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SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards: Some innovations will end up in classrooms, help those with disabilities

South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual event in Austin, Texas featuring music, film, and technology. This was my second year as a judge for the SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards, which honors creative innovation in technology.

At the awards ceremony on Tuesday, March 17, prizes were awarded for the winners of each of the 14 categories: Health and MedTech, Innovation in Connecting People, Internet of Things, Innovative 3-DIY, Music Discovery, New Economy, Privacy and Security, Responsive Design, SciFi No Longer, Student Innovation, Sustainable Tech, Transportation Advancements, Visual Media Experience, and Wearable Tech. Check out both the winners and finalists. The advancements being made in technology today are often mind-blowing.

This year, I had the pleasure of judging the following categories:

  • Innovation in Connecting People: Awarded for the best new way to connect to others.
  • Internet of Things: Awarded for the best smart product that most seamlessly integrates into our lives to improve convenience and efficiency through its intelligence and interconnectedness.
  • Responsive Design: Awarded for excellent digital design, creating the best integrated interactive in terms of content, aesthetics, and functionality.
  • Student Innovation: Awarded to the student with an exceptional interactive technology project or startup; both of which are the future. 

A lot of entries will start cropping up soon in classrooms and in EdTech conversations — some already have. Here are a few highlights from this year’s contestants:

Fun for the classroom

Aurasma: Augmented reality

FishGL: An interactive 3d fish tank

Hackaball: Programmable ball that kids can use to invent their own games

Live from Space: Track the International Space Station

Lumo: An interactive video projector


Capti: Browser plugin and app that narrates text in documents and on the web

My:24: An app that facilitates the making of a personal documentary


CyArk: Explore international culture & heritage landmarks

Question Bridge: Open dialogue about Black male identity in America

Stinks, Bangs & Booms: History of the chemistry set

YouStories: Ancient and modern narratives of war


I was pleased to see the amount of innovation being done to help people with disabilities. The winner of the Health and MedTech category was VocaliD, an assistive communications company that is working on creating unique synthetic voices for the tens of millions of people worldwide who rely on computerized voices to communicate.

Video by Huffington Post for VocaliD


Guide Dots was the winner of the Transportation Advancements category. This is a smartphone app for the visually impaired that combines Google Maps, Facebook and crowdsourcing data to create an auditory map of the user’s surroundings.

Video by Guide Dots


Two finalists in the Innovation in Connecting People category were Talkitt and UNI. Talkitt is an app that helps people with speech disabilities by translating unintelligible pronunciation to understandable speech.

Video by Talkitt


UNI is software that translates sign language into speech and speech into text, allowing deaf people to communicate with hearing people who do not know sign language.

Video by MotionSavvy


It’s pretty hard for me to pick an overall favorite of mine from this year, but if I had to I think I’d go with VocaliD. The really unique thing that VocaliD did was find a way for everyone to be involved, whether they have a speech disability or not. For instance, anyone can become a voice donor by signing up and recording pre-determined sentences.

Was there a winner or finalist that jumped out at you? Which of the above innovations are you most excited about?

Alisa Herr

Alisa Herr is the former chief technical officer of EducationNC.