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Live streams of karate and niche sports are terrifying major sports leagues – TechCrunch

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Of the 100 most-watched live telecasts in the US in 2005, 14 were sporting events; in 2015, sporting events comprised 93 of the top 100 telecasts. That shift occurred because TV shows are shifting to online or on-demand viewing, and live broadcasts of the biggest sports are the main thing TV networks have left to draw in live audiences. But the need to keep those sports on TV and off streaming services is only accelerating the rate at which young people are tuning into other sports leagues instead.

The rapid adoption of subscription video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and of social live streams on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch is enabling massive growth by sports leagues that you won’t normally see on TV. In the streaming era, more sports – and new types of sports like esports – keep thriving while interest in traditional pro leagues like the NFL and MLB declines.

OTT is where the growth is

The central narrative in the global film/TV industry right now is the response of incumbent companies to the growing dominance of Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming (aka “OTT” or over-the-top) services. The incumbents are merging to consolidate ownership of must-have shows onto a smaller number of new OTT services that will each be stronger.

The majority of American households have a Netflix subscription (i.e. access to one of Netflix’s 56M US accounts), another 20M have a Hulu subscription, the number of OTT-only households has tripled in 5 years, and 50% of US internet users use a subscription OTT service at least weekly. Almost one-third (29%) of Americans say they watch more streaming TV than linear TV, and among those age 18-29 it’s 54% (with 29% having cut the cord on linear TV entirely). People, especially young people, want to watch shows on their own time and on any device, and they get more value from a few $8-40 per month subscription platforms than a $100+ per month cable bill.

Meanwhile, social live-streaming platforms that got their start enabling people to either vlog or watch video gaming are expanding to all sorts of live broadcasting: Twitch averaged 1 million viewers at any given point of day in January, and there were 3.5 billion broadcasts over Facebook Live in the first two years after it launched (with 2 billion users viewing at least one).

We’ve hit the pivot point where media is streaming-first. Netflix is now the leading studio in Hollywood, spending $13 billion this year on content. Linear TV viewing is declining: every major cable network (except NBC Sports) has declining viewership and aging viewers. Between 2007 and 2017, the median age of primetime viewers on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox went up 8-11 years and are all in the 50s or 60s.

Major pro sporting events are the last bastion of TV networks because the dominant brands are, for the most part, only available live on TV. Beyond those, the only content getting large audiences to tune in simultaneously are a couple Hollywood awards shows and premieres or finales of a couple hit shows (Big Bang Theory and NCIS).

The exclusive broadcast rights to those live sports events – particularly the NFL, NBA, MLB, and top NCAA basketball and football games – are the last defense for major broadcast networks. They are the reason for younger Americans to not cut the cord. ESPN makes $7.6 billion per year in carriage fees from cable companies paying for the right to carry the main ESPN channel (the other ESPN channels add another $1 billion); that number is increasing even as ESPN’s viewership is declining.

Disney (ESPN’s owner) and other leading broadcasters don’t want to let people watch major sporting events online instead (at least not easily or cheaply) because doing so would pull the rug out from under their traditional revenue stream and OTT revenue (subscription + ads) won’t make up for it quickly enough. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that TV networks are paying record sums for exclusive broadcast rights to top sports leagues out of fear that losing them to a rival could be a nail in their coffin.

This strategy is delaying, not stopping the shift in consumption habits. More and more young people are tuning out (or never tuning in) to the major pro sports on TV, and the median age of their audiences shows that: 64 for the PGA Tour, 58 for NASCAR, 57 for MLB, 52 for NCAA football and men’s basketball, and 50 for the NFL…and all are getting older. (Cable news networks, the other holdouts who are still doing well on live TV face the same situation: the average age of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN viewers is now 65, 65, and 61 respectively.)

The major pro sports staying on linear TV has expanded the market opening for new sports to fill the open space with young people who mainly consume content online. In fact, a growing marketplace of different sports leagues (including esports) developing their own fanbases is an inevitability of the shift to OTT video as it lowers the barrier to entry to near-zero and let’s geographically dispersed fans unify in one place.

1. Lower barrier to entry for distribution

Lawn bowling is no longer your grandfather’s sports league. Mint Images/Getty Images

Niche sports leagues – or frankly, even big sports leagues that just aren’t at the scale of professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – have always had a hard time getting coverage on television. But you can produce and distribute video for an online audience more cheaply than for a television audience.

