South by Southwest Interactive, Day Three

SX Create and maker tech for libraries

March 17, 2016

The Handibot in action on the SX Create show floor.
The Handibot in action on the SX Create show floor.

On my last day at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), I focused on the show floor and the SX Create space. The SX Create area is home to maker activities and companies, and it was full of people interacting with technology, building things, and experimenting. It was, unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the SXSWi experience.

SparkFun is always coming up with cool new educational kits, and at SXSWi users could build its BadgerHack demo boards. Seeing attendees walking around SXSWi with their badges flashing with the SparkFun kit was great.

Another company that libraries should be aware of is LulzBot. It makes the LulzBot Mini and TAZ series of 3D printers. I’ve been recommending these as the best entry-level 3D printers for libraries because of their nearly effortless printing capabilities. The Mini works right out of the box. Its auto-leveling feature is worth the price by itself—as anyone who has dealt with other printers can tell you, leveling is incredibly time-consuming.

I got some information about their upcoming TAZ 6. The TAZ is LulzBot’s larger printer, with a build area that can print a full-sized basketball. The upcoming TAZ 6 will be modeled after the Mini, with an enclosed power supply and, most important, the auto-leveling system. If you’re in the market for a larger printer, this is the one to watch for.

Makey Makey's musical plants
Makey Makey’s musical plants

My favorite booth was Makey Makey’s. Makey Makey is a small, easy-to-use gadget that can turn any conductive object into an input device for a computer. The famous example is the banana piano, which can turn a series of bananas into a keyboard. At SXSWi, they turned a small jungle of plants into a musical machine that would play ambient music depending on which plants you brushed against, using the plants themselves as input devices.

As more libraries get into makerspace technology, I often get asked about CNC (computer numerical control) machines and how they might fit into library spaces. If you have the right sort of maker area for a CNC, the Handibot is an inventive take on the traditional CNC machine. Rather than a fixed-size machine that carves material placed into it, the Handibot sits on top of the material you wish to carve. It can be moved around to mill nearly any size material, including wood, acrylic, aluminum, and more. It’s messy—and loud—but if you’ve got the right space for it, a CNC can do some really cool things. Handibot looks like a good option for libraries.

The SX Create area was a wealth of interesting tech for libraries to soak up. It was definitely the highlight of SXSWi, although the lib*interactive group did a fantastic job representing libraries on the show floor, and the Library IdeaDrop house curated and created some amazing content for libraries and librarians to access. (Full disclosure: I was a part of the IdeaDrop house this year, and I loved the interviews that I was a part of).

Librarians definitely made an impact on SXSWi in 2016, and I think we will continue to do so in the years to come.