In the Avengers, when Steve Rogers said to Tony Stark: "Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?" Tony Stark replied: "Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist." After seeing back to back keynotes from Leap Motion and Elon Musk, I feel like I was 20 yards away from the armored avenger himself (minus the alcoholism and the raging ego).
THE Holy S#!t Demo of SXSW
I had not heard of Leap Motion before its session. I was in the room from the previous session with Tim Berners-Lee (the literal inventor of the World Wide Web), and I thought if I left that I would not get back in for Elon Musk's keynote. In the first 10 minutes, I was blown away.
Founded in 2010 by Michael Buckwald and David Holz who are now only 24 years old, Leap Motion demoed The Leap Motion controller. The controller is a small USB peripheral device designed to be placed on a physical desktop, facing upward. With 2 cameras and an LED, the device can create highly precise models of your fingers and hands to drive a wide arrange of software and hardware applications.
Said in a different way, the not-gonna-happen in our lifetime stuff that Tony Stark can do with 3D models in both the Iron Man and Avengers movies looks a whole lot more like it is definitely going to happen.
Buckwald and Holz have stated that their mantra has always been to develop a "genuinely better way of doing things" and it was clear to the entire audience that they have done exactly that. The twitter Q&A immediately exploded with questions about applications in 3D modeling, manufacturing in clean rooms, work in space or hazardous environments, remote surgical interfaces, complex data interaction and on and on. It became immediately clear that the normal models for human computer interaction mouse, stylus and even touch had been fundamentally disrupted.
Leap has given more than 12,000 devices away to developers to create content and applications capable of taking advantage of the device and pre-orders have numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Last year's "highlight" app left people thinking "ugh… if this is the hit, then SXSW might be done." Leap's demo left people thinking "OMG! creating doesn't have to be tedious and slow! I can't wait to see what comes next!"
The Ultimate Entrepreneur
Like Tony Stark, Elon Musk is a mix of business tycoon and techno-gear head. He has both a business degree from Wharton and a Physics degree from University of Pennsylvania. He is both the CEO and the CTO of Space X. He is the founder and heads product design for Tesla Motors. Somehow, he also manages to be the chairman of the board of SolarCity, which is the largest provider of solar power systems in the US.
Unlike the much derided Solyndra, SolarCity is bringing power to the people as a giant, distributed utility. How did Musk avoid the fate of Solyndra? Simple, he's smart enough not compete with China in a commodity product.
SolarCity does not make solar cells, they provide turnkey solar solutions for homes and businesses. For residential customers, they do everything from permits to design to installations and don't charge any up-front fees. Homeowners simply pay for solar power by the month -- just like a utility bill -- only lower.
The questions Musk answered from the twitterverse revealed a good bit of what type of man he is. When asked why he chose the areas to go into, Musk replied: "I did not go for the opportunity… it needed to be done to make things better." When asked what advice he would give, he replied: "Always solicit critical feedback, especially from friends."
When asked about his biggest mistake, he struggled, not because he did not think he made any, and not because they made him who he is. He struggled, saying there were so many to pick from and it was hard to pick "the biggest." He settled on one "big" one and explained that it was a big mistake to "put too much emphasis on talent and not enough on personality and heart."
Again, just like Iron Man, once you remove the shiny and brilliant shell, he's a soft-hearted guy underneath. Just what you want in a hero.