The cup that can keep you hydrated

Image from Vessyl

Image from Vessyl

“For me, I wanted to put a computer into one of the most ubiquitous objects in human history, ” Lee [Co-founder and CEO of Vessyl] said. “The human race has been putting liquids inside of some type of vessel since the beginning — and drinking out of it.”

That quote, which is from a CNET article, is about a very smart thermos-type cup called Vessyl. Vessyl, which is Mark One’s first product, can determine what you’re drinking, how much sugar and calories it has, and even tell the difference between Pepsi or Coke. It is designed to work with your smartphone and other fitness devices to track your nutrition and hydration and help you make smarter drink choices.

Overall, Vessyl has a great design with a small graphical interface on the outside. It has a well-designed lid that appears to both stay shut and slide off easily. It also seems to know a wide variety of drink types and can even tell the difference between orange juice with and without pulp as well as the brand.

My one concern about Vessyl is its feasibility for everyday use. Will I really want to pour the Starbucks coffee I just bought into the same mug that had orange juice in it when I don’t have time to wash it in between? I don’t know. But if you have $99 and want to find out, you can pre-order Vessyl, which is supposed to hit stores in 2015, and find out for yourself.


Punch it Chewie: NASA’s ship designed to enter light speed

NASA's design for a faster-than-light ship.  Photo credit: Mark Rademaker/NASA

NASA’s design for a faster-than-light ship.
Photo credit: Mark Rademaker/NASA

NASA physicist Harold White has designed a ship that theoretically can go faster than light by creating a warp bubble around it. The thought behind the ship’s design is that the space in front of the ship will contract while the space behind the ship will expand since space is not confined to speed limits, and therefore can travel as fast as it wants.

Although the design is magnificent (and the 3d modelers who created this are geniuses), we are still a long way off from even knowing if such travel is possible. White and his team are currently looking for tiny instances of warp travel in the universe but have yet to find evidence they exist. However, if they can prove their existence, it might not be entirely crazy to think that inter-planetary travel beyond that of Mars will be possible in our lifetime.


Gamify your life and win real-world health points

In case you don’t know, gamification is the “application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity,” according to the Oxford dictionary. It is increasingly being used in marketing and business to engage consumers and employees and yield higher profits. However, there is another, more important and humanistic use of gamification – and that is to make us healthier.

Gamification in the healthcare industry is not a new concept. In the 1990s, video games were first being introduced to help teach children with asthma and diabetes how to thrive with their conditions. Today, you can find ads for luminosity, the brain training game, almost anywhere, and apps that turn exercise into a game are commonplace.

Some game companies, like Blue Marble Game Company, help users with disabilities or who are at-risk for illnesses perform their doctor-recommended therapy by designing games that target their conditions. Instead of them having to perform their prescribed treatment as a routine, gamifying the treatment allows the patients to add their treatment into their day by playing a video game.

As the healthcare industry turns to gamification to help the ill perform their doctor-recommended treatment on a regular basis, it is also helping everyone in general to live better, healthier, and hopefully longer lives.

So if you’re fortunate enough to be happy and healthy, you can still improve your own life by playing games. Luckily, there is an excellent TED talk about how gamification can win real-world health points. I highly recommend you watch this video and start to turn your own life into a game.

If you want to learn more about current gamification research projects, check out the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center lab at my alma mater, the University of Southern California.

Not staying hydrated? Maybe you need this microchip.

Researchers at DOE/Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have created a chip, which is smaller than the size of a watch, that will be able to tell you if you’re running low on electrolytes. (To learn more about electrolytes, read my blog post about them here.)

From my understanding, the chip painlessly attaches into the upper levels of the skin and then checks the fluids between your skin cells for your electrolyte levels. The chip will be able to continuously monitor the cells and can alert you if you’re running low on those essential proteins.

This sensor may just be able to detect electrolyte levels now, but the potential uses for this type of wearable/implantable technology is endless. If there is already a working prototype for electrolyte levels, I cannot wait to see how multi-functional medical devices will be in the next decade.

You can read the full press release from Sandia National Laboratories here.

Photo by Randy Montoya

Photo by Randy Montoya

“Sandia National Laboratories researcher Ronen Polsky holds a prototype of a microneedle fluidic chip device able to selectively detect and painlessly measure electrolytes in the interstitial fluids that bathe skin cells. It features nine sampling needles, each only 800 millionths of a meter (microns) in height, and beneath them, a fluidic channel that can draw interstitial fluid over nine gold disk electrodes. Each disk can be tailored to detect a different analyte. The visible rectangular gold pads are electrical contacts.”

The down-low on electrolytes

[Image courtesy of Mike Mozart]

If you read content from the fitness world long enough, you’ll come across products and drinks that replenish your electrolytes. If you’re like me, you know they’re in sports drinks. You might have a general idea that athletes lose a lot of them and that they have something to do with working out for extended periods of time and replenishing lost fluids, but beyond that, they are a mystery. Well, don’t worry, here’s the down-low on electrolytes.

To understand electrolytes, think back to high school chemistry because electrolytes are just ionized salts. As you may be able to gather from their name, they help with the electrical transfer of signals in the body that keep cells working, particularly in the muscles and organs. Without the positively and negatively ionized electrolytes, your body wouldn’t be able to function properly. With too much or little of them, your muscles can get weak or cramp.

