Science Says You Should Watch More Cat Videos

Lil Bub (whose owner Mike Bridavsky helped distribute the survey via social media). Image courtesy of Mike Bridavsky/www.lilbub.com

Lil BUB (whose owner Mike Bridavsky helped distribute the survey via social media). Image courtesy of Mike Bridavsky/www.lilbub.com

Cat videos were viewed almost 26 billion times on YouTube last year alone, so it is no surprise that almost everyone loves to watch furry felines, like Grumpy Cat or Lil BUB. However, science is giving us another reason to tune in – watching cat videos online actually boosts your energy and decreases your negative feelings, according to a new study.

Jessica Gall Myrick, an assistant professor at the Indiana University Media School, surveyed almost 7,000 people about how viewing cat videos affected their mood. After watching cat-related online media, participants said they felt more energetic and positive, and had fewer negative emotions, including anxiety, annoyance, and sadness.

Jessica Gall Myrick. Image courtesy of Indiana University.

Jessica Gall Myrick. Image courtesy of Indiana University.

Overall, the participants agreed that the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating (many watched videos at work or while studying). Myrick says the results suggest that future research could explore how online cat videos might be used as a form of low-cost pet therapy.

“If we want to better understand the effects the Internet may have on us as individuals and on society, then researchers can’t ignore Internet cats anymore,”stated Myrick in a press release.  “Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward.”

To learn more about the study, it was published in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior.

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Disney’s Playmation Makes Combines Physical Play With High-Tech Adventures

A child plays with the Repulsor, part of the Playmation Marvel's Avengers starter pack.  GearFriday, May 15, 2015 in Encino, Calif. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Invision for Disney/AP Images)

A child plays with the Repulsor Gear, part of the Playmation Marvel’s Avengers starter pack. GearFriday, May 15, 2015 in Encino, Calif. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Invision for Disney/AP Images)

The Walt Disney Company has always sought to innovate the way stories are told and experienced, and the twenty-first century is no exception. In its quest to continue pushing the boundaries of storytelling, the company is introducing Playmation, a new technology that reinvents classic, make believe play.

Disney Consumer Products describes Playmation as “the next step in the evolution of play, where digital gets physical and imagination becomes real.” The system combines wearables for kids that interact with smart toys.

According to Disney, parents wanted kids to move around more, and Playmation is an answer to their plea. Like a real life video game, kids need to get moving as Jedi, Avengers, and Princesses if they want to defeat the bad guys and unlock new content.

Image created with Imgur meme generator. imgur.com/memegen

Image created with Imgur meme generator. imgur.com/memegen

“Innovation and creativity are the driving forces behind Disney, and our goal is to inspire children to unleash the power of their imaginations through the stories we tell and the experiences we create,” stated Leslie Ferraro, president of Disney Consumer Products, in a press release. “With Playmation, we’re taking the next step in that tradition – bringing the worlds of play, storytelling, and technology together – in a new and very exciting way.”

The Playmation line is a collaboration with Hasbro. The first line to be released is Marvel’s Avengers, with gear hitting stores this October (in time for the Christmas season of course with a price tag of $119.99)

Children (and adults) will first be able to get their hands in an Iron Man repulsor glove and follow Jarvis’ cue to defeat a classic villain. Star Wars and Frozen Playmation lines are also in the works for 2016 and 2017.

Continuing the high-tech tradition

Playmation doesn’t come too much as surprise because it draws upon the merging of art and science that Disney has always strived for. Recently, the company added the Magic Band to their Walt Disney World experience, which was also dreamed up by a team of technologists, Imagineers and storytellers from across Disney. Tomorrowland, which is in theaters, is also the first Dolby Vision theatrical release.

3 Technologies That Will Change The Way We Charge

Image courtesy of Jim Bauer.

Image courtesy of Jim Bauer.

Utilizing ultrasound, RFsignals, and superspeed, three companies are trying to change the way we charge our devices.

#1 uBeam Wireless has created a way to charge devices wirelessly through ultrasound. The prototype uses ultrasound to send electricity to devices up to 15 feet away. All it takes is a receiver on your phone, and your device receives electricity like WiFi. The device isn’t out yet, but you can learn more about it from TechCrunch and The New York Times.

#2 Nikola Labs turns RF signals (like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and LTE) into power for your device. The company has created an iPhone case that can wirelessly charge your phone wherever you go. According to TechCrunch, the case  converts wasted energy from the phone and converts it to battery life, powering it up to 30% longer. Nikola Labs will launch a Kickstarter campaign with the case soon.

#3 Nucleus Scientific wants to charge a phone in the amount of time it takes to fill your car’s gas tank. Their new Intelligent Energy System “reduces battery charging times from hours to minutes while extending lifetimes considerably,” according to the company’s website. The technology is still patent-pending.

