When Earthlings become Martians

Did you ever wonder about traveling to another planet? Were you glued to sci-fi books and movies as a kid? If yes, read on. There’s a huge project underway to build a Human Colony on Mars. And interestingly, you can now be a part of it thanks to Mars One.

About the Mars One project

Mars One is the company that will give you an opportunity to live on Mars. The Mars One project involves sending four people to Mars every two years. Now, these are not astronauts or space-pilots, but regular people like you and me.  This is a great opportunity for people who want to be a part of a new era. Bas Lansdorp launched Mars One in 2012. He has an impressive team, well-known advisers and strong suppliers. Here is a cool promotional video.

The journey from Earth to Mars will take 7 months. The travel through space will be a great experience where you can view the stars, planets and asteroids with naked eyes. And finally, walking on Mars, an even better experience!

Mars Landscape. Photo by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

The catch? It is a one-way ticket. You go to Mars, never to return.

Top of a mountain that was created inside a crater due to impact. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Here’s the roadmap for the Mars One project:

2013 – Accepting applications for going to Mars.
2014 – Building the first communication satellite.
2015 – Astronaut selection process will be completed.
2016 – A supply mission that will carry 2,500 kilograms of supplies to Mars.
2018 – A space exploration vehicle will be sent to Mars to pick a location for settlement.
2021 – Six capsules and another Rover will be sent to Mars. This will include two living units, two life-support units and two supply units.
2023 – History will be created! The first colonists will arrive on Mars.
2025 – A second group will be sent.
2033 – The number of colonists will reach 20.

The coolest feature of the Mars One project is that everything will be done using currently available technology. This means, no traveling at the Speed of Light like you read in science-fiction books. The Mars One project will only use technology of today that is reliable and tested.

Bacolor Crater. Photo by Mars Odyssey: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Why do we need to explore other planets?

Hundreds of explorers weathered deadly storms to discover new continents. Consider the Mars One project to be another exploration – but this time, in the solar system rather than on Earth. We could discover new ways to live and learn so much about living outside Earth.

Sand dune on Mars. Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Aren’t there other planets that can support life better than Mars?

Astronomers have been trying their best to find a Goldilocks planet where life can be sustained. A Goldilocks planet is a planet that is neither too far or too near to its Sun. If it was too far from the Sun, it would be too cold and being too near would make it too hot to sustain water and any other life on its surface. Most of the planets we have found are so far away, that it is impossible to go there with the current technology. Take  Gliese 581 d for example, which is a Goldilocks planet that was discovered recently. Gliese 581 d is 20 light-years from Earth. This means it would take us 20 years to reach there if we were able to travel at the speed of light! Since traveling at the speed of light is not going to happen anytime soon, I don’t think Gliese 581 d is an option for now.

Evidence of water flow. Photo by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Why Mars?

This, by far, is the most important question and has many interesting answers:

  • Water – Mars has underground ice deposits and frozen polar ice caps that show an abundance of water. If we were to melt the polar ice caps on Mars, there would be enough water to cover the entire planet upto a depth of 11 meters. Now, that’s a lot of water! Water is the most important medium for life to grow. If not for water, we would not exist today.
  • Gravity – The gravitational force on Mars is 38% that on Earth. Unlike the Moon that has 1/6th of Earth’s surface gravity, Mars has enough gravity to hold down atmosphere, which is essential for life. The atmosphere also protects from solar radiation.
  • Temperature – The high temperature on equatorial Mars is around 35 degree centigrade. This is very comfortable and very Earth-like.
  • Mars Day = Earth day – Mars takes 24.622 hours to rotate on its own axis. This means that the day-night cycles on Mars are same as that on the Earth. It would be very easy for Earthlings to adapt to a Mars day.
  • Seasons – Mars has the same seasons as that on Earth. Although, the seasons on Mars are twice as longer since Mars takes 1 Earth year and 320 Earth days (685 Earth days or 1.8 Earth years) to orbit the sun.
  • Soil – The soil on Mars is conducive for the growth of plants. The soil contains Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium that are useful for plants.
  • Atmosphere – Mars has a sparse and hospitable atmosphere. 95% of the atmosphere in Mars is CO2. Plants need CO2 to breathe and we could take seeds or plants to Mars where they could grow.

Ice found in a fresh crater. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Frosted ice on sand dunes (north pole). Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:
Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

What are the challenges?

