TIME Innovation

The Way You Watch Baseball Is About to Change Forever

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn during a game against the Washington Nationals in Washington on April 21, 2015.
Alex Brandon—AP St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn during a game against the Washington Nationals in Washington on April 21, 2015.

Statcast can start something special for pro baseball

Tuesday night’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals served as the coming out party for Statcast, Major League Baseball’s refined tracking technology that yields more data than an average fan could ever want or need.

But this technology doesn’t cater to the average fan; it’s directed instead at those who have demanded more insights and numbers in an era of data journalism and Moneyball geek dreams.

Statcast didn’t yet have a name when Fortune wrote about the “combination of cameras, radar, and proprietary software” one year ago. At that time, MLB Advanced Media (commonly called “BAM” by baseball journalists and execs) had big plans to roll it out in every single ballpark. Now it has. The technology was equipped at all 30 stadiums in time for the current season, but it didn’t get its television due until this week, when the commentators on MLB Network described the system and cited its metrics about a dozen different times.

For now, the system is exclusive to MLB Network, but in weeks, not months, it will be available to the rest of the networks that show games. When Statcast is consulted on-air during a game, an MLBAM spokesperson tells Fortune, “Context and narrative are very important… Otherwise, it’s just a data stream without meaning.” He adds: “We think for TV this will be a revolutionary tool for instant replay.”

What can Statcast do, exactly? A whole lot more than its predecessor, Pitch f/x, which came along a few years ago and was designed to record live pitches to gather speed, velocity, and other measurements. Statcast can take a single play and determine a whole host of numbers, many of them particularly exciting in the context of defense: a base runner’s speed as he jumps from one base to steal another; his lead on the player trying to throw him out; the angle of his running path; the speed of the infielder’s throw; and even the time it took the infielder to get the ball out of his glove. MLBAM used the early version of Statcast to tell Fortune that, one year ago, Cincinnati Reds rookie Billy Hamilton was very likely the single fastest player in baseball.

This time around, MLBAM can get such granular details as a single hit’s “exit velocity,” that is, how hard it was hit. Thus far, 17 days into the season, these sluggers have launched the five hardest hit balls: Nelson Cruz of the Mariners, 119 mph on April 19; Mike Trout of the Angels, 117.7 mph on April 8; Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, 117.3 mph on April 16; Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, 117.1 mph on April 7; and Hanley Ramirez of the Red Sox, 116.5 mph on April 19.

Sound exhausting? Then you may not be the target audience for Statcast’s insights—yet. But while Statcast may only end up being cited occasionally in each television broadcast, MLB plans to apply Statcast liberally inside its highly successful “At Bat” app.

This is the beginning of something special for pro baseball. MLB foresaw the stats revolution before its sports-league peers, and acted fast to cater to the so-called “statheads,” a small but vocal group that is fast-growing (just look at the popularity of the ESPN web site FiveThirtyEight, which regularly posts minutia such as comparisons of baseball players’ PECOTA scores) and ever-hungry for more data, more analytics, more ways to scrutinize and inspect the game. Baseball fans are perhaps the wonkiest in this regard (certainly more than football folks, for now), but basketball fans are close, and Adam Silver’s NBA has hopped aboard the stats train in response, partnering with Stats LLC to roll out its own camera tracking technology, SportVU, as well as launching an entire site, NBA.com/stats, devoted to analytics.

Statcast may also help baseball claw back to popularity, in a time when it is widely believed the sport has lost some of its luster to the juggernaut NFL, America’s real “pastime,” if measured by eyeballs. A Wall Street Journal story last month mentioned that the polling firm Luker On Trends asked baseball fans during last year’s season which sport was more interesting to them and the NFL beat MLB by 4%—even in its offseason. You can bet that baseball would like to change that.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Innovation

Vincent van Gogh on Why Never Learning How to Paint Helped Him

van-gogh-self-portrait
Getty Images "Self Portrait," Vincent van Gogh

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"I see that nature has told me something"

In a letter to his brother Theo, dated September 1882, found in Ever Yours: The Essential Letters, Vincent van Gogh describes the advantages of never learning to paint.

While making it I said to myself: let me not leave before there’s something of an autumn evening in it, something mysterious, something with seriousness in it.