Hate Needles? Two Devices Make Shots Tolerable

Over the past month, there have been two different devices targeting people who hate needles. If that sounds like you, listen up, because one could be on the market next year.

A Device That Vacuums Your Blood 

Tasso is creating a device that vacuums a small blood sample when held against the skin for two minutes. The idea is to make sampling less painful and more convenient.

Tasso uses a small vacuum to draw blood.

This prototype device is being developed into a fool-proof, almost painless way to draw blood samples by Tasso, formed by students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Image courtesy of David Tenenbaum/UW-Madison.

The technology relies on the forces that govern the flow of tiny fluid streams and the blood collects in a sample that can be mailed off or brought to a lab.

“At these scales, surface tension dominates over gravity, and that keeps the blood in the channel no matter how you hold the device,” stated Ben Casavant, vice president and co-founder of Tasso, in a press release.

The company seems to be onto something with promise because the DARPA has just given Tasso an additional $3 million to fund work with companies that make blood preservatives. It also has funding from the National Institutes of Health to develop a method to diagnose HIV.

Tasso’s target audience are people who need tests regularly but not frequently as well as those who fear getting their blood drawn by more traditional methods.

“We see our specialty as people who need to test semi-frequently, or infrequently, to monitor cancer or chronic infectious diseases, for example,” Casavant said. “Instead of buying a machine or expensive equipment, we ship you this device, you put it on your arm for two minutes and send it back to the lab.”

If all goes well, Casavant says, the company will send its application to the FDA at the end of 2015, and the device will reach the market during 2016.

The 3-D Printed Gadget That Numbs An Injection Site

Three freshmen engineers at Rice University have created a 3-D printed device that numbs skin before an injection.  The team has a functioning prototype that can cool a small area in about one minute, which is significantly shorter than current numbing methods, such as creams.

In a YouTube video, the creators explain their device is targeted to those who are more sensitive to pain, like kids and the elderly, and for sites where injections hurt more, like the face or groin. .

According to a Rice article, the freshmen specifically designed the device not to be reusable because injections are such a common procedure. Luckily, they created the device with relatively common and inexpensive materials, and each one costs about $2 to make.

The team is applying for a patent, and they are open to continuing the project and perhaps starting a company.

SmartPlate Counts Calories For You

The new SmartPlate and microwaveable lid. | Image courtesy of Fitly.

The new SmartPlate and microwaveable lid. | Image courtesy of Fitly.

SmartPlate by Fitly is a Kickstarter project that automatically weighs and tracks the food you consume.

The concept is simple – just place what you want to eat on the plate, then cameras and sensors gather the food’s data and pushes it to a smartphone app. That way, you know exactly how many calories, carbs, sugars, fats, etc. you consume throughout the day. The plate also alerts you if you’re eating too quickly.

The SmartPlate app. | Image courtesy of Fitly.

The SmartPlate app. | Image courtesy of Fitly.

The plate pairs with a smart phone device, which stores and tracks all your data. Through the device, you can set goals, like to lose or maintain weight, train for a marathon, or follow a specific type of diet.

The website and Kickstarter campaign page don’t delve into whether the plate has ben independently tested, and SmartPlate is unfortunately not microwaveable. However, each plate does come with a microwaveable lid, to hopefully alleviate that drawback.

The SmartPlate is currently in the middle of its Kickstarter campaign to raise production funds for the product. So far, Fitly has raised about a quarter of it’s goal, and there’s over a month left on the campaign.

The plates are currently going for $99 on the campaign page, and they will retail at $199. Fitly expects the SmartPlate to be available in 2016.

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Pulse Play Is The Wearable For Racket Sports

Pulse Play lets you focus on the game, not the score. All images and screenshots are courtesy of Pulse Play and their Indiegogo campaign.

Pulse Play lets you focus on the game, not the score. All images and screenshots are courtesy of Pulse Play and their Indiegogo campaign.

Pulse Play was created by three-time tennis champion Andy Ram who wanted to give amateur players the ability to focus on the game and not the score, just like the pros. It also has the distinction of being featured in the first ever Crunch Theory Wearable Wednesday video. Check it out below!

Pulse Play is wearable meets app meets social network, allowing those who play racket sports to meet up and compete with others in the area. It also keeps score, which it pushes to mobile devices, so that you can always reference the points when needed.

One band goes for $75 on the company’s Indiegogo campaign, with orders expected to ship out later this year.

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Three Apps For Better Financial Health

Apps like Digit can help you save, even when you don't know where to start. | Image courtesy of Digit.

Apps like Digit can help you save, even when you don’t know where to start. | Image courtesy of Digit.

