SXSW’s first weekend in 5 headlines

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN/MEDIA GENERAL) – From security to superstars, the annual South-by-Southwest festival in Austin, Texas is well underway after a busy weekend. We’ve boiled down the big moments to help keep you up to speed.

Beefed Up Barricades

On this first weekend of South-by-Southwest 2015, security was enhanced as never before for the event. The festival’s opening day also marked the one year anniversary since a suspected drunk driver plowed into a group of festival goers, killing four and injuring 20 others.

Photo Gallery | Stars come out at SXSW

Everywhere you looked, there were pumped up patrols, beefed up barricades; the cost, effort and police presence clearly stepped up.

One of the primary barricades are Austin Police Department patrol cars. About 85 of them are scattered at intersections throughout downtown, representing 13 percent of the city’s marked vehicle fleet.

Snowden Surprises SXSW

Edward Snowden spoke again at SXSW, but this time, only a few people knew about it. Last year, the National Security Agency whistleblower spoke via satellite from Russia. Snowden made headlines for exposing the government’s surveillance methods.

This year — again by remote — he gave a handful of SXSW attendees a Q&A session. According to The Verge, during Sunday’s session Snowden called on companies to adopt technology that could block surveillance or make it more difficult. The Verge reports that one participant called it a “call to arms” for companies to invest in privacy and security tools.

Stars Shine at SXSW

Ryan Gosling, Billy Crystal, and Sally Field, there was no shortage of big watt movie stars in Austin, Texas over the weekend. Gosling is making his directorial debut with “Lost River.” Field premiered “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” a comedy-drama about a woman in her sixties who has a relationship with a younger co-worker. And, Crystal, showed off “The Comedians,” a film in which a veteran comedian is reluctantly paired with a younger, edgier comedian for a late-night comedy show.

Of course, plenty of stars were there to make waves for various brands. Hulk Hogan showed off Windex. Adrian Grenier was there for Dell. And, Brooklyn Decker hosted an event for Visa.

The Future of Cars

One of the great things about interactive South-By-Southwest is the glimpse it gives us into the future. For car junkies, what a future it is.

SXSW attendees got to see sports cars, sedans and trucks loaded with the latest and that could interface with any technology you can imagine. And, of course, self-driving cars were on prominent display.

“I think in ten years if not five years we are definitely going to have cars that are fully autonomous,” said C-3 Group President Doug Newcomb. “They drive themselves. I’ve tested them, ridden in them. The technology is going to be here before we know it.”

The new models also include data analytics and traffic flow management.

Off-the-Grid Mobile Chat

No cell service? No problem.

An app called FireChat uses phone signals such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to connect to other users’ phones and enable chats without any network connection. The app is created by a San Francisco startup called Open Garden.
It links people via what it calls a “peer-to-peer mesh network,” connecting through phone signals rather than a network.

The range is about 90 feet but the connection can jump from phone to phone if there’s a crowd. It’s software-only, says co-founder and CEO Micha Benoliel. Currently the app supports public group chats and hashtags; private messaging is coming.

The app, which is a finalist for South by Southwest’s innovation awards, has 5 million users and has been used by tens of thousands of people in India and the Philippines at political protests

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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