In fact with Facebook Live and Twitch, you can stream live video for free, and you can share clips across every social channel to attract interest. To launch your own OTT service or partner with an existing one, you don’t need to start with a massive audience from the beginning and you don’t need millions of dollars from sponsors just to break even.

Having signed over 150 new deals this year alone for its 20+ sports verticals (which will stream 2,500 live events in 2018), Austin-based FloSports has established itself as the go-to OTT partner for sports leagues with an established, passionate following that aren’t massive enough to garner regular ESPN-level coverage.

From rugby, track & field, and wrestling to bowling, competitive marching band, and ballroom dance, millions of Americans have participated in these activities in their youth and through clubs as adults but rarely see them on television. In fact, the rare instances when such sports are on TV – like their national championships – the league is usually paying large sums (potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars) for that airtime rather than getting paid by the broadcasters.

FloSports gives a home to the superfans of its partner leagues, with full coverage of the sport and commentary meant for real fans. It produces events in the manner best fit to highlight the action and turns superfans – who generally pay a subscription – into evangelists who recruit friends. There are numerous sports that have millions of participants yet no active, high-quality event coverage; those are underserved markets.

By tapping into this, FloSports properties (like FloWrestling, FloTrack, etc.) have gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers and created a surge of interest in teams like Oklahoma State’s wrestling team, which saw an 144% increase in live stream viewing and 68% growth in event attendance after joining FloWrestling (leading to them to set an all-time attendance record in the university’s basketball arena of 14,059 people). In the first half of 2018, FloSports’ various Instagram accounts collectively received 307M video views, more than the collective accounts of Fox Sports or of all NFL teams (and NFL Network).

2. Going global right away.

Johanne Defay of France at a World Surf League event. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The top pro sports leagues have geographically concentrated fan-bases that fit the geographic restrictions of TV broadcasters, which end at a country’s border. Online streaming empowers sports that have large fan bases who aren’t geographically concentrated to aggregate in the digital sphere with enough eyeballs (and paying subscriptions) to drive engagement with the sport’s content through the roof.

Since being acquired in 2015 and renamed World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfing has developed a large global following – with 6.5M Facebook fans and 2.9M Instagram followers – through the launch of live streams and on-demand video on its website and mobile app, plus partnering with third-parties like Bleacher Report’s OTT service B/R Live. Only 20-25% of WSL’s viewers are in the US but since its competitions are streamed direct-to-consumer online, they were able to reach surfers around the world right away. After seeing WSL’s Facebook Live streams garner over 14M viewers in 2017, Facebook paid up to become the exclusive live-stream provider for WSL competitions for two years, beginning this past March.

3. Immediate data on audience engagement.

As with all offline-to-online shifts, OTT video streaming captures dramatically more data on audience demographics and engagement than television does, and it does it in real-time. This makes it easier for emerging sports leagues to partner with advertisers and show immediate ROI on their sponsorships, plus it informs their understanding of how to produce their particular type of sporting event for maximum audience engagement.

Karate Combat is a year-old league that builds off the existing base of karate participants and fans around the world (numbering in the tens of millions) with a new competition format specifically intended for OTT. The league allows full-contact fighting and sets the match in a pit (rather than a traditional fighting ring) for better camera angles. It also replaces the traditional focus on having a big in-person audience (which is expensive) and instead sets the fights in exotic locations (like the fight this coming Thursday night on top of the World Trade Center).

Like many emerging sports leagues, Karate Combat is vertically integrated: the league organizing the competitions is also the one producing and streaming the event coverage over its website, mobile apps, and social channels. This not only means it captures the content-related revenue from subscribers, advertisers, and numerous OTT distribution partners, but it sees every data point about fans’ viewing behavior and their interaction with various dashboards (like biometrics on each fighter) so they can optimize both online and offline aspects of the production.

4. Online means interactive

Jujitsu fighting is now an OTT service. South_agency/Getty Images

Online viewing creates the opportunity for functionality you can’t achieve with linear TV: interactive displays overlayed on or next to live video. Viewers can pull up and click through real-time stats, change camera views, or switch overlays (think the the yellow first-down line in NFL broadcasts or coloring around a hockey puck to help you track it on the ice). Ultimately, a more interactive experience means a more social and more entertaining experience (and the sort of deep engagement advertisers value too).

FloSports’ ju-jitsu live streams (FloGrappling) give subscribers multiple live cameras each covering simultaneous matches on different mats so they can click between them. This is a more personalized experience than passively watching one broadcast on TV and it gets that subscriber actively engaged, with their behavior providing valuable data points for FloSports and their deeper interaction likely more compelling to event sponsors.