Electrolyte replenishment for athletes is so important because two of the main electrolytes, potassium and sodium ions, are lost when you sweat. That’s why it is so important for those who workout for extended periods of time (typically three hours or more) in a day to replenish their lost electrolytes, often times by consuming sports drinks with higher sodium and potassium levels. While athletes and those training for high-energy events, like marathons, can benefit from sports drinks, Americans generally consume too much sodium and high-sodium sports drinks probably are not ideal for the average fit geek.

Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only… phone.

Ostendo Technologies has created a tic-tac sized holographic projector that can be implemented into smart phones starting next summer, which is a pretty mind-blowing feat. When I first read about it, my mind automatically jumped to the uses for health and fitness. Imagine getting to monitor your heart rate on the phone itself while watching your favorite Netflix episodes on the projector, or using the projection to read your favorite healthy recipe, upright,  while you cook. What an easy way to see a recipe without worrying about getting the screen dirty.

While I can’t wait to have a 2-d projector built into my smartphone, Ostendo Technologies is pushing the envelope further by also working on a 3-d holographic projector. They do not have an anticipated release time or year yet for the 3-d technology, but some of the anticipated uses are for projecting full-scale furniture, people, and objects onto blank walls. Although making virtual reality attainable in a smart phone would be a game changer in the mobile industry, I still think getting to become a real life Princess Leia tops any other use for the 3-d projection.

Say hello to the robots

Image adapted from Saygin, 2000.

Image adapted from Saygin, 2000.


Thinking robots that is. For the first time ever, a computer allegedly passed the Turing Test. What is the Turing Test, you ask? Well, it was a test developed by Alan Turing, a genius British computer scientist to determine if a computer may be able to think. In the test, a judge (person C in the graph above) must determine if the person/thing they are conversing with by text with is a computer or a person. If a computer tricks 30% of the judges, it passes the test and the idea that it is a ‘thinking machine’ is no longer contradictory.

The first computer to pass the test is named “Eugene Goostman,” and it mimics a 13-year-old boy. Eugene set the accomplishment in London, and the creators want to continue to increase its ‘intelligence’ level. (As one witty Business Insider commenter named ‘depression’ wrote, ‘The last thing this world needs are computers that think like 13 year old boys ….”

While the Turing test does not measure intelligence and rather focuses on mimicking human behavior, it is still an important first indicator of the advancement of super computers and how humans interact with computers. The everyday use of thinking machines has been explored in many science fiction films and literature, and now that they are becoming more of a reality, it may be a good time to start seriously talking about their practical uses and moral implications.

You can read more about Eugene Goostman passing the Turing test here.

Well said, depression, well said.

Well said, depression, well said.

What you need to know about Apple’s Health app


Image courtesy of Apple.

Image courtesy of Apple.

Earlier this week, Apple announced the features for iOs 8, their latest (and greatest?) operating system. One of the new features coming to the iPhone and iPad is a built-in app called Health. The purpose of Health is to keep all you health data and statistics in one place. That way, the more you record the amount of calories you burned through Nike Run, the quality of your sleep with sleep cycle, and how many points you ate with the Weight Watchers, the better Health will be at putting together a comprehensive health picture of you.

Although having data about your health sent to Apple may be a bit scary, if you’re a member of the ‘worried well’ like me, then you’re probably stoked to see health become a key feature on Apple’s operating system. What’s perhaps more exciting is that this will hopefully encourage more hardware and software developers to create apps and devices that work with the new feature.

The Health app has a lot to offer the user, but my favorite feature is a way to store emergency medical information that can be accessed from the lock screen. This is especially important for those who have severe allergies or asthma, or are at risk for fainting, heart attack or stroke, and I think other phone operating systems need to follow suit.

Mark your calendars for Sunday January 18, 2015

Fun runs of all sorts are becoming increasingly popular, but there hasn’t been one quite like this before. Run Disney has announced there will be a Star Wars half marathon on Sunday January 18, 2015  (and a 10k on Saturday the 17th if you’re not up to the half marathon challenge). Aside from some serious Jedi training academies, I don’t think there is a better way to get in shape while wielding a lightsaber. Plus, you get a medal. How cool is that?

You’re so skinny

In a recent attempt to improve my health, I have been munching on more veggies, which has resulted in me looking thinner. Consequently, I have been getting a lot of ‘you’re so skinny!’ ‘compliments.’ I have no objections to looking thin, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being skinny, but health should come first. Being skinny shouldn’t be a compliment, but being healthy should be.

Because being bigger is such a stigma, people (especially women) tend to associate being skinny with being healthy, but that’s not always the case. There is such a thing as skinny fat. What does that mean? It means that although a person has a normal body mass index (BMI) and may look thin, they have an unhealthy amount of body fat, sometimes that of an obese person. In the end, someone who is overweight but works out frequently and eats healthy may be in better shape than someone who is naturally thin but sits on the couch and eats potato chips.

To avoid skinny fat but more importantly to help you stay strong and flexible for the rest of your life, the key is to exercise and not cut too many calories when dieting. When you do cardio exercises and lift weights, you’re building the muscle mass needed to fight internal fat, build strong bones, keep your heart healthy and your cholesterol down. However, if to lose weight you go on a diet that severely restricts your caloric intake, you could be keeping the fat but losing the muscle. In the end, that will leave you weaker and put you at a higher risk for obesity-related diseases like diabetes, even if you have a low BMI.

So the next time you see a friend who appears to have trimmed down, before you compliment them on their thinner size, just remember it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And what’s on the inside might not be so healthy.