Pet Tech: 5 Innovations for Pet Owners

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Technology has changed your life in more ways than you can count, and it can help your pets too. Look at these five innovations in pet technology that are on the market today.

Whistle: A Pet Fitness Tracker

In the movie, “I, Robot” a robot was walking a bunch of dogs. This isn’t possible in real life yet, but there is technology that can help you ensure your pet gets enough exercise. For instance, Whistle is a collar that your pet wears to track activity, such as resting, walking, running, and even swimming (yes, it’s waterproof). This information is then viewed in an app dashboard to let you know if your pet needs more exercise. Whistle also alerts you of a sudden decrease in activity so you can check on your pet’s health.

Solar Chaser: Solar-Powered Cat Toy

Another awesome bit of pet tech is the Solar Chaser. It is a solar-powered cat toy that you attach to a glass window that gets sunlight. It is great because it encourages your pet to play even when you’re not at home. Pets have tons of energy and it’s not healthy for them to be sedentary. The Solar Chaser is essential for pet owners that don’t spend a lot of time at home.

Petcube: Laser Toy for Pets

Image via Flickr by CuteKittenHorselover

Just because you’re not at home, it doesn’t mean you can’t interact with your pet. There are toys that help you play. For instance, you can turn on the Petcube and play with your dog or cat on your lunch break. There is a camera that lets you see your pet and direct the laser when you want your pet to chase it.

PiP: A Facial Recognition App to Find Missing Pets

More than likely, your pet is going to escape from your yard or get lost at some point in his or her life. That’s why lots of people microchip their pets — it’s easy way for others to identify you as the owner. However, PiP (Positive Identification of Pet) is a less invasive way to keep track of your pet. It is an app that uses facial recognition technology to positively identify your pet if he or she becomes lost. All you have to do is upload your pet to the system and others can find your contact information from there if they find your pet.

The Woofer: Pet Vest Packed with Technology

If you love running with your pet, The Woofer is a great way to improve your experience. It is a tech vest that attaches to your pet with built-in speakers and a USB port. This means you can listen to music on your walk or run without messing with headphones. It also holds your iPod or MP3 player, so you only have to worry about a leash.

These are just a few innovations in pet tech that you can buy. Some other items include a remote pet feeder, digital pet IDs, GPS tracking devices, and pet treadmills. Do you have any fun pet tech at home?

Personal Solar: 4 Steps to Powering Your Home or Business With Solar

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The planet faces a host of environmental problems, one of which is thinly stretched resources. One resource, however, that is available in abundant supply is sunlight. Using sunlight as the main source of electricity in a home or business saves money and helps the environment. What are some practical things you can do to start taking advantage of solar power?

Do the Math

One of the first steps in going solar is figuring out how much power you use daily. Take a look at your recent power bills. Divide the total number of kilowatt-hours you used during the month by the number of days in the month to figure out your average daily power consumption. You will use that number when doing further calculations to get a rough idea of how many panels you need.

The average number of sunny days per year where you live also plays a role in calculating your solar system setup. For example, a home in Seattle is likely to need more solar panels than a home in Los Angeles to get the same amount of power.

Because there are many factors to consider when planning your solar power system, you may want to talk to a pro to get an expert opinion on the size of your system and its set up.

Prepare the Area

Your home or office’s immediate surroundings can have a big impact on your system’s efficiency. For example, a lot of tall trees in the area can block sunlight and sabotage your system’s effectiveness. Consider altering the surroundings so the solar panels will receive direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day.

Your system’s efficiency will also be affected if tall buildings surround your location. If you are serious about going solar, you may need to move or find someplace nearby where you can set up exterior solar panels.

Install and Enjoy

Image via Flickr by Mike Linksvayer

Costs vary, but hiring a professional to install a 7.5 kWh system can set you back anywhere between $50,000 and $75,000. That seems steep, but taking advantage of tax credits for installing solar power can go a long way toward mitigating the cost. Over time the savings that you see on your energy bill will make solar power worth the investment.

If you do not want to buy your system, you can find a company that rents out the panels. You pay a monthly fee for use of the panels, but you would still save money on your electricity costs.

