Tech gurus, eco architects, mobility pioneers, hipster bands, and even a film festival – flanking the annual SXSW conference in Austin, house of smart served as an interactive oasis and creative hub for thousands of visitors. Their bounty: plenty of new inspirations, immersive virtual reality installations, and a rideshare service based on the new smart electric drive.

The yard next to the house of smart was fully packed, still the crowd spilled over into the surrounding streets. The occasion for the concourse: Singer Bishop Briggs, belting out her hits „River“ and „Wild Horses“ on the outdoor stage.

When the L.A.-based singer closed her energetic performance with a veritable thunderstorm of strobe lights and smoke machine magic, set off against Austin’s Texan sundown, it felt like a full-blown music festival.

Mobley performing at the house of smart
Mobley played on the indoor stage at house of smart.

Over the previous five days, house of smart on 6th Street in Downtown Austin had become a popular draw for SXSW visitors: Every day, the pop-up location would switch from inspiring talks to live club, workshop, and installation space – and all the way back again.

Major urban topics and trends for the future

Earlier, experts and visitors had spent hours discussing the major urban themes that will shape our future: How smart mobility, sustainable architecture, and innovative product design can benefit from digital technologies.

More about the house of smart

Most talks stressed that despite the increasingly boundless scope of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, people need to remain at the center and focus of our efforts. And they need to regain control of their data.

“We‘ve reached peak ‘things’,“ stated Jeff Wilson, one of the most sought-after experts on small-scale living. He made a strong case for expanding physical things by intelligent services instead.

A tangible example of the entrepreneur and professor of architecture’s idea can be found a few blocks down the road: his Kasita micro home, designed around user experience and set to revolutionize the home construction industry.

Jeff Wilson presenting at the SXSW conference
Expert Jeff Wilson and other guests offered interesting talks and panels.
smart electric drive conference at the SXSW in Austin
The yard at the house of smart was the perfect place to mingle and relax.

The art of innovation

Guy Kawasaki, best-selling author of thirteen industry-changing books and Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador, delved deeper into the art of innovation, drawing on his experience as former chief evangelist at Apple.

According to him, successful products and services need to contain a maximum of depth, intelligence, completeness, empowerment, and elegance. To give us an example, Kawasaki mentioned the general idea behind smart and the recent addition of services like smart “ready to drop”.

Many of the featured speakers simply brought their own innovations to the house of smart, treating guests to demonstrations of the novel electric M1 skateboard by Inboard, power-generating pavement slabs by pavegen, or the travel community platform Raleigh&Drake.

Guy Kawasaki talking at the SXSW conference in Austin
Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador Guy Kawasaki captured the audience.
smart lab banner in Austin
The smart lab gave insight into the world of “ready to …” services.
Visitors of the SXSW conference at the house of smart
The line of people stretched around the block.

Virtual reality and adventure photography

Can’t wait for the future? 3-D virtual reality artist Topher Sipes offered a tantalizing shortcut. He equipped visitors with a virtual reality headset and handheld controllers for the Google Tilt Brush app – and invited them to create their very own vision of the city of the future in this virtual realm.

Speaker Cory Richards at the house of smart
Award-winning filmmaker Cory Richards on travel and adventure photography.

Naturally, this wealth of digital explorations had an equally exciting analog counterpoint. Intrepid climber and photographic storyteller Cory Richards – National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012 and award-winning adventure filmmaker – explained how to find and capture the most moving moments in the most remote areas of the world.

Still, instead of climbing the Himalayas like Richards, most of us find it challenging enough to navigate everyday traffic. This is where moovel North America CEO Nat Parker, Paul de Long of car2go, and Rasheq Zarif of Mercedes-Benz North America came in: They revealed how all available options – from car and bike sharing to taxi services, and public transport – can already be accessed and managed via one single app.

Rasheq Zarif, Paul de Long, Nat Parker, and Doug Newcomb speaking at the house of smart
Rasheq Zarif (Mercedes-Benz), Paul de Long (car2go), Nat Parker (moovel), and Doug Newcomb (C3) discussed the future of mobility (from right to left).

“A very Zen-like place“

The best thing about house of smart: The location’s steady oscillations between a “very Zen-like“ atmosphere, as Bishop Briggs put it, and a full-on art and music experience.

On the venue’s eclectic music line-up, Briggs was joined by synth-pop heroes and “Stranger Things“ soundtrack producers S U R V I V E as well as local musicians Mobley and Capyac. Not to forget the audio-visual delights of the Austin Music Video Fest, which had previously played host to video specials by Beyoncé and Arcade Fire, to round out the closing night.

And since it’s all about the journey, house of smart also offered a free ridesharing service, chauffeuring guests to and from the venue in style in one of the many new smart fortwo electric drive models. Their silent and locally emission-free passage through Austin added to the Zen-style appeal: It proved the most convenient mobility option among the hustle and bustle of the world’s biggest digital conference.

smart fortwo models parked outside the house of smart
New smart electric drive in front of the house of smart.
house of smart pop-up booth
Refreshments were provided by Lemonaid.
Visitors standing outside the house of smart
Lemonaid in the boot of a smart fortwo
Visitors drinking Lemonaid
Display of smart innovations in Austin
Visitors could vote for their favorite future “ready to …” service.
house of smart at the SXSW in Austin
Historic Waller Ballroom hosted the house of smart.