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Wearable Tech Startups Pitch Their Wares at SXSW 2014

A purse that is wired to charge a phone
This handbag, by wearable tech startup brand Jon Lou, could charge a smartphone 14 times, its inventors say. (Image credit: Tanya Lewis)

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Some of the hottest new ideas for wearable technologies, from a device that could verify your identity based on your heart rhythm to a swanky handbag that can charge a smart phone, were on display for a packed crowd at the South by Southwest Interactive festival on Saturday (Mar. 8), in a conference room at the Hilton Austin Downtown.

The event was part of the SXSW Accelerator competition, which gives tech startups a chance to pitch their products here to an audience of technology experts, members of the media and venture capitalists. The competition will conclude on Sunday, when a winner is selected from among the eight finalists within the wearable technologies category, and five other categories.

Up first was the Toronto-based company Bionym, which is developing the "Nymi," a wristband that the company says will use the wearer's unique cardiac rhythm to confirm identity, in lieu of a password or pin number. [10 Best Apps and Gadgets From SXSW]

"Identity is hard," the presenter said, but "what if you could make identity easy?" Just like a fingerprint, your heartbeat is always with you.

The Nymi costs $79 to preorder, and will retail for $99. Bionym has already received thousands of preorders, according to the company.

Next, San Francisco-based Fashion Discovery Labs presented an app that could allow Google Glass wearers to take a picture of someone's clothing and instantly shop for the item online. The app will use image recognition to find similar items, and fashion stylists will pick the three best matches for the user to choose among. The user will then have the option to buy the item directly, search nearby stores or save it for future reference.

"How cool is that?" the presenter said. Of course, as one of the competition's judges pointed out, it does mean taking photos of strangers across the room.

Next onstage was Jon Lou, a lifestyle brand that touts itself as "MIT engineering meets Italian design." The Staten Island-based startup is developing a fashionable handbag that could charge your phone or tablet, and light up inside when opened. Playfully named the "314" (the first three digits of pi), the handbag uses "MIT fuel cell technology," and could charge a phone 14 times before the battery needs to be replaced.

But for all its utility, the high-tech handbag comes with a hefty price. With a potential price of $1,592, the judges wanted to know why a woman would buy this bag instead of a better-known brand such as Stella McCartney.

Last up, another Toronto startup, Kiwi Wearable Technologies, presented the "Kiwi Move," an all-purpose tracking device that the company says will contain motion sensors, temperature and air pressure sensors, a microphone and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. Developed by two people at a technology "hackathon," the device is now available for preorder for $125.

The startups are competing with four other wearable tech startups, and finalists will be asked to return Sunday for a final round of judging. Winners will be announced at the end of Sunday.

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Tanya Lewis
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.