However, because this effect doesn’t last, I had to paint quickly. The figures were done with a few vigorous strokes with a firm brush — in one go. I was struck by how firmly the slender trunks stood in the ground — I began them using a brush, but because of the ground, which was already impasted, one brushstroke simply disappeared. Then I squeezed roots and trunks into it from the tube, and modelled them a little with the brush. Yes, now they stand in it — shoot up out of it — stand firmly rooted in it. In a sense I’m glad that I’ve never learned how to paint. Probably then I would have LEARNED to ignore effects like this. Now I say, no, that’s exactly what I want — if it’s not possible then it’s not possible — I want to try it even though I don’t know how it’s supposed to be done. I don’t know myself how I paint. I sit with a white board before the spot that strikes me — I look at what’s before my eyes — I say to myself, this white board must become something — I come back, dissatisfied — I put it aside, and after I’ve rested a little, feeling a kind of fear, I take a look at it — then I’m still dissatisfied — because I have that marvellous nature too much in mind for me to be satisfied — but still, I see in my work an echo of what struck me, I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand. In my shorthand there may be words that are indecipherable — errors or gaps — yet something remains of what the wood or the beach or the figure said — and it isn’t a tame or conventional language which doesn’t stem from nature itself but from a studied manner or a system.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

The Epic Scale of Lobbying Cash

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Corporations now spend more lobbying Congress than taxpayers spend funding Congress.

By Ezra Klein in Vox

2. Customer satisfaction and quality health care aren’t the same.

By Alexandra Robbins in the Atlantic

3. Here’s how manufacturers can cut costs and carbon emissions.

By Ken Silverstein in Forbes

4. Why is the U.S. condemned to have second-rate train service?

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood in National Journal

5. Scientists want to use lasers to shoot down space junk.

By Marissa Fessenden at Smithsonian magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. America loves to take sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, we shouldn’t.

By Paul R. Pillar in the National Interest

2. Here’s why Congress should drop the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges. (It’s because they work.)

By Kevin Robert Frost at CNN

3. Cheap coal is a lie.

By Al Gore and David Blood in the Guardian

4. How small-batch distilling could save family farms.

By Andrew Amelinckx in Modern Farmer

5. Can you fix city management with data? Mike Bloomberg is betting $42 million you can.

By Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

This Is How Tech Will Totally Change Our Lives by 2025

Get ready to sell your own data and use algorithms on the job

The ever-increasing hunger for data will fundamentally change the way we live our lives over the next decade. That’s according to a new report by the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit think tank that has released a set of five predictions for the ways tech will change the future.

Personal data will continue to be shared, bought and sold at an ever-quickening pace, perhaps with more benefits to consumers. In the future, people might be able to personally sell info about their shopping habits or health activities to retailers or pharmaceutical companies, according the report. The Internet of Things is also expected to continue to expand, with predictions that everything from cars to coffee cups will be connected to the Internet by 2025.

Increasingly sophisticated algorithms will help workers in knowledge fields such as law and medicine navigate large bundles of information. Automation could either enhance these jobs or replace them outright, depending on how different professional fields advance.

Multisensory digital communications will also become more common in the future. The Apple Watch, which sends notifications via a wrist tap and allows users to transfer the rhythm of their heartbeat to other watches, offers a peek at the way senses aside from sight and sound may be used to communicate.

Finally, privacy tools and technology will likely improve in response to the vast amounts of data that users are constantly sending and receiving from the cloud. Striking a balance between leveraging data to increase efficiency and protecting the privacy rights of individual users will be an ongoing tension in the coming years.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Your mobile phone — working with everybody else’s — might give you a headstart to brace for an earthquake.

By Jessica Leber in Fast Co.Exist

2. This is the beginning of the end for oil, gas and coal. The world is adding more new renewable energy than fossil fuel power.

By Tom Randall in Bloomberg Business

3. What makes the California drought so special? Not that much. Dozens of states are running out of water.

By Elaine S. Povich at Pew Trusts

4. The future of war reporting might be data-sleuthing to see how Twitter took on ISIS.

By Rohan Jayasekera in Little Atoms

5. What if you could give change to the homeless from your smartphone?

By Eric M. Johnson at Reuters

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Go ahead and start a new career in your fifties. It’s easier than you think.

By Donna Rosato in Money

2. This is what sex-ed would look like if it took place entirely on social media.

By Kate Hakala in Mic

3. Here’s why the FDA doesn’t really know what’s in our food.

By Erin Quinn and Chris Young at the Center for Public Integrity

4. What critical resource helps the sharing economy make billions? People trusting people.

By the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor

5. Could a continent-wide CDC for Africa stop the next Ebola outbreak?

By Jim Burress at National Public Radio

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 15

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. is safer than we’ve been in generations. So why do we see threats around every corner?

By Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe

2. Is college worth it? There’s a checklist for that.

By Brandon Busteed at Gallup

3. Life is teaching your kid the value of white lies.

By Melissa Dahl in the Science of Us

4. The secret to success for unregulated currencies like Bitcoin might be more regulation.

By Larry Greenemeier in Scientific American

5. Scotland’s new drunk-driving law works so well, it’s hurting their economy.

By Chris Green in the Independent

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 14

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Have the missing Nigerian schoolgirls been trained to fight?

