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

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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?

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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?


Edu-Tech: 4 Amazing Upcoming Innovations in the Classroom

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Modern-day educators are placing a huge emphasis on how humans learn, not as a group, but as individuals. In the past, singling out students and teaching by a method that was effective for each was impossible. Technology, however, has made this not only possible but an absolute must. Here are a few ways technology innovation is changing the classroom.

Extending the Classroom

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In the past, an attempt to connect with another student outside the classroom was limited to field trips in the same town or pen pals across the world. With the help of the Internet, educators are now able to make the world their classroom. From videos to action cams, students are experiencing a larger perspective of the world. Interactive graphics provide hands-on learning experiences while Skype conversations with students around the globe can offer an appreciation of foreign cultures in a way pen pals couldn’t.

Employing Independent Learning

The pace at which students learn differs by student and by course. The limitation of the classroom has always been the group mentality. The class could not move on until everyone either understood the subject matter or failed it. With educational games such as ST Math by MIND Research Institute and websites like Khan Academy, advanced students can learn at an accelerated pace while students needing more help can practice the coursework without detracting from either’s educational experience.

Reintroducing Gamification

While classrooms have long employed the motivational tool of leaderboards and stars, gamification (using game play to incentivize a desired action) is succeeding in education. An AP Biology teacher, Paul Anderson, is using the elements of video games to do three things within his classroom: make learning fun, allow for levelled learning so everyone progresses at their own pace, and create an environment where failure is not a last measure but an opportunity to reload and try again, thus encouraging learning. This signifies a growing shift in how educators approach learning.

Another educational gaming platform is Socrative. This app works on all devices—mobile, computer and tablet—and engages the student with game-based learning.

Valuing Social Learning

While group learning has long been the norm in American education, it wasn’t very social. In the mid-eighties, group projects became popular but failed in the sense that the group didn’t learn together. A few students ended up carrying the weight of the group. Now, learning is becoming social through social media. Tools like Edmodo allows classes and teachers to connect in a Facebook-like online classroom environment for collaborative learning. Grockit allows students to study together virtually. Schoology is a learning management system (LMS) that connects educators and helps them better engage their students.

The biggest changes to the classroom are being heralded and made possible by technology. These gaming and interconnectivity tools are providing a new classroom experience, which is not limited by geographical location. Educators are on the cusp of having the tools that will help them reach every student and make sure they master the concepts before progressing to the next level. These tools are creating a new age of engaged students.


Driverless Cars: Real and Coming to Your Town

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We already have GPS that tells us where to drive, but what if we had cars that could do the driving for us, too? This technology might not be as far off as you think. Several car manufacturers are adding driverless features to their cars already. It’s only a matter of time until these cars are the norm — maybe in the next ten years.

Manufacturers Are Already Working on Driverless Car Prototypes

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Several car manufacturers have driverless car prototypes that are being tested on the road in four states right now:

  • Google: Google’s driverless car is basically a Prius with a giant sensor attached to the roof. It runs on hyper-sensitive GPS technology.
  • Audi: The Audi A7 driverless car uses piloted technology for remote control. It’s been tested in Nevada with police escorts. The prototype has a radar system, laser scanner, and front-facing digital camera, which are all connected to a central computer.
  • Ford: Ford’s driverless car is a Fusion Hybrid. It works by sensing objects to the front, back, and sides, and then applying the brakes and acceleration accordingly.
  • Tesla: Tesla’s Model 7 driverless car doesn’t share technology with other companies. It plans to roll out a driverless car in less than five years.

What the Government Has to Say About Driverless Cars

Even though lots of manufacturers are working on driverless cars, the government must rewrite traffic laws before you can buy one. Brad Stertz, Audi’s spokesman, said, “From a technology standpoint, it could be five years. How the regulations evolve and what’s permitted will have a huge role in when it finally comes to market, and that’s hard to predict.” The government needs to set guidelines and standards for testing and operating driverless vehicles. Up to this point, very little has been done.

Safety is the number one concern of lawmakers, but defining what makes a car “driverless” is the first step. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration officially classified these cars as “autonomous vehicles.” The government is proceeding cautiously, but is optimistic about having driverless cars throughout the country. The technology is almost there, but it’s probably best for lawmakers to wait to set policies until it’s ready.

Potential Setback and Benefits of Driverless Cars

As with any new technology, all of the issues cannot be anticipated. For instance, driverless cars could eliminate most traffic accidents because human error would be taken out of the equation. However, technical malfunctions in machinery could have devastating consequences on the road. Plus, it’s hard to know who’s at fault in a car accident if there is no driver. In general, driverless cars would also be good because they reduce travel delays and congestion. Of course, people might also complain about privacy rights.

Several pieces of driverless car technology are already on the roads. For instance, there are cars that can parallel park with the push of a button and self-brake when they get too close to an object. Plus, there is the ever-popular cruise control. This is just the start of something that is going to change the world. Would you buy a driverless car? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.

Digital Dollars: Where to Spend Your Bitcoins

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Despite concerns related to hackers compromising exchanges, enhanced scrutiny from governments, and accusations against one of its chief champions, bitcoin remains popular, valuable, and viable. People earn bitcoins by dedicating computer processing capacity to maintaining or mining the block chain, the ledger that records and verifies all bitcoin transactions. Competition to mine the block chain, thereby earning bitcoins, is extremely fierce, and many people have pooled their computing resources to enhance their earning potential. You can also use cash to buy bitcoins if you don’t want to earn them the traditional way.

Once you have this cyber currency, there are a number of places where you can spend it. Check out this list of online and brick and mortar venues that accept bitcoin and the layer of anonymity that goes along with it.

Image via Flickr by zcopley

According to the Wall Street Journal, Overstock is one of 3,000 retailers globally who allow customers to pay their bills using bitcoin. The site features housewares, furniture, clothing, jewelry, electronics, and more. Given the depth of its offerings, this website makes it possible to buy a wide range of goods with bitcoin.

First you use bitcoins to buy a gift card from Then you take the gift card to the designated brick and mortar retailer or restaurant and use it to make your purchase. This simple process makes it easy to convert bitcoins into gift cards for your favorite real world locations including places like Stein Mart, Sephora, Bass Pro Shops, and Chili’s.

Cups and Cakes Bakery, San Francisco, California

Just because the currency only exists in cyberspace doesn’t mean you can’t spend it in the real world! Head over to Cups and Cakes Bakery on 9th Street in the city by the bay to cash in bitcoins for a tasty treat. On its website, the company praises the virtual currency as offering an advantage to small businesses who feel the financial pinch of credit card processing fees.

Flyte World Dining and Wine, Nashville, Tennessee

Can’t hop a plane to the Left Coast? Head instead to the Country Music Capital for bitcoin-funded fine dining and drinking. Flyte lets patrons use an app to transfer the digital currency to the restaurant’s wallet using a third party bitcoin manager.

Popular National Retailers

Several well-known national retailers allow customers to pay their bills via bitcoin using an app on their smartphone. Among the early adopters of this virtual currency are Kmart and Home Depot.

Image via Flickr by hirotomo

With its discounts on everything from books to electronics, Amazon is a powerhouse online retailer. That’s why people looking to spend bitcoin are stoked that Amazon now accepts the cryptocurrency. This move opens up access to a marketplace that includes most major retail categories.

For now, there are more online venues accepting bitcoin than retailers and restaurants in the real world. However, as the currency gains broader acceptance, expect to see more opportunities to spend bitcoin at brick and mortar establishments. What places do you want to see begin accepting bitcoins in the near future?