After having talked about the advantages of mars here are a few disadvantages that create huge challenges:

  • Gravity – Since Mars has only 38 % of the surface gravity of the Earth, our bodies (especially bones) will get used to the lower gravity. Even if we wanted to return to Earth in the future, our bones would have weakened by adapting to the lower gravity on Mars. Our bones would be strong enough for Mars, but returning to Earth will just crush them due to the higher gravity. Although there has been enough research and treatment is available for astronauts living in zero gravity, our bones would develop a condition called osteoporosis (bones become porous). That’s why the colonists can never return to Earth even if they wanted to.
  • Atmosphere – With 95% carbon-di-oxide in its sparse atmosphere there would be no option but to wear spacesuits. We can build greenhouses to grow plants that would convert CO2 to O2, but this is really challenging. After all, we would need a good stock of oxygen to tide us over until we are able to generate oxygen on Mars.
  • Medical Services – We are on our own if we fall seriously ill. Mars One does plan for basic treatments. However, it would not be possible to provide the advanced treatment available on Earth today (for example a complicated surgery).
  • Natural Calamities – Since Mars is unchartered territory, Mars quakes (Earthquakes, but on Mars!), or dust storms might damage the settlements. We are in no way ready for this such natural calamities.

Dust storm on Mars. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Avalanche clouds. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

How would the settlement communicate with their families on Earth?

Mars One will provide Internet access. That said, communication with Earth is particularly challenging. Mars is at a distance of 55 million kilometers (shortest) and 400 million kilometers (farthest) from the Earth depending on the orbital location.

The Earth and her Moon. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Therefore, it would take the signal anywhere between 3 to 20 minutes to reach the Earth. You could send e-mails or use video messages, but you’d have to wait 3 to 20 minutes for your message to reach there and an equal amount of time before you hear back. There goes your Skype party.

Panorama of Mount Sharp taken by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech (click image to enlarge)

How would Mars One fund the project?

The entire project from launch to settlement would be broadcasted to generate subscription and advertising revenue. As a business model, this is quite challenging. There must be a steady stream of revenue forever so we can constantly send supplies to our colony on Mars. Shutting down the company after sending humans to Mars is not an option. This, in my opinion is the most challenging because as a business, failure is not an option! 

Ripples in the sand at the Proctor Crater. Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

How can I help?

There are many ways you can help this amazing project:

Sunset on Mars. Photo by Mars Exploration Rover: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech


Mars has the potential to be our new home. If the Mars One project is successful, there is no limit to the extent of space colonization. Thousands of people could migrate to Mars and live a great life there.

And you could be one of them.

Daybreak on Mars (at the Gale Crater). Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Mars One. 

Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech (JPL Image Policy) and  NASA/JPL/University of Arizona (HiRISE Image Usage Policy).



Is the Smartphone Industry ‘Curious’ about Curiosity?

The world holds its breath as the next battle for dominance in the smartphone industry begins with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Apple recently defeated Samsung in a patent lawsuit involving user-interface elements. Samsung lost the battle, but they don’t necessarily have to lose the war. Samsung will not fade away into the night without putting up an aggressive fight. Samsung plans to sue Apple on its using the LTE (a technology for faster data speeds called Long-Term Evolution) chip in the iPhone 5.

As the smartphone war rages on, it is evident that there are many areas where industry giants compete for dominance – user-interface, operating system, physical design, connectivity, storage, and camera.

But there is one area where companies haven’t done much – the battery. Until the smartphone industry invests heavily into battery technology, devices are limited to what they can do on a single charge. Lithium-ion batteries are used extensively in all smartphones as of today. The life of a single charge is a few hours (assuming a user talks, texts, and uses data connections such as Wi-Fi or 3G/LTE). After a smartphone runs out of battery, users have no option but to carry a charging cable, USB charger, portable USB charger, a battery pack (like Mophie), or just wait to reach home to charge the phone.

Talking about battery life, the smartphone industry can learn a lot from the Mars Rover Curiosity. Curiosity has reached Mars and has starting sending photos, conducting experiments and, exploring the Martian mountains. For doing all this, Curiosity needs one thing – power.

Previous generations of Mars Rovers used solar panels to power various devices. However, dust settled on the solar panels making them inefficient. Also, note that the Sun looks much smaller from Mars as Mars is at a greater distance from the center of the solar system. Smaller sun = less light = less solar power.

To solve this problem of inefficient solar power, Curiosity uses a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). Simply put, Curiosity uses the radioactive isotope Plutonium-238 as the raw material. Heat is automatically generated due to the natural decay of Plutonium-238. A device called a Thermocouple uses this heat to generate electricity. The Plutonium-238 is well shielded, and the heat – and not the radiation – is used to generate electricity. This device can last for 14 years without requiring any maintenance! Curiosity will constantly receive its power until Plutonium-238 completely decays.