The display might also highlight live comments from friends or friends-of-friends in order to draw viewers into a more social experience. Discussion of a specific live stream with others watching it has been a central feature for Twitch and Facebook Live and enables the league or team streaming the event to directly engage with fans around the world.

An exception to the OTT-first strategy may be in sports that are entirely new and have zero existing base of participants or fans. Karate, surfing, and video-gaming all have millions of passionate participants around the world, going back decades. A new league like the 3-year-old Drone Racing League (DRL), which has raised $21M in venture capital to develop the sport of competitive drone racing, has to artificially stimulate the development of a fanbase if it doesn’t want to wait years for grassroots competitions to create a critical mass of fans even for a niche OTT service. It’s unsurprising then that DRL has focused on striking TV deals with ESPN, Sky Sports, ProSiebenSat.1, and others to thrust it in front of large audiences from the start, like a new game show hoping its format will entice enough people to take interest.

Power is in the hands of the league owners

Ari Emanuel, chief executive officer of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The best position to be in right now is the owner of a sports league that’s rapidly growing in popularity. The competition for audience by both traditional media companies and tech platforms leaves a long list of distribution partners eager for must-have, exclusive content – especially content like sports events that fans want to want live together – and willing to pay up.

Moreover, vertical integration to control your fans’ content viewing experience and own your relationship with them has never been easier. There are direct subscriptions, advertisers, event sponsors, event tickets, a portfolio of possible OTT distribution deals, and merchandising. The potential revenue streams a league can develop are only more numerous when you add in launching a fantasy sports league – like World Surf League has done – and the recent nationwide legalization of sports betting in the US.

Endeavor, the parent company of Hollywood’s powerful WME-IMG talent agency, seems to have recognized this and is an early mover in the space. It bought two sports leagues that have relied on TV deals and event attendance revenue – UFC for $4B and the smaller but rapidly growing Professional Bull Riders for $100M – and, since they each own their content, launched direct-to-consumer subscription platforms (UFC Fight Pass and PBR Ridepass) for super-fans and cord-cutters. (Endeavor also paid $250M to acquire Neulion, the technology company whose infrastructure powers the OTT services of the UFC, PBR, World Surf League, and dozens of others.)

There’s opportunity for new streaming platforms focused on being the media partner for these emerging sports leagues. Inevitably, the opportunity for bundling will consolidate many of the niche subscriptions onto a small number of leading sports OTT platforms, and that’s a powerful market position for those platforms.

What is unclear is if they can defend themselves as the incumbent media and tech companies come around to this phenomenon and commit billions toward capturing the market. The leading sports broadcasting companies all have OTT offerings and want to make them as compelling to potential subscribers as possible even if they exclude content from the biggest pro sports. A larger company that can afford to spend huge sums on exclusive sports streaming rights (like Disney with ESPN/ABC, Comcast with NBC/Sky Sports, CBS with CBS Sports Network, or Discovery with Eurosport) might opt to buy a company like FloSports as part of their deep dive into the space or they might just aim to outbid them when a league’s contract comes up for renewal.

The hope for an independent OTT platform devoted to emerging sports leagues is they get big enough, fast enough that they can afford to keep winning the rights to emerging leagues as those leagues grow and offers from competitors bid prices up. These dedicated OTT services will likely have to secure long-term – think ten years – streaming rights deals or acquire control of some popular new sports leagues outright to hold their own.

Like online distribution triggered an explosion of digital publishing brands and social influencers for every imaginable niche, the rise of high-quality live streaming and subscription OTT services will allow a lot more sports leagues to build an audience and revenue base substantial enough to thrive. There’s more variety for consumers and resources than ever for those with a rapidly growing league to attract fans worldwide.

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Sweet Tooth is hopeful post-apocalyptic fare—but beware its Walking Dead vibes

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The trailer for Sweet Tooth.

Netflix’s new fantasy series, Sweet Tooth, first looks like a crudely fictionalized version of 2020. A disease colloquially referred to as The Sick spreads rapidly among humans while overwhelming infrastructure, grinding daily life to a halt, and racking up a body count. When this story begins, society tries to put itself together again. An unnamed narrator calls it “The Great Crumble.”

