Touring Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles, California

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Some of the best places in LA are found deep inside warehouse complexes where creative people manifest extraordinary things. One such place exists within the collection of calm and tranquil art lofts located in an area known as the Brewery. In the past, it has housed Pabst Blue Ribbon as well as the Edison power plant; and innovation seeps out from every corner here.

In one of the buildings is a workshop where entrepreneurs, inventors, engineers, programmers, designers, roboticists, and game developers have gathered to make what they are calling “The Carnival of the Future.” More specifically it is being branded as the STEAM Carnival and looks to bring together lasers, robots, virtual reality experiences, and fire performances for a travelling high-tech circus like no other. Watch the video tour below:

Welcome to the wild world of Two Bit Circus!

It was all started by two eccentric people, Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman. As their profile descriptions say on the Two Bit Circus website, [Brent] is “a lifelong engineer and entrepreneur” and enjoys making “group games, out-of-home entertainment, and likes to inspire kids to be inventors.” Eric is considered the “mad inventor” of the group and has a “colorful history as a circus performer, professional whistler, roboticist, and inventor.” Together, they have wrangled up a fun loving team of creative directors, event managers, physicists and researchers.

One of the leaders of this band of ‘technonerds’ is Nancy Bennett (Chief Content Officer of Two Bit Circus) who recently described the environment to a Boston University reporter as “Willy Wonka meets Q’s lab in 007 meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” It is an eccentric, vibrant place with exciting gizmos and gadgets everywhere the eye can see; all of which is ready to be played with.

Katherine Bomkamp gave us a tour of ‘The Big Top’, which can be viewed in the video embedded below:

As seen in the video tour, electronics, wires, and mounds of circuit boards are stacked up on tables as engineers piece together parts for innovative puzzles and games that will be seen at the upcoming carnival. There are dozens of Raspberry Pi’s strewn out for students to come by and make their own games with. Intel Edison boards are being linked up to wifi connections and LED lights as we speak producing interactive experiences never seen on earth before.

The environment here is similar to what a makerspace (or hackerspace) is like. There are laser cutters, 3D printers, metal lathes, welding machines, and networks of computers. People build whatever comes to mind, and the collaboration between them is strong here as ideas are bounced off each other on a continual basis. 14 - 1 (12) If looked at closely enough, one can find virtual reality experiences being created between all the scattered boxes of jumbled electronics and bright red clown noses. A particularly exhilarating simulation is a race car video experience that utilizes an Oculus Rift headset. It was filmed with a 360-degree setup that captured spherical information during a lap of the race at a nearby racing track. The custom camera rig has fourteen GoPros that were strapped onto the car with a 3D printed case. Accelerometers were then placed on the speeding vehicle that looped around the track at a high rate of speed (~170 mph). That data was translated through proprietary code developed by [Aaron Thomen] which is now viewable through the Rift.

The chair that was paired with the VR headset literally shakes and moves to the exact motions of the car as it flies through the driving circuit. What makes this simulation even better is the large shop fan that blows air at the person in the seat, making them feel like they are actually journeying through the breeze. Even further, there is a controller that can pause the video allowing the observer to look around. This gives the experience a very ‘Clockstoppers’ type of feel to it where just about any moment in time can be explored more in-depth. 14 - 1 (13)

In addition to the racing simulation, Two Bit Circus is working on another virtual reality experience that is currently under wraps. What can be said now though is that it will make the person wearing the system feel like they have been transported deep inside a sports game. At this point, it is still anyone’s guess which sports environment they will be teleported too. This could include basketball, football, hockey, soccer, and snowboarding.

Other more traditional games that are being created at the Two Bit Circus warehouse include a six person gaming table; which has been demoed at several events all around town. The group of carnies have taken it on tour to places including the Brewery Art Walk, TechOutLA and Hackaday’s 10th Anniversary party. [Brent] described the birth of this game at the TechOutLA conference as something that just kind of happened. This was after they filmed OK Go’s ‘Rube Goldberg Machine’ video and was around the same time that their team was taking computer vision games to parties. The reaction took off like a wildfire, and soon companies like Microsoft were calling them up asking them to bring their experiences to corporate events. Later on, the realization occurred that they could travel from city to city showing off fun games like this.

Now, Two Bit Circus is priming up for the STEAM Carnival which will take place at Crafted at the Port of LA from October 25 to the 26th. If the event is successful and gains enough traction, they will take their high-tech circus on the road which could reach out to approximately 10 possible cities.

Tickets can be purchased for the STEAM Carnival on their flavorus page. There are several promos codes for the event floating around that give $5 off. Two of those include ILOVESTEAM, NB, IKNOWBRENT, IKNOWCAT and IKNOWGAVIN.

For additional updates about what Two Bit Circus is up to, be sure to follow them on Twitter @TwoBitCircus and like them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TwoBitCircus

There is also going to be a Hacker Preview day on Oct 23 that will give local LA dwellers a sneak peak of the games and excitement that will be at the STEAM carnival.

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