Now, coming back to the smartphone industry, why can’t we design something like this for smartphones? Imagine having a very small amount of radioactive isotope that is well-shielded and attached to the smartphone. The device could then, theoretically, produce electricity for at least a year (or more!). Instead of battery packs like Mophie, we could have smartphones that generate their power and don’t need a recharge! Depending on the stability of the technology, we could have a smartphone that could last for years without a recharge. You buy a smartphone and dispose of it after a few years without charging it even once.

When I told my wife about this idea, she said, and I quote: ‘I am not carrying a nuclear bomb in my pocket!’. Well, what I am proposing is not exactly a nuclear bomb since there is no chain reaction like nuclear fission or nuclear fusion going on. The natural decay of Plutonium-238 generates heat and hence the power. Theoretically, a well-shielded pack of Plutonium-238 is safer than batteries that we have today. The current batteries have greater chances of exploding than a well-shielded pack of Plutonium-238!

The future of the smartphone industry is uncertain. There are no obvious winners as of today. In my opinion, only the company that designs and patents advanced battery technology will emerge as the winner. The company holding the key to advanced battery technology will be the undisputed winner and will rule the smartphone industry for generations to come. Simply because, more power equals to more things the smartphone can do without dying.

Hey Apple and Samsung – are you listening? Hopefully, I can expect to be paid a billion dollars for my idea!

(MMRTG Source: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/technology/technologiesofbroadbenefit/power/)

Edited by: Prarthna Sri

Humans Are Obsolete!

My boss informed me that another employee was replacing me. The new employee was far better then me and would never take a day off. The new employee would never fall sick, never ask for overtime pay, and had nothing to do with the union. The new employee would not waste time near the water cooler socializing with other employees and would never waste time on Facebook. The new employee would never get stressed out, or have a nervous breakdown. The new employee would never get tired and will work tirelessly forever. Most importantly, the new employee will never get injured and sue the company for compensation.

Meet 1557. The new employee is a robot. This robot just replaced me in the warehouse today. This is the reality.

Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for 775 million. Kiva Systems makes robots for moving items in large warehouses. The task that was performed by humans will now be taken over by robots. All the fulfillment centers will implement the robotic systems designed by Kiva Systems as Amazon strives to be more efficient in this tough economy. Here is a really cool video about how these robots work independently in a warehouse.

Foxconn International Group – the company that manufactures smartphones for Apple and other companies – also plans to implement robotic systems to replace humans. This would resolve employee complaints of repetitive stress injury and employee suicides due to high stress.

Amazon has set a dangerous precedent that gives rise to critical questions:

  • Reliability – can we rely on untested technology that has not been around for long?
  • Security – how do we ensure that unauthorized users don’t take control of robots and wreak havoc?
  • Failsafe – what are the chances of Artificial Intelligence taking control of multiple robots? Is there a failsafe?
  • Ethical Issues – is it right to replace humans with robots? First, it was outsourcing, and then came the deadly recession, and now there is competition with Robots? It is obviously impossible for humans to compete with robots.

It would be disastrous if the software in robotic systems gets corrupted or is taken over by malware. Moreover, if Artificial Intelligence takes over the robots, we are doomed!

How do you fight an army of robots running berserk in the city?



Cluttered geekery: how many gizmos are quite enough?

Today’s markets are flooded with gadgets and gizmos of every possible variety. While we want to believe otherwise, a surprising number of these gizmos make their way into most homes. Take, for example, a household with two adults and two children under the age of 10. Assuming an annual household income of $60,000 or more, the number of gadgets and gizmos in the house may run to:

  • One computer per adult and at least one computer shared by the two children
  • One printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine
  • One or more gaming system per child
  • One or more gaming system per adult
  • At least one mobile phone per adult
  • One mp3 player or iPod-type device per child
  • One or more ebook reader or tablet per adult
  • One Voice-over-IP (voip) and one landline phone system
  • At least one high-tech entertainment system consisting of a television, bluray player, speaker system, and other peripherals

That is about 24 devices for just four people. The number is much, much higher for a household where one or more adults work in the high-tech industry, also known as the IT industry.