Maintain Your System

Solar panels do not require complicated or frequent maintenance. Howstuffworks.com points out that, “Pretty much the only thing a homeowner needs to do is keep the panels clean. It’s an important task, though… Dust buildup can reduce the amount of electricity produced by the system by as much as 7 percent.” Using a hose from the ground to clean the panels should do the trick.

It takes some effort to set up a solar power system for your home or business, but once it is in place you will see the benefits in your bank account. Mother Nature won’t object either.

Is Wireless Electricity the Wave of the Future?

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Wireless technology: It’s a luxury everyone is enjoying more and more as cell phones and Wi-Fi hotspots become the norm. Today’s engineers have a firm grasp of how wireless data transfer works, but what about wireless electricity transfer? As it turns out, that technology has been within reach for more than 100 years.

In the early 1900s, energy pioneer Nicola Tesla discovered a way to wirelessly transmit power to light bulbs in his laboratory. Since then, scientists have aspired to create a world where wireless electricity reigns supreme and cumbersome cords no longer exist. How does wireless electricity work, and how likely is it that we might one day live in a completely wireless world? The answer lies in a relatively new development called Resonance Energy Transfer.

Resonance Energy Transfer

Image via Flickr Filter Forge

Resonance energy transfer requires three major pieces of hardware: A power source, a highly resonant transmitter, and a highly resonant receiver. Electricity originates at the power source, where a coil, capacitors, and inductors create a magnetic field. When the transmitter and receiver both resonate at the same frequency, electricity flows between them through this magnetic field.

The WiTricity Corporation: Striving for a Wireless Future

A progressive company called WiTricity boasts that electronic devices “capable of recharging themselves without ever being plugged in” loom just around the corner. Company official and marketing VP Kaynam Hedayat believes WiTricity products will sweep the globe in the same way that Wi-Fi has. “You will see this technology embed itself,” Hedayat predicts, “into [. . .] cell phone(s) [. . .] laptop(s), and PCs.”

Implications for Human Health

The fact that innovators like WiTricity are pushing us toward magnetic field-induced electricity begs the question: Is this type of electricity safe for human beings? The answer is yes, according to WiTricity technologist Dr. Katie Hall. The magnetic fields used in wireless energy transfer are as harmless as the fields used in Wi-Fi routers, she says. And while it’s true that Wi-Fi puts small amounts of radiation into the air, no evidence of human harm has ever been found due to Wi-Fi.

Wireless Electricity: The Pros

A world with wireless electricity would offer several major benefits:

 

  • A clean, renewable source of electricity that wouldn’t advance our environmental debt.
  • The elimination of bulky electrical cords and throw-away batteries.
  • More efficient medical technologies.
  • A boost to the wireless automobile industry that would, in turn, decrease our need for crude oil.
  • A simpler, greener world.

 

Wireless Electricity: The Cons

A wireless world would have its own set of annoyances, as well, including:

 

  • Charging a device through resonance energy transfer would take a lot longer than traditional charging.
  • A device’s mobility would be severely limited while on the charging pad.
  • The manufacture of devices receptive to wireless charging can be complex and costly.

 

Market analysts expect the pros to outweigh the cons. Pike Research predicts that, over the next eight years, the wireless electricity market’s revenue will grow from $5 billion to about $15 billion. Two of the most likely places for this expansion are domestic homes and hospitals, where the technology would be used to save money and save lives.

 

How Technology Can Detect Your Emotions and Impact Your Decisions

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One of the major differences between people and machines is the human ability to feel emotion, express emotion, and sense emotion in others. Technology is changing that. Emotion-sensing products like AutoEmotive’s empathetic car sensors and Microsoft’s smart bra are opening the world’s eyes to a new realm of high-tech possibilities in which products sense how we’re feeling. Although it may sound eerie at first, emotionally intuitive technology could actually help make life safer, healthier, and more honest.

How Emotion-Sensing Technology Works

Image via Flickr quapan

Although we sometimes try keep our feelings private, our bodies betray us by displaying physiological signs of emotion. Heart rate, facial expressions, pupil dilation, body perspiration, and even piloerection – the bristling of body hairs in response to an emotional stimulus – act as red flags for various emotions. Some companies have incorporated sensor technology into their products as a way to gauge these emotions.

