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Innovators at South by Southwest 2019

Last week we had the chance to visit South by Southwest to take part in the Finalist Showcase for the Interactive Innovation Awards. We were honored to be recognized for our Metal X 3D printing system; as a bonus, we had the opportunity to chat with other finalists and hear more about some exciting innovations of 2018. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend!

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Toast, Inc.

Toast Go™

We talked with Steve Fredette, co-founder of fellow Boston startup Toast. With nearly 1,500 employees and boasting the leading cloud-based restaurant management platform, they have grown massively since their launch in 2013. The company was nominated for its newest product, Toast Go: a fully integrated, handheld point of sale device allowing restaurant employees to spend less time making transactions and more time personalizing guests’ experiences. “It allows servers to take orders and payments at the table to avoid having to run back and forth between a table and a terminal to punch in orders,” Steve mentioned as he showed us the new device. The co-founder went on to share some thoughts on the future of point of sale systems, from advancements in mobile payments to implementation of computer vision and facial recognition. “We’ll see what happens with facial recognition and paying with your face, there’s a lot of things that can be interesting in the future there.”

Ministry of Supply

Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket

Continuing our exploration of Boston-based innovation, we spoke with co-founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena at Ministry of Supply, an apparel company that is rethinking how clothing is engineered. From “scientifically wrinkle-free” pants to odor-neutralizing socks, they design clothes that are both functional and fashionable. Ministry of Supply was nominated for their Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket, outerwear that uses artificial intelligence to learn your preferences and adjust temperature appropriately. “We have three carbon fiber heating elements throughout the jacket,” the co-founder explained as he pointed a thermal camera at the inside of the garment, “and an app that allows you to manually control the power output.”

A thermal camera revealing the carbon fiber heating elements embedded within the jacket.

The jacket can heat with up to 10 watts of power and optimizes its output based on your activity level and desired warmth. Using temperature readings, accelerometer data, and past manual inputs, the jacket actually learns your preferences and heats accordingly. Integration of electronics supported by AI is, according to Gihan and his company, the future of apparel. “When electronics touch garments, that’s when we start to see Moore’s Law hit with clothing.”

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My Special Aflac Duck™

Partnering with Aflac, Aaron Horowitz and his team at Sproutel set out to create a companion specifically designed for children with cancer. The robotic plush duck aims to help kids communicate with others and cope while they undergo chemotherapy. As a patient-centered design workshop, Sproutel engaged with over 100 pediatric cancer patients to design the duck. “Everything he does is because of something we learned from one of the children,” Aaron explains, “everything we do, we’re designing it with children, with parents, and with their doctors.”

Aaron showed us the seven “feeling cards” that come with the duck. They are plastic emojis that, when pressed to the toy, cause it to mimic the designated emotional state. “We mapped the emotional journey and we identified the seven most common feelings.” According to Aaron, this, combined with matching those feelings to the duck’s behavior, offers a way for the kids to communicate what they are feeling before they may be able to verbalize it.

The My Special Aflac Duck on display at CES 2018 (Photo: Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images)

It was exciting to catch up with Boston-area startups and hear more about innovations in other industries at SXSW. If you are interested in learning more about our finalist printer, check out the Metal X webpage.

Hero image from SXSW.

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