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Two Bit Circus Continues Quest to Turn Flames, Virtual Reality, and Lasers Into a Business

Take a bit of Maker Faire, a dash of Burning Man, and a scoop of Chuck E. Cheese, add $15 million, and poof, a micro-amusement park

2 min read
A roped off entrance that says 'Coming to LA 2017'
Image: Two Bit Circus

Brent Bushnell and his compatriots have been playing with electricity, fire, augmented reality, and classic carnival games for years now. They did it under contract to advertising agencies, they did it for the now-defunct TV show Extreme Makeover: HomeEdition, they did it as part of a Kickstarter campaign, and they did it to entertain their friends. They’ve paid at least some of their bills with it, but haven’t exactly lit the world on fire (just Brent Bushnell’s father, Atari-founder Nolan Bushnell, who they put in an asbestos suit and flambéed.)

Their latest venture, under the company name Two Bit Circus, is the “micro amusement park”. According to a press release, it covers approximately 2800 square meters, and will include multi-person virtual reality and mixed reality games, other social games, lasers, fire, and robots.

I’m not sure how well giant Tesla coils and flaming dunk tanks are going to go over with local zoning authorities. However, part of their vision has long involved augmented reality, and the “new arcade,” heavy on immersive, virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, is in the news these days. There’s been a lot of interest in VR and AR lately, high quality equipment is expensive, so it’s likely most people will experience this technology in an arcade setting, not at home, the reasoning goes. (I heard that scenario proposed many times at CES 2017.)

Given, then, that someone, somewhere, is going to make money off of AR/VR arcades, Two Bit Circus’ funding announcement this week is not surprising. The company just closed a US $15 million round, bringing total venture investment to $21.5 million. According to a press release, the money will be enable the company to start rolling out micro-amusement parks across the United States; the first will open later this year in Los Angeles. Brent Bushnell, CEO and co-founder of Two Bit Circus, defines micro-amusement as something bigger than an arcade and smaller than an amusement park that combines features of each.

“Out-of-home entertainment hasn’t changed much since laser tag and mini-golf. The latest tech has just blown the doors open on a whole new world; changed what it means to play, and play together socially.  People stress about tech pushing people apart, but we love watching it bring people together,” Bushnell said in a statement.

The amusement parks will, in addition to technology, sell food and drinks, prepared,  in part, by robots. But the company (which certainly carries more than a little DNA from Nolan Bushnell’s Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater chain) is not going to offer something so last-millennium as pizza, but rather, according to the press release, will feature “molecular gastronomy and mixology.”

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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