For Safety

Toyota recently received a patent for an emotion-sensing car system which monitors the emotions of the driver and other motorists on the road. A concept vehicle called the POD fosters an actual relationship between a driver and his/her car. When a motorist drives safely, the POD responds with a clapping or smiling dashboard image. When a motorist drives in an unsafe way, the POD responds with a disapproving digital look.

The POD collects other data as well, including the pulse rate and perspiration level of the driver. LED panels at the front of the car turn orange when all is well, blue when the car maintenance is needed or the fuel level plummets, and red when the driver brakes heavily or seems angry. These colors, which are visible to other drivers, promote safety by adding an extra layer of communication to driving.

For Health

Microsoft’s mood-sensing smart bra, when nestled close to a woman’s chest, collects electrocardiogram data that can signal boredom, stress, and anxiety. The bra transmits this data to a smart phone, alerting the wearer of her emotional state. Microsoft’s goal: To prevent the overeating that sometimes results from emotional distress.

The public response to this invention has been a cross between fascination and rage. Microsoft has no plans to sell the product anytime soon.

For Honesty

Some consumers feel that life would be easier if technology would let people wear their emotions on their sleeves. Thanks to companies like Philips Design, this is now possible. Philips Design has created two SKIN prototype dresses that use emotion-sensitive fabric. The fabric changes color and pattern based on a wearer’s physiological signs.

The mood sweater by Sensoree measures a wearer’s “excitement level” by gleaning data from the skin. This data helps create “extimacy,” or externalized intimacy, with the public by changing the sweater’s collar color based on the wearer’s mood. Sensoree is now taking orders for a trial batch of 100 sweaters.

Mood-sensing technology helps us better understand ourselves and others. Increased self-awareness helps us make informed choices that keep us safe, healthy, and happy. Most mood-sensing brands are still in their infancy at this time, but the future certainly looks bright for these smart, sensitive products.

How Gesture Recognition Can Change the Face of Technology

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Don’t you hate it when the remote is all the way over there? Don’t you wish you had telekinetic abilities to make your device work without getting up? While we have yet to harness telekinetic powers, you can get pretty close with gesture recognition technology.

What is Gesture Recognition?

Image via Flickr by IntelFreePress

Gesture recognition technology is a simple concept that involves using body motions to control certain devices, much like you’ve seen on futuristic movies like Ender’s Game, Minority Report, or Iron Man. These devices usually use cameras to read body motion–usually hand signals–and translate that into a response. Where you could once clap to turn the lights on and off, this concept allows you to use your hands–or even facial expressions–to command your TV, phone, household appliances, and more.

Where Are We at With Gesture Recognition?

You’ve already seen it on commercials, or maybe you already have a compatible device. Someone is sitting in front of a TV, and instead of using a remote, they use hand signals to select videos, change channels, and perform other commands. And what about the Kinect, which allows you to play games and send commands to your computer without the need for a controller? There is also sign-language recognition software designed to help the physically impaired connect with computers.

You can also find this with programs like XTouch, an app that allows you to transform external surfaces into a touchscreen. This makes it easy for cooks to scroll on their iPad without getting food all over the screen. It even has the potential to expand the touchscreen surface so more people can gather around the device to play multi-player games. The program works by recognizing the sound coming off the table and using those positions to understand the commands.

Where Are We Headed?

While gesture recognition is already available today and not so much a distant future revolution, we still have a long way to go. Today, this technology is pretty limited to high-power consuming devices. However, with this knowledge in our hands, the touchscreen may someday go completely obsolete.

We’ll be able to control our phones from our pockets (UW researchers are already working on this one!). Someday, we might be able to control things like alarms, thermostats, appliances, and other devices from any room in the house just by using hand gestures. Eventually, we won’t need keyboards, computer mice, remotes, and other accessories.

How Will This Impact Us?

Today, gesture recognition is still a bit of a novelty, but it poses many advantages for the future. Much like we’re already using it in medicine with sign-language recognition programs, it could become a more vital tool in the future, effectively leading to a more efficient society. For example, doctors may begin using robotic nurses that can recognize hand gestures, which will reduce surgery times, says Purdue. As in the hospital, it will also eliminate some of the hassle of day-to-day life, saving time and leading to higher productivity levels.