By Amnesty International

2. Why more roads means more traffic, not less.

By Matthew Beck and Michiel Bliemer in the Conversation

3. Let’s face it. There’s no perfect deal to be made with Iran.

By Pierre Atlas in the Indianapolis Star

4. Does more spending guarantee a better military?

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in the Week

5. What if we could detect some types of cancer with a simple breath test?

By Smitha Mundasad at the BBC

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Meet The Robot Chef That Can Prepare Your Dinner

Moley Robotics An automated kitchen by Moley Robotics.

It can do a very pleasant crab bisque in less than 30 minutes

Ever since Americans were introduced to Rosie, the beloved robot maid on The Jetsons, way back in the 1960s, robotic household help has been the ultimate in futuristic dream products.

A new product from Moley Robotics might bring that future one step closer, as the company unveiled a robot chef on Tuesday at Hannover Messe, a trade fair for industrial technology in Germany. Comprised of two robotic arms in a specially designed kitchen, which includes a stove top, utensils and a sink, the device is able to reproduce the movements of a human chef in order to create a meal from scratch. The robot learns the movements after they are performed by a human chef, captured on a 3D camera and uploaded into the computer.

A few weeks before the robot chef was unveiled, Moley invited TIME to check out the robot and test its fare. In less than half an hour, the robot made a crab bisque, based on the recipe and technique of Tim Anderson, winner of 2011’s season of MasterChef in the U.K., who is working with Moley to develop the kitchen. From selecting the right heat level on the stove-top to adding the pre-arranged ingredients at just the right moment to operating a small mixer, the robot arms made the soup from scratch. It even plated up the soup, including scraping the bottom of the ladle against the rim of the saucepan in order to prevent drips.

Why crab bisque? “Crab bisque is a challenging dish for a human chef to make, never mind a robot,” explains Anderson. “If it can make bisque, it can make a whole lot of other things.” When asked if he feels at threatened by seeing a machine expertly recreate one of his recipes, Anderson is somewhat surprisingly on the side of the technology. “Some people ask if this is going to put my out of a job. This has already given me a job.”

Comparing the robot to cookbooks and YouTube tutorials by professional chefs, Anderson says, “I think it’s going to help people build brands.” The aim is to have professional chefs record themselves cooking their own recipes so that the robot will be able to mimic the techniques and replicate the dish. Anderson envisions people learning how to make a variety of dishes by watching their robots in action. “It’s changed the way I think about cooking,” he says.

Moley, which was founded by computer scientist Mark Oleynik, has partnered with the London-based Shadow Robot Company, which developed the kitchen’s hands. Twenty motors, two dozen joints and 129 sensors are used in order to mimic the movements of human hands. The robotic arms and hands are capable of grasping utensils, pots, dishes and various bottles of ingredients. Olyenik says that the robot hands are also capable of powering through cooking tasks quickly, though they’ve been designed to move quite slowly, so as not to alarm anyone watching it work.

Sadly for vegetarians, like Shadow Robot’s managing director Rich Walker, crab bisque is the only dish the robot is currently able to make. However, the company plans to build a digital library of 2,000 recipes before the kitchen is available to the wider public. Moley ambitiously aims to scale the robot chef for mass production and begin selling them as early as 2017. The robotic chef, complete with a purpose-built kitchen, including an oven, hob, dishwasher and sink, will cost £10,000 (around $15,000). Yet that price point will depend on a relatively high demand for the kitchen and it’s still unclear how large the market is for such a product at the moment.

Dan Kara, a robotics analyst for U.S.-based ABI Research, a market intelligence company that specializes in emerging technology, tells TIME that the household robots that have found a market tend to be smaller devices that tackle tedious chores. “Successful products for the home that I’ve seen have been floor-cleaning [devices] — sweepers and vacuums — and pool cleaners and lawnmowers,” he says, noting that people tend to favor robots that tackle tasks they don’t want to do “because it’s boring or repetitive.” Another key factor of a product’s success is affordability. “Once [robots] get above a certain price, the number of people using them drops right off.”

A robotic chef, however, “just seems like a bridge too far at this time,” though Kara pointa out that he isn’t familiar with Moley’s kitchen or its specific technology.

Which isn’t to say that a robot chef wouldn’t have interested buyers. The robotics industry is growing and the Boston Consulting Group has estimated that spending on robots could “jump from just over $15 billion in 2010 to about $67 billion by 2025.”

But there is still work to be done on Moley’s kitchen before it would be an even remotely practical, albeit pricey, purchase. As the robot doesn’t have any way to see, it’s unable to locate an ingredient or utensil that might be moved or knocked out of place. It also can’t chop or prep food yet, so it must use prepared ingredients that are meticulously laid out. The company is working on improving the robot’s functions and expanding its capabilities, but as Oleynick admits, “it will have some limits because nothing can replace human touch.”

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