The question, then, is whether we need so many devices or whether we should try to return to a simpler time. Ask anyone and they may say: “Oh, life was so much simpler back then. But, I can’t imagine life without my (insert gizmo name of choice).” We, as a people, have become quite dependent upon our devices. We go so far as to name them after our favorite characters. Much as our grandparents collected pet cats-dogs-horses, we collect gizmo-pets. Charming as it may seem, this tendency to personify our devices and grow attached to them at the hip is working against us. Our lives are getting more and more cluttered with unnecessary items that edge out the items we really do need.

The answer to the question `how many of these devices do we really need?`is quite simply `not so many`. Let’s look at that list to see if we can’t cut it down to a more manageable number:

If you look at the previous list, the household only needs one computer for everyone.

  • One computer per adult and at least one computer shared by the two children: Just one computer is enough. Why not set up a kiosk in a study or den area where different people can use the computer at different times? The chances that two people need to use the computer are quite slim. There is no point in preparing for a “computing emergency” by stockpiling computers. If the children do need their own personal computer, think about getting them a tablet device instead. Those Samsung Galaxy tabs or iPads are useful for more than just playing games or watching videos.
  • One printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine: The easiest way is to have a device that can do all four things. You have just cut down your device needs to a quarter of your original needs.
  • One or more gaming system per child and adult: Another out-of-the-box idea is to set up a gaming network within your home. Use your entertainment system to set up a family game room where everyone uses the same gaming system. There is no need to have mom’s fitness game, dad’s shoot-em-up game, or the kids’ learning games set up on different systems. Find one system that does it all, and reuse it for everyone. If this process helps you find a happy medium where everyone spends more time together as a family, it’s a win all around.

Just by consolidating a few devices, we went from 24 items to less than 10.

Apart from the obvious benefit of reducing clutter in our homes and living spaces, we can also help the environment by cutting down on our electricity consumption.

And that’s why I think that instead of making unachievable resolutions like “lose 20 pounds by May”, we must make a resolution to cut down on the number of devices that we own and with which we clutter our lives.

Build and Run your own Cloud Storage with Pogoplug

There are a lot of cloud storage options available today – Dropbox, SkyDrive, MozyPro, Carbonite, and many more.

But here’s my problem: I already have a 2TB external hard drive where I store all my files at home. Copying around 1.5TB of data in the external hard drive to the cloud is very expensive since I would need to buy (or rent) the space, and pay a monthly charge. Plus, I lose the option of plugging in my external hard drive and copying my data from my computer directly.

The question then is: how can I transform my external hard drive into a secure cloud? The answer is simple: Pogoplug.

Buy the Pogoplug device from Best Buy for under 50 dollars. The Pogoplug device has 4 USB ports and 1 Ethernet port. Just plug an Ethernet cable to the Pogoplug device and connect it to the Ethernet port on your cable modem or wireless router. Now, plug in your external hard drive to one of the USB ports.

From your laptop or any other computer on the same network, just go to Pogoplug.com and activate the device. Enter your username and password to complete the activation. You are done! It’s plug-and-play.

Here are the cool features of Pogoplug:

  • Your external hard drive is your cloud! That’s right. You can access your external hard drive via any browser and upload/download the files. The capacity is limited by the size of your external hard drive.
  • Share files with anyone, anywhere. Select the file/folder you want to share and Pogoplug will send an email with a link to the recipient who can then download the files.
  • Use the Pogoplug app on your smartphone. I use the Pogoplug app for the iPhone and it is really cool. Just launch the app and all the photos and videos on your iPhone are automatically synced to your external hard drive over 3G or Wi-Fi. Pogoplug automatically categorizes the files as per the month or date they were taken.
  • Play music or videos remotely. You can play music from your external hard drive via your smartphone or the Internet remotely. Pogoplug optimizes the videos and music for you. You don’t really need to copy your music between devices anymore.
  • Set up a Backup or Redundancy. Here’s the coolest feature. Just plug in another external hard drive and select a folder from the 1st hard drive to be backed up to the 2nd hard drive (via Settings>Backup on your Pogoplug online account). Whenever a file is added to the 1st hard drive, it is automatically copied to the 2nd hard drive thereby creating redundancy. The chances of both hard drives failing at once are extremely rare, so your data is safe.
  • Print remotely. Plug in a printer to the Pogoplug device via USB and you can remotely print over the Internet or via your iPhone. Make sure Pogoplug supports your printer.
  • Automatically copy files from multiple computers. If you have multiple computers in your home/office, it’s a headache to backup the data from all the computers. Install the Pogoplug software and select the folders to be copied automatically (via the Active Copy feature). The files are automatically synced to the external hard drive. This is extremely useful for multiple home users and small businesses where data from multiple computers need to be backed up.
  • Use the Bonus Cloud Storage. When you create an account online, you get a 5GB cloud storage too. You can keep your work-in-progress files here just in case the power goes off and you cannot access your external hard drive. Of course, if you have a UPS, you may never need this feature.