Gesture recognition is of great interest to many industries. While it’s not as widespread now, we may see it become an integral part of our lives–at work and at home–in the future.

Give Your Messages New Depth With Scented Texts

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Texts, Snapchats, shared videos, and email: Digital communication truly is a delight for the eyes and ears. Now, it can also be a delight for the nose. One of the hottest new developments in digital communication is the scented text. If you get the urge to send your friend a whiff of bacon or your lover the scent of a lilac bouquet, you can – as long as you both have the right technology.

Sharing Aromas, Digitally

Image via Flickr nyuhuhuu

If you want to get in on the “smell messaging” action, you have several options. You could buy a plug-in device for your smart phone like the Scentee. When paired with its companion app, the Scentee will release aromas into the air at specified times. It attaches to the earphone jack of your phone and generally costs under $40. Refill cartridges go for about $5.

A Smell Worth 1,000 Pictures

A handheld device called the oPhone is the brainchild of the Parisian company Le Laboratoire. This texting/scenting gadget is slated for limited release this summer. Users will be able to select from a menu of mail-ready aromas. Dr. David Edwards, Harvard professor and Le Laboratoire founder told the press that “an aroma tells a thousand pictures.” The biomedical engineer is hoping that aromatic texting will revolutionize digital communication by allowing people to “say things we couldn’t before.”

Practical Applications

Experts predict that smell messaging will quickly become more than just a fun party trick. Practical applications of the technology could positively affect everything from the culinary arts to cancer prevention. Consider the following:

  • An Asian company called Mixed Reality Lab has partnered with the Mugaritz restaurant of Spain to create online tutorials for aspiring chefs. The tutorial’s aromas help students understand what kinds of smells and tastes they should strive to create in their cooking.
  • A digital taste simulator developed by Singapore researcher Nimesha Ranasinghe actually produces the sensation of taste by electrically stimulating the tongue. Ranasinghe and her partners hope their invention will augment users’ experience of TV and video games in the future.
  • Marketers of aromatic products like perfume and coffee will be able to email potential customers a sample smell.
  • Chemist George Preti of the Monell Chemical Senses Center is currently researching and developing his “electric nose” theory to help detect and prevent cancer. While it’s true that imaging is a powerful cancer screening tool, Preti theorizes that smell biomarkers might give an even clearer picture of who is at risk for the dreaded disease. The way our cells metabolize themselves can be healthy or unhealthy; Preti theorizes that unhealthy cell metabolization has a subtle odor that could be identified by his electric nose.

Digital olfactory stimulation is more than just a fluff invention; it holds the promise of enriched communication, enhanced entertainment, and improved medical testing and disease prevention. Right now, the Scentee is the only device available to the mainstream population. In the future, as the oPhone develops its library of scents and expands availability, it’s likely we’ll be seeing and smelling a lot more of this savory technology.

 

Getting to Know AG: Augmented Reality Games

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Augmented reality applications create a virtual secondary overlay over our own real-world experiences. Looking at the world through your Smartphone’s camera or a pair of augmented reality goggles will allow you to see the features of this world that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. This type of technology can radically change the way high-tech games are played.

How it Works

Augmented reality can work in many ways. The simplest form of augmented reality will simply layer the figures of your game over a real world backdrop, using your phone’s camera to create the background setting for the action. Sky Seige is one example of this, where enemy helicopters are superimposed over the sky around you. The missile or rocket launcher in the corner of the screen lets you aim and shoot at these imaginary invaders.

GPS Use in Augmented Reality

Augmented reality applications regularly rely on GPS for their functionality. Navigation apps and other location based programs can use your location to show you reviews for a nearby restaurant, or the history of an old church when you point your camera at these hot spots. In the gaming world, GPS features can take on a whole new meaning.

The game Parallel Kingdom displays other players on a real map, along with monsters, treasure, and other game features. SpaceTrek will give you a map of your local area that you use to find and capture virtual ghosts. This technology has nearly unlimited possibilities. Other players could plant virtual treasure in real world locations that would only be visible using the augmented reality app, making for an intriguing cross between live game play and a video game.

