Innovation Awards at SXSW: Part One


Taking place in early March, the South by Southwest festival is an annual convergence of music, tech, film, education and culture. 2023 looked to be a very interesting year, particularly with the growth of AI and other innovative tech, so we were keeping a watchful eye as the event unfolded…

What caught our attention the most were the Innovation Awards, celebrating 50+ finalists with forward-focused digital projects from across the world, amongst 14 different categories. Below, we explore some of our favourite innovations from the AI, Design, Health and MedTech categories. Keep your eyes peeled for the second part of the blog, where we discuss the Immersive and Sustainability categories…

South by Southwest Drone Shot

AI – Reality Defender

It was clear that AI was going to be a big topic for discussion at the 2023 SXSW Conference, with its rise in popularity soaring through Chat GPT in recent months. One of the finalists in the AI category for innovation was Reality Defender, specialising in deepfake protection through scientist made, government approved technology. With partners including Microsoft, VISA, US Homeland Security and NATO, it is clear that Reality Defender is a serious contender in protecting against deepfakes.

If you’re not already familiar, deepfakes are a type of artificial intelligence used to create convincing images, audio and video hoaxes. You may have seen the viral video of the Tom Cruise deepfake, which cleverly emulates his mannerisms, voice and appearance, making for a very convincing video. Reality Defender’s systems index billions of assets to be able to identify advanced threats and protect users against the incredibly intelligent technology used by deepfakes. Users can also hook up their own systems or scan deepfakes using a Reality Defender app, analysing real time risks through emails and technological forensics.

Of course, this is a very clever tool, but prompts discussions into the uses of AI. There are evidently more positive uses for it, but the very fact AI is being used to combat AI, poses the question of how such innovative technologies can affect society and business, both for better and worse.

Reality Defender

Design – HoloKit X

HoloKit X featured as a finalist in the design category, for its mixed reality accessibility. With the product being deemed a ‘key to the realverse’, it is clear that the HoloKit X seeks to blur the lines between reality and augmented reality, whilst maintaining that human aspect often lost in fully virtual spaces. Simply put, the product is a stereoscopic AR headset that physically attaches to iPhones creating a see-through, optical product. Within the mixed reality (MR) universe, easily accessed through a QR code, users can experience holograms with direct vision of the real world – think bringing mythical and virtual beings to life through the lens of a phone.

With seamless multiplayer experiences, users can enter shared mixed realities anywhere all whilst being present in the real world. Users don’t require an internet connection to join and also don’t need to pre-scan any spatial environments, which is sometimes the case with other mixed and augmented reality technologies. Asymmetric MR allows users to play through a second person puppeteer mode, controlling the holograms separately to the standard first-person view.

This is clearly a very innovative product, making MR experiences more accessible, although it is noted you do need an iPhone to play…so without this, the cost almost equals that of a better, higher quality VR headset. Despite this, its 3D environmental perception, precise hand tracking and hands-free motion control, through apple watches, makes the HoloKit X a really exciting innovation in the growing journey in developing virtual and augmented reality spaces.

HoloKit X

Health and MedTech – Koniku

Cyborgs. Biological smell cyborgs. This is perhaps one of the most interesting innovations from the SXSW event, really gripping the attention of festival goers, and for good reason!

Koniku is the world’s first corporation of its kind, using synthetic biology and intelligence in MedTech. At the SXSW Conference, Koniku presented their innovation of smell cyborgs, used to safely diagnose disease and maintain health and wellness in real time. They aim to put out smell cyborgs into 10 million homes within a decade to allow people to become the ‘CEO of their own health’. Their innovation uses the devices to map volatile organic compounds within homes that touch human life. They use engineered proteins to function as sensors, amplifiers and biological signal processors.

To be honest, this concept seems crazy. Both crazy-spooky and crazy-clever. Some may argue it’s invasive, and using tech to such an extent goes beyond what people want to engage with. Some may argue that it highlights how human intelligence and tech intelligence can benefit one another, and that tech really can take over the world, just in a good way that looks after humans!

Koniku - Bio is Tech

Check out part 2 of the blog to find out our thoughts on the Immersive Innovation (GALWAD) and the Sustainability Innovation (Nature’s Fynd). We’d love to chat some more about your thoughts on this too – check out or socials and engage in the conversation!

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