This disaster, however, can’t be contained even to the extent of COVID-19. No cure or vaccination has been discovered, so most humans opt to live in isolation either as individuals or as disease-free groups. This withdrawal has allowed nature to essentially step into the void—animals previously only seen in a zoo roam free, and landscapes grow out in full to replenish what society previously destroyed for resources.

Oh, and in Sweet Tooth, the next generation of kids appears to include half-animal/half-human individuals called Hybrids. The ratio of column A to column B varies—some talk, some don’t; many look like traditional kids with small animal features; all retain abilities like heightened hearing or smell—but no one seems to know anything for sure. Why did this evolution happen? How many are there? And, most pertinent, what makes Hybrids immune to The Sick? In the face of all that mystery, some portions of this new world look at Hybrids as a hopeful evolution of humanity, a group of individuals society should protect and help thrive. Others, though, see Hybrids as a hindrance to humanity getting past The Sick and returning to normalcy. In particular, Hybrids’ immunity to The Sick has swaths of this new world curious about whether their DNA can be harvested for treatment or prevention.

In the middle of this whole mess sits Gus, a deerboy Hybrid who simply lived a quiet life in an isolated Yellowstone cabin with his father until, well, you can probably see where this is headed. Luckily, that predictability doesn’t make the journey ahead any less fun.

Grin, grim, grin again

So, our Tom Sawyer-loving deerkid has to set off on a country-traversing adventure of his own, and throughout, he’ll encounter numerous individuals with unknown motives who may want him dead or may partner up to become a found family of sorts. I watched a large portion of the series with a teen sibling, and needless to say they were able to call out many of the individual episode’s twists and turns. Sweet Tooth covers a lot of well-worn movie and TV territory, but it will still likely have you in for the long haul if you’re fond of any of the numerous kids-versus-the-world adventures of yore (from The Goonies to Harry Potter).

That said, I was amused by the series’ unique approach to some common aspects of its intersecting genres (kid adventure, post-apocalypse). When Gus and his first new partymate (a former football player turned hunter/assassin named Tommy Jeppard, aka Big Man) inevitably encounter a militarized group of people, that community isn’t full of former cadets or marines. Instead, this amateur army learned its tactics because they were previously a devoted group of friends who played games like Overwatch or Halo. And the scientists who remain and must sort out this disease mess aren’t former government lab jockeys; they used to be regular-old medical care providers. They very much continue to grapple with the trauma of watching all these patients of The Sick deteriorate as this new world asks them to step up and lead, so these docs have their humanity in tact rather than operating only with some “anything for the greater good” mentality.

It would be very, very easy for Sweet Tooth to become too dark, too emotionally heavy, or too tiresome for viewers who have lived some of this stuff IRL in the last 16 months. Again and again, the show gave me flashbacks to when I used to follow The Walking Dead, which I had quit watching entirely after hours and hours of despair. Like TWD, Sweet Tooth has our heroes going through cycles where they encounter many different groups of people who initially seem nice and helpful only to reveal themselves to be something else later on, often with tragic results. (When will people in TV and film learn that there may be no scarier, more dangerous place than white picket fence-lined suburban neighborhoods? Sigh.) In another notable zombie-brains-show similarity, the bad guys (whether that’s a disease or a disassociated lunatic military man) seem to come out on top more often than not, at least in these first eight episodes.

Despite that, Sweet Tooth never veers entirely into ruin porn or nihilism. Mostly, that’s because of its central figure. Unlike Rick Grimes (The Walking Dead), June (Handmaid’s Tale), or many other characters existing in an apocalyptic new reality, Gus is still a kid. The world hasn’t beaten him down into expecting the worst all the time, and his general optimism and wonder keep this story feeling light enough despite many gut punches along the way. Sweet Tooth‘s source comic wrapped in 2013, and production on this Netflix series began long before COVID-19 took over. The creative team had already made a few decisions to tone down the bleakness of the source material, and the benefits of those choices are only amplified by the context viewers bring to the show in summer 2021.

I have yet to actively seek out any pandemic-related pop culture. Maybe my appetite for it will eventually change, though let’s revisit that in a decade. But given how all-encompassing this ongoing global situation has been, of course you can’t help but consume some of it, even by accident. For me, the stuff that works so far has had some degree of optimism or hope underneath the adversity, chaos, and tragedy. The risotto episode of How to With John Wilson, for instance, includes overrun grocery stores and scenes from hospitals, but it ends by underscoring our need for human interaction and the newly realized immense value in it.

