started to shine and I hit seven different talks. I purposefully went to diverse talks that were away from the 'brand' and 'marketing' area to get a different perspective. I've picked out a few highlights.
Screen shot 2012-03-13 at 9.32.18 AM.jpgI popped into the Lytro camera presentation. Lytro utilises lightfield technology.

Lightfied was originally proposed by Faraday in 1846 but the term wasn't coined until 1936 by Alexander Gershun.

Over the last 2 decades Lytro have been researching and refining the technology so that it's consumer ready. Lightfield basically means the camera captures and preserves the direction of all light in an image. The direction of every individual ray is captured. This means you can refocus the image on your computer after it has been taken. They maintain that it will change photography as you have rich 2d, 3d+ and interactive data. Later in the year they will release a camera thatwill shoot so that everything is in focus, a model with true tilt shift capability and a 3d camera. Sean Reynolds (Global CD at iris) from our New York office has one of the first cameras to ship and it's definitely an interesting proposition, if not a little quirky to use. After going to the presentation I showed Sean how to zoom in and out using the touch sensor on the top of thecamera - something Sean hadn't worked out how to do. In typical bloke fashion he hadn't bothered to read the instructions. You can read more about this quirky little camera here: lytro.com/camera

As part of the research for the Urgent Genius book we've been looking at Google's people finder so seeing that Pablo Maygrundter, one of Google's Software Engineers was speaking I was keen to hear more about it. The Adapting new technologies for Humanitarian aid panel featured Kate de Rivero, Comms Manager at WAHA international and Ivan Gayton, head of Mission at MSF, alongside the Google man.

Kare talked about WAHA's work in Africa where they are on a mission to cut the number of women dying in childbirth . There's a huge lack of personal medical records but there's a huge uplift in mobile usage across the continent. 640 million phone users from a total population of 1 billion. This change has been rapid and that's down to the legacy of bad landlines. Africans have rushed to the mobile phone as it's the first time there's been a means of mass communication. Various services are popping up to help remote communities become more connected. She showed a few interesting examples:

Screen shot 2012-03-13 at 9.37.09 AM.jpgicow in Kenya is used by farmers to manage their livestock.

ushahidi.com maps out text messages to co-ordinate citizen to help which is particularly good for natural disaster situations.

Motechin Ghana is a Bill Gates funded service. It's a mobile midwife that sends reminders to expectant mothers to get them to attend their Doctor's appointments. Many of the mothers are illiterate so the service uses audio messages.

Mpesa, means money in Swahili and it's a way of transferring money by text message. It's used widely by people to pay for their travel.

Screen shot 2012-03-13 at 9.35.42 AM.jpgTaking the above examples as inspiration WAHA have set up a service with Microsoft called Health Vault.  They are going to trial it in South East Senegal where many mothers are in remote locations and can be up to 3 days away from the health centre.

It's a Personal Health Record for private and secure data sharing. It uses a simple message service. An SMS code is sent via the phone to update records. This will allow the health services to have synced up records across the country for the first time. It will revolutionise how the services operate as it will allowthem to identify outbreaks of disease

Ivan and Pablo then talked about the Haiti earthquake and the resulting cholera outbreak. Ivan was the first emergency coordinator there when the disease broke out cholera is a bacterial disease that has a simple treatment  - rehydrate. You just need water with a few electrolytes. But it can spread like wildfire and the fatality rate is 40%. Haiti was quite unique as there hadn't been cholera there for 100 years because it's surrounded by developed countries, so when it hit it hit hard. The country had no systems to deal with - health service and the people didn't know how to deal with it. It was the largest intervention that MSF have done they treated 110 thousand cases of cholera. It became extremely important for them to know where they need to be. A guy in the office had Google Earth map on his screen and that sparked a thought inspired by John Snow and his cholera map of London in the 1800s. Ivan stressed that mapping is potentially a better way to improve the response. Maps can save lives he thought so -he rang MSF's NYC office and asked them to ring Google to see if they could help.

Pablo then described the process they went through. He was working on the infrastructure for real-time search and he looked up some old projects for 911 and Katrina. In just 48 hours had a rough prototype to help find people on the map. It was a big deal to share real-time data during a disaster. The Google team however found out when they were on the ground that all the assumptions they had made had serious flaws. The quality of the internet is temperamental in Haiti. You can't expect DNS and the cloud to be there all of the time so their architecture didn't work. They had to rely on some old tech (ironic considering the title of the talk). They used a load of GPS Garmin units from Best Buy, some pool chlorine kits and spreadsheets. This meant the low skilled, low educated locals could gather the data by jumping on bikes and filling in a spreadsheet. They then collated all of the data and mapped all of the water systems on Google maps. The map took the data from the health centres and showed which neighbourhoods had the biggest problems. This tool became really useful as a way for MSF to prompt action from health partners UNICEF and the water authority. Ivan explained that they had had data in spreadsheets previously but they hadn't been able to visualise it until Google's mash up.

Screen shot 2012-03-13 at 9.43.07 AM.jpgToday's interactive keynote by Cyborg lover Amber Case titled Ambient location and the future of the Interface was incredibly popular. She talked about how ethereal data is and that we are now accessing our 'stuff' through mini portals. Mobiles/tablets/computers are actually becoming an extension of our brains.

The amount of digital stuff we are creating is immense. She showed two pieces by Nick Rodrigues. He created an installation titled Email Garden. It features fake grass that grows as he receives email. In real-time it shows a representation of the amount of data in his inbox in a really playful way. And a portable cell phone booth to give you privacy when you've on your mobile.

She then moved on to the main part of her theory. She's become interested in technology that gets out of the way. Technology that does away with the traditional visual interface. She took us on a journey starting in Xerox Park in the 70s. Xerox had a concept called Calm Technology. Simply put it describes the fact that people get angry with bad technology. Calm tech just works and lets you get on with your life. One example she described, the Haptic compass belt, buzzes when you go North. It gives the wearer a sixth sense Case maintains that this would be a better (and safer interface) for sat nav rather than the current visual ones.

She then talked about her tutor who tracked his locations every 5 secs for 2 years and then made 'invisible buttons' that left messages in places for people. She recounted how strange it was for her when she followed his tracks and heard his observations. "Look to your right raspberries, hey look it's the Burnside Bridge". 'Geo fences' detect when you've in their vicinity and activate certain pre-determined functions. For example a geo fence around your home could turn the lights turn on when you arrive and off when you leave. Your phone can become a remote controller for your life. Data with context becomes really useful. Case closed with the following thought:

The best technology gets out of the way to help you get on with life so that you're not chained to the desktop.

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