With a Pogoplug hardware and an external hard drive, you can build and run your own cloud. Small businesses can use this setup to cut down costs and store important files within their on network instead of putting them up on the Internet.

It’s as simple as that – your own cloud for zero dollars a month.

Could E.T. Solve Our Technology Problems?

Say Hi to E.T.!

Wouldn’t it be cool if we found a way to solve the world’s problems using technology? Some problems that need immediate solutions are:

  • Alternative Sources of energy – Crude oil is scarce. We have about a 100 years worth left. After that, the world will come to a standstill. We need to quickly use alternative sources of energy and make it commercially viable. What about Nuclear Cars like the Nuclear Submarines? Sounds interesting?
  • Cure for diseases – Not just a cure, but how do we prevent cancer and other dreaded diseases? How about improving medical technology such as cryo-surgery or Gamma knife?
  • Supercomputers – How do we build supercomputers that help us solve huge problems in nanoseconds?
  • Artificial Intelligence – How do we create and control Artificial Intelligence?
  • Global warming – How do we solve the problem of global warming?

With all the research underway, what can we do to speed up this process? Well, maybe we could get it touch with ET. Communicating with Extraterrestrial Intelligence will eventually help transfer their technology to us. Do you want to communicate with ET?

Really? Is this a joke? Or science fiction?

No – it’s real. The SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) helps us do just that. The SETI@Home project is the world’s biggest distributed computing framework started in May 1999 by the University of Berkley. Today, more than 5.2 million users across the world ‘donate’ their computing power to analyze radio transmissions from outer space.

SETI@Home uses radio telescopes across the world to listen to narrow-bandwidth radio signals from outer space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so detecting such signals would show evidence of extraterrestrial technology. But there is way too much data to analyze and that’s why they need our help.

Go to the SETI website and download the BOINC software. The software is cool, light, unobtrusive, safe, and gives you total control on how much resource you want to contribute. (I just wish they had iOS or Android Apps to utilize the millions of smartphones out there)


You can assign how much CPU power you want to donate during idle time. Imagine the number of times we leave our computers ON overnight! Running the BOINC software will help SETI@Home use a bit of your processing power to analyze radio transmissions from outer space.

I have installed the SETI application at home (don’t install it on your work computer since your boss wont be pleased to see you searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at work). Using the SETI application, we could help speed up the process of getting in touch with Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Future technology could help us solve today’s problems on Earth. If you are worried that something like Independence Day or Battle Los Angeles will happen, it might just turn out that ETs are extremely friendly.

Once you start searching for alien life forms, make sure you bolt your door at night. If you hear a strange sound, don’t be surprised to find ET outside your door waiting to phone home!

Siri: The First Step Towards SkyNet?

When Apple introduced Siri with the iPhone 4S, critics laughed out loud. They predicted that nobody would use Siri unless talking to your phone became ‘socially acceptable’. The Internet is now full of videos and jokes about Siri keeping us entertained.

Siri: The first step towards SkyNet?

But think about it for a moment. Siri has access to a lot of data from your iPhone. Firstly, your speech – which is a combination of talking style, accent, grammar, perceived punctuation, tone, and breathing rhythm. Secondly, the data from your GPS, calendar, emails, text messages, contacts and browser. Finally, the ability to use all this data to make a decision and execute a task for you. Going forward, adding data from both cameras, accelerometer, proximity sensor combined with the GPS co-ordinates would be extremely useful for Siri to take decisions.

Today, we live our lives through our smartphones. Siri has all the data to take control of our lives like the Daemon and force us to do something (in the techno thriller Daemon by Daniel Suarez). In today’s smartphone world, this would not be impossible. Siri could also be used to analyze data and predict crimes before they are committed (like in the techno TV series Person of Interest). For example, Siri would automatically know if I am in debt (bank account accessed), if I just lost my job (my emails, calls, text messages) and my new application for a gun permit, thereby predicting the possibility of me shooting someone. It’s that simple.

Terminator 1,2,3, and Salvation may seem a bit farfetched for now, but we are certainly moving in that direction. Imagine if Siri became self-aware like the SkyNet. We are already connected! Siri has the access to all user data across the world. Imagine the total power, control, and decision-making Siri could force upon us.

The next time you make fun of Siri, just remember one thing – SkyNet is just round the corner.