On the surface, Sweet Tooth isn’t about the pandemic at all. This show is for teens, and it is not subtle about hammering home a central idea regarding humanity’s role in destroying our planet through climate change and an insatiable thirst for more. However, the show’s plot prominently features a worldwide pandemic, making it impossible to not think about that through the lens of these eight episodes. Ultimately, Sweet Tooth points to a few positive messages amid the disease darkness.

First, don’t be jerks to the youngest generation. We don’t yet know how this will impact them, and they are the future who will unravel this mess and navigate its lasting impact. Additionally, pushing forward necessitates extending kindness to others. The weight of the world is emotionally on everyone’s shoulders (if not physically, to a large extent). And when it’s impossible to know when your next event, trip, family reunion, or whatever thing you look forward to will happen, some other kind of hope must exist for you to believe in if you want any chance at emotional and mental survival. Gus gives that hope to admittedly broken-down individuals like Big Man, and it’s easy to imagine him spreading that optimistic outlook wider in S2 given the pessimistic way things wrap this time around.

Traditionally, summer always felt like a dumping ground for networks to try unusual things as people vacation or generally get out more; bigger series headliners tend to wait for fall returns or premieres accordingly (see Y: The Last Man or The Foundation in 2021). But recent years have seen surprises emerge at the end of spring and become their own critical darlings (HBO’s Los Espookys) or megafranchises (Stranger Things). Whether Sweet Tooth can travel the same surprise path to stardom remains to be seen, but it’s at least nice to have a new show worth following as we enter another summer where travel might be complicated (though, mercifully, not as complicated as it is in Sweet Tooth).

Listing image by Kirsty Griffin / Netflix © 2021

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Test out next-gen space tech in Kerbal Space Program

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Most games lose relevance after a few years, but the indie rocket-building game Kerbal Space Program is a bit different. It’s a glitchy, 10-year-old underdog of a game with a cult following of programmers, engineers, astronaut candidates, and your typical lay explosion enthusiasts, and it has a unique and active community of modders who’ve been fixing bugs, adding new features, and generally keeping the game fresh for nearly a decade.

In the game, you are the omniscient director of a space program composed of literal little green men (and beloved little green woman Valentina Kerman—we see you, trailblazer) that you send skyward in spacecraft of your own design. It often feels like watching those blurry old videos of rockets launching only to come straight back down in an explosion of fiery schadenfreude: you feel a little bit frightened, a little bit sadistic, and you really want to try it again.

Art imitates life

One of the most prolific Kerbal modders is Chris Adderley, Nertea in the game, who is an engineer at the Canadian space company MDA by day, designing ground-based systems that retrieve data from spacecraft. But in his off time, Adderley gets into the pilot’s seat himself. He started playing Kerbal Space Program soon after its release, and in 2013 started building his first mod for the game—a pack of spare parts, including a xenon fuel tank and a magnetoplasmadynamic thruster (just try saying that three times fast).

Since then, he’s designed dozens of additional mods, including a Mark IV Spaceplane and space station add-ons like centrifuges and inflatable habitats.

“I build stuff that I’d like to see us as a species build in the future,” says Adderley.

Recently, Addlerley decided to take some of the most plausible far-future theoretical rocket engine concepts and build them in the game—introducing a way for gamers to try out these sci-fi concepts in a simulated environment that can teach us how they might actually work, on a more practical level, in the future.

Adderley combed through dozens of scientific papers that outlined theoretical blueprints for these ultra-advanced propulsion systems, looking for those that were most realistic.

“Everybody tries to sell their project as the propulsion system of the future,” says Adderley. “You need to kind of think a little bit critically about what people have hand waved.”

He crunched the numbers, considered how much power a specific engine would need, how to deal with the heat produced, and how you’d harness the energy to propel the virtual rocket further. “That was superfun, which might be a supernerdy statement, but you know.”

In the end, he built out 13 different engine concepts, including fusion engines—like The Expanse‘s Epstein drive is theorized to be—fission engines, and antimatter rockets.

Though we don’t yet have the technology to implement these specific-impulse demons, there is some real world value in being able to simulate advanced engines in a low-stakes environment. In fact, it’s such a great sandbox that engineers at SpaceX and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have used Kerbal graphics in their presentations. In 2018, NASA released Open MCT, a telemetry data visualization software designed for operating spacecraft, to the public on Github. It’s costly and time-consuming to test these systems on real spacecraft, so some participants ran their programs through Kerbal instead.

For Sumontro Sinha, an aerospace engineer and fusion researcher at the Propulsion Research Lab at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Kerbal is the go-to for testing out new ideas and training new engineers.

