At an annual tech show, it’s hardware’s turn in the spotlight

March 11, 2013

The Leap is a small iPod-sized USB peripheral that creates a 3D interaction space of 8 cubic feet to precisely interact with and control software on your laptop or desktop computer. It’s like being able to reach into the computer and pull out information as easily as reaching into a cookie jar. (Credit: Leap Motion)

At this year’s South by Southwest, the most talked-about start-ups this year include the maker of a camera that automatically takes a photo every 30 seconds, a new game console, and a gadget that lets people control their computers and devices by waving their hands, The New York Times reports.

At least two dozen panels, talks and presentations involve some sort of new device or gadget at this year’s event — a much higher portion than he could recall from previous years.

The new emphasis on devices over software reflects a much larger shift in the start-up and tech world, driven by tools like crowdfunding and 3-D printing that make it cheaper, faster and easier to create prototypes. The trend is accelerating partly because of the popularity of and excitement around small companies making items like wearable fitness devices as well as smartwatches developed by Pebble and smart thermostats created by Nest.

The dropping costs of designing and building inventive new hardware products has prompted a wave of creativity and innovation that echoes the software boom a decade or two ago in Silicon Valley.

Among the key companies at the event are Ouya, a Kickstarter-financed Android gaming machine, Makerbot 3-D printers, Supermechanical, which makes Wi-Fi-enabled sensors that can be used to detect things like moisture, the makers of the Leap Motion Controller, a gadget that lets people control their computers and devices by waving their hands.