Augmented Reality Markers

While some augmented reality games work no matter what you’re pointing your phone at, others require a specific target to function. AR Basketball is a prime example. You print a marker symbol and set it down somewhere in your real world environment. Point your phone’s camera at the marker and you have a virtual hoop to interact with. You can then toss the game’s onscreen basketball at the hoop, moving around the room to get the best shot.

3D Displays

Many augmented reality apps work with a QR code or similar marker that will activate certain features of the program. Point your phone at a baseball card and you can see a 3D version of the player standing on your desk. The Universal Studios ScreenPlay app lets you turn flat movie posters into moving, three-dimensional scenes that you can step into for a photo op. The app also activates quizzes and movie clips throughout the park. With augmented reality, the world around you can take on exciting new depths.

Augmented reality is the wave of the future in mobile gaming. While smartphone apps provide much of the functionality for these programs today, goggles and other wearables can easily take these programs on the go in a whole new way for the future. With the right applications, you can exist in a three-dimensional world that only you are able to see.

Get Moving: How Games and Social Media are Changing Transit

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People are getting smarter about the way they travel. They favor hybrids over gas-guzzlers; they walk or use a bicycle when they can; and they opt for public transportation. Some might hesitate to use the latter because it seems intimidating, or maybe they find it boring. Technology and games, however, are changing the way people view public transportation, making it easier and more fun to use.

Play on the Way

Taking the same bus route every day can quickly become boring and uncomfortable, especially if you spend the entire ride trying not to make eye contact with the creepy fellow in the back. An art student in the Netherlands, who got tired of seeing the same scenery day after day on his commute, decided to spice it up with a game he could share with fellow riders.

The instructions are on the back of the seat in front of you, and everything you need to play the game is stuck on the window. You use the monster decal on the window to see how many pedestrians lose their head to its voracious appetite. The game, called Man-eater, is simple, but it is a clever way to add a little fun to the daily grind.

Trains, Buses, and Beyond

For people who are not used to taking public transportation, it can seem like a never-ending maze of stops, transfers, and schedules. Mobile apps make it simple to find the most efficient route to reach your destination. Google Maps is a prominent example, since you can use its bus option to plan a route almost anywhere.

Some apps do even more. The Transit app, in addition to route planning, also helps you locate bus stops and gives you estimated arrival times.

Other apps aim to help people in specific cities. Seattle-based WhichBus is a simple app that helps with route planning. New York City residents can use NYCWay, which offers useful information on subway schedules and finding a car service, as well tons of other handy tools to help you navigate your way through the Big Apple.

Crazy About Carpooling

Image via Flickr by lizasperling

Sometimes, traditional methods of public transportation do not fit in with your schedule or your destination. That is what makes ridesharing services so valuable to modern commuters and people who live in crowded cities.

Through services like Lyft and Uber, you can use an app to have a private driver who is close by pick you up and take you to your destination. The services operate on mobile apps and provide a convenient way to get across town. Such programs do not have to adhere to the same regulations as taxis, so they tend to cost less.

Ridejoy works a little differently. It helps find rides for people looking to travel between cities. With Ridejoy, there is no guarantee that you will find carpooling buddies for your trip, but it does offer the possibility of giving you someone with whom you can split travel expenses.

Technology and games are changing the way people think about getting from point A to point B, giving fun and flexible possibilities to liven up even the dullest daily commute.

 

Future Feast: 5 Amazing Kitchen Gadgets

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The kitchen is the heart of the home, and today’s versions are evolving and growing at an astonishing rate. High tech solutions help busy families keep dinner traditions alive with innovative features that will streamline nearly every kitchen task.

Get the Perfect Temperature with iGrill

Upgrade from the traditional meat thermometer with this smart and handy tool. The iGrill is a leave-in thermometer that’s connected to a display screen, making it easy to see the temp from afar. A short wire allows you to place the display on the counter while meat cooks undisturbed inside the oven. No longer will you have to open your appliances and let heat out to know when your dinner is done. The iGrill can also communicate with your smartphone so you can keep an eye on dinner from anywhere in the house.