“Instead of Powerpoint slides and pages of equations, just make the ship and see how it works,” he says. “If it works in Kerbal, then it has a good chance of working in real life.”

Donut power

The spherical tokamak fusion engine is based on the fictional spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey, sans HAL the killer AI. Adderley found the actual science behind it in a NASA study, in which the paper’s lead author, Craig Williams, says NASA funded a number of projects focused on developing advanced propulsion systems. Williams’ team designed an engine that uses the energy produced by a fusion reaction to generate thrust. Fusion occurs naturally in the interior of stars like our sun, where lightweight atoms are superheated to the point where their electrons and neutrons decouple and neutrons, normally repellant to one another, fuse together and produce massive amounts of energy. One of the biggest challenges in producing this energy on Earth is that you need a way to confine the resultant plasma and harness its power.

One way to do this is with a tokamak, a device that generates a donut-shaped magnetic field that keeps the superheated plasma in place. In Williams’ engine prototype, this tokamak would be nearly spherical—more like a donut hole. The exhaust produced would propel the vehicle to over 166,000 mph, taking passengers to Jupiter in just under 4 months. To put that into perspective, the deep space probe Voyager is traveling away from our solar system at 35,000 mph.

When Williams’ paper came out in 2001, the authors wrote that the capability to produce this type of engine might be 30 years out. Now that it’s 2021, Williams is revising his estimate. “We’re probably not any closer,” he says. His paper came out in an era of enthusiasm for advanced propulsion, but much of that zeal has waned until recently. “You can’t really make much progress when there’s no active program going on, “ he says. “Until you start the clock again, that 30-year projection will just keep moving forward.” Bummer. But in the decades between now and humanity’s era of two-week Saturn vacations, you can still try out your own digital version of Williams’ engine.

Ride the nuclear lightning

The Afterburner fission fragment rocket engine is based on another NASA-funded engine concept study from 2011 that utilizes the energy created in nuclear reactions to propel a spacecraft forward. Reactors filled with Americium, a highly radioactive rare material that is a byproduct of uranium-driven nuclear reactions, generate fission products that flow down a chamber. This chamber is injected with hydrogen gas, which gets intensely excited when it meets up with the fission fragments and generates a plasma that is funneled through a powerful magnetic nozzle as thrust.

With this breakthrough, a round trip to Mars would take 292 days, including a 60-day stay on the planet. While the engine is slower overall than a fusion engine would be, it’s far closer to what we’re technologically capable of at present.

“The nuclear thermal rocket is a technology that is getting developed, and it’s already been demonstrated,” says Jason Cassibry, who leads the Propulsion Research Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. In April, DARPA selected three contractors to demonstrate the first phase of a nuclear thermal rocket, and NASA and the DOE put out a call for similar preliminary designs in February. Cassibry says fission fragment and nuclear pulse engines are not far behind, but they have additional engineering hurdles to face, including figuring out how to divert all that energy away from the hull of the spacecraft so it doesn’t burn up in space.

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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Arcade1Up pinball cabinet review: Fine for families, interesting for modders

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Enlarge / Say hello to the Arcade1Up Attack From Mars physical pinball cabinet. The chassis is physical; its games are all virtual. Read below to understand what the heck that means.

Sam Machkovech

If you’re of a certain generation, chances are you have imagined (or, at this point in your adulthood, built) your own home arcade that resembles something out of the golden ’80s era. One useful path to making this a reality, especially in tighter quarters, is the “multicade,” an invention that squishes multiple games into a single cabinet.

But what if your old-school gaming dreams revolve around something bigger and bulkier, particularly pinball? Until recently, your options were either buying a bunch of original pinball cabinets or building your own ground-up emulation solution. And the latter is complicated by the realities of how pinball plays and feels.

I’ve wondered how long it would take for that to change in the gaming-nostalgia market, especially as companies like Arcade1Up produce and sell more multicade cabinets for home use. The time for change is now, evidently, thanks to a handful of manufacturers producing pinball multicades. Arcade1Up in particular launched three distinct pinball emulation cabinets this year, each revolving around a different license.

Thanks to Arcade1Up, I’ve gone hands-on with arguably the most interesting product in its 2021 pinball line: a collection of 10 classic tables, all created by Williams during its arcade heyday but emulated for more convenient home play. What exactly does $600 get you in terms of emulation and build quality?

Time to get Mad and Medieval

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