Eat Healthier with the Prep Pad

Even if you know how many ounces of meat is ideal for a single serving, it’s difficult to eyeball that amount in today’s super-sized world. The Prep Pad takes the guesswork out of meal prep and gives you detailed information on the nutritional content of your meals. The Prep Pad itself acts as a kitchen scale to weigh your foods. Connected to the Countertop app on your iPad, the Prep Pad gives you an in-depth look at everything you’re eating.

Brew the Perfect Cup with the Breville Tea Maker

Making the perfect cup of tea involves more than just steeping the bag in hot water. For the ideal beverage, you need to know the proper water temperature and steeping time for your variety. The Breville Tea Maker handles all those details for you. The tea basket even agitates the tea leaves gently for premium infusion. If you prefer waking up to tea rather than to a morning pot of coffee, then you can even use the timer to have your cup ready and waiting in the morning.

Get Guiltless Fried Foods with the T-Fal ActiFry Low Fat Fryer

Image via Flickr by Meal Makeover Moms

Fried foods have an almost universal appeal, but healthy eaters can’t enjoy French fries without a heaping side of guilt. The ActiFry will radically change the way you approach fried foods in your kitchen. This gadget can cook up to two pounds of homemade French fries with just one tablespoon of oil. Not in the mood for fries? Try crispy okra, chicken wings, shrimp, and more.

Do it All with the Samsung LED Refrigerator

This refrigerator is the epitome of smart appliances. The LCD screen on the freezer door features multiple apps that will connect with your Picasa photo albums, Google calendar, and more. Leave notes, look up recipes, and check the weather. Whether you’re adjusting your cooling zones or keeping a grocery list, this fridge offers a new way to handle essential food storage tasks.

These exciting new kitchen features can help you stay healthy, organized, and on top of all your meal preparation tasks in new and innovative ways. You’ll never approach dinner time the same way again with these items in your home.

 

Fly Me to the Moon: 5 Awesome Facts About Space Tourism

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Ever since Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 heralded the start of the Space Age, many children have dreamed about going to the moon and beyond. In recent years, the development of space tourism has laid the groundwork for more than just astronauts to go into space. If the idea of space tourism appeals to you, check out this list of five facts about an adventure that needs to be on your bucket list.

1. Space Tourism Began in 2001

The space tourism concept is just now gaining traction with several companies poised to begin transport runs in the next one to two years. However, the first space tourist, American Dennis Tito, had Earth in his rearview mirror in April 2001. Throughout the 2000s, a handful of other wealthy individuals also traveled into space, most of them on board a Russian rocket.

2. The Cost is Out of This World

Image via Flickr by 401(K) 2013

Even if you do have bank, you might have to break it to buy just one ticket into space. According to media reports, Virgin Galactic (Sir Richard Branson’s venture) expects passengers to pay a quarter of a million dollars each for the ride of a lifetime. Hoping to take a trip around the planet? Space Exploration Technologies estimates a ticket to make a single orbit will set you back a cool $20 million.

If those price tags are beyond your reach, consider the more budget-friendly options available from World View Enterprises. From 100,000 feet (about 20 miles) above the Earth, passengers drift along in a capsule held aloft by a special balloon. This experience costs a more modest $75,000 and the company promises a reduction in the price if business picks up.

3. You Can Tweet From Space

Image via Flickr by Alvy

What good is being a space tourist if you can’t rub it in your friends’ faces on Facebook and Twitter? World View Enterprises plans to outfit its space capsule with Internet access so passengers can post their selfies with the curvature of the Earth as the background. Expect to see hashtags like #SpaceSelfie.

4. Orbiting is an Option

Think you’d just be happy to get a peek at the Earth from an impressive 20 miles above ground? How about getting to make a full trip around the Earth? Space Exploration Technologies expects to offer a low orbit trip in 2015 in the SpaceX Dragon capsule. This ship used its robotic arm to connect to the International Space Station, a first for a commercial craft in space.

5. Mars is the Ultimate Destination

Image via Flickr by Brisbane Falling

Space tourisim can be taken to new levels with the opportunity to leave Earth to live on Mars. Through the space tourism program called The Mars One Project, recruiters are accepting applications from volunteers who will not have to pay for their one-way ticket to the red planet. The first settlers will receive training before heading out in 2023.

Which type of space travel sounds most appealing to you? Do you think the costs will actually come down as more companies begin offering space tourism services?