We live in the 21st century, but most apps that deal with money are living like it’s 1999. If you want to find high-tech ways to save better and more efficiently, you need to check these out. After all, the majority of Americans stress about money, and stress is bad for your health.

#1 Digit
In case you didn’t know, Americans are bad at saving. Really bad. In fact, 60% of Americans between 18- and 40-years-old saved absolutely nothing in 2013, according to the Federal Reserve. And adults under 35 actually lost 2% of their savings that year.

Digit wants to change that by automatically withdrawing savings from your account. The service goes like this:

  • Sign up for Digit
  • Digit analyzes your spending habits
  • Every two to three days Digit automatically withdrawals $5 to $50, depending on what you can afford to save
  • When you need the money, you text Digit, and it’s back to your account within the day

With 128-bit bank-level security, you don’t have to worry about hackers any more than with a normal bank, and any money you put in is also FDIC insured up to $250,000. Digit is also so confident in its savings algorithm that if you need the money ASAP, and Digit took out too much, you don’t have to pay any over-draft (taking out too much money) fees.

The service is mainly done through text messaging, which can be considered a pro or con depending on the person. In addition, the money Digit saves doesn’t earn any interest (Hint: that’s how Digit makes its money.)

Summary: If you’re not saving any money now or are not disciplined enough to put cash away, then Digit is for you. But you’re already regularly saving and want to make decent (in today’s world) bang for your buck, you should consider putting your savings into a high-earning savings account through an online bank, like Ally.

#2 LearnVest
LearnVest is online budgeting, goal-setting software that accurately monitors your savings, spending, and loans, so you can see your actual net worth in real time.

The website connects to your bank accounts and acts like a one-stop portal for your finances. Through LearnVest, you can create a budget and set financial goals.

Like other budgeting software, LearnVest uses a “folder” method, where you can place expenses into appropriate categories like groceries, entertainment, or transportation. The website does try automatically place expenses where they should go, but sometimes you need to enter the folder yourself .LearnVest also breaks down your budget into fixed and flexible income so that you can easily see how much you have in each category.

What separates it from others in the category is the ability to set and track goals. Then, as you add money toward the goal, you can visually see your progress. The only downside is you can only set one goal per savings account, so you may have to get creative and combine multiple goals into one.

SUMMARY: LearnVest is great for people with multiple online accounts who want an easy way to see there expenses, savings, and debts in one place. While it is a good budgeting app, it’s not a great one, but you can set goals through the app and visual track them.

#3 YouNeedABudget
YouNeedABudget is an oldie but a goodie, and it’s constantly making best budgeting apps because if you have the time, it will teach you discipline.

One of the best and worst features of YouNeedABudget is that you have to manually enter every transaction. I’m sure by now the software could easily link to your bank accounts (it doesn’t) and get that information, but the real power of it is that you know exactly how much you’re spending each month. The catch is that you have to have the discipline to use it regularly.

If you can get in the habit of inputting your expenses, YouNeedABudget is one of the best monthly budgeting programs out there, helping you to break down spending by category and microcategory. It also automatically does the math and carryovers for you, so you just need to do line-by-line expenses.

Summary: YouNeedABudget is good for people who are discplined time-wise, but aren’t so budget-savvy. It’s also good for visual learners who need to see exactly how things break down, and for people who don’t want their account information directly linked to a program. It’s not so good for people who just want an overview of their finances or don’t have the patience to enter things item-by-item.

Did I miss your go-to finance app? Share your favorites (or least favorites) in the comments below!

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A Sensor That Detects Spoiled Meat

This MIT device, based on modified carbon nanotubes, can detect amines produced by decaying meat. Image credit: Sophie Liu

This MIT device, based on modified carbon nanotubes, can detect amines produced by decaying meat. Image credit: Sophie Liu

MIT researchers are at it again – this time by inventing a sensor that detects spoiled meat.

The sensor, which was developed by a team of chemists, is portable and can detect gases emitted by rotting meat. This allows consumers to determine whether the meat in their refrigerator is safe to eat.

The researchers put their sensor to the test and found that various mets last over four days in the fridge but decay at different rates when left out. They recently published their findings in a scientific journal and have filed a patent for the technology, hoping to license it for commercial use.

The chemists foresee their sensor being used on “smart packaging” that displays more accurate safety information than an expiration date. They also hope it can cut down on food waste because people throw things out that aren’t bad, just based on the expiration date.

The sensor may also be incorporated into a wireless platform developed by the same lab that enables a smartphone to read the freshness of the meat, making it easy for consumers to tell whether or not to cook that piece of chicken.

This isn’t the first sensor that the lab has detected for freshness either. The lead researcher and others have also created one to detect the ripeness of the fruit.

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Researchers Created A Treadmill That Sucks Less

The new treadmill changes pace automatically. Image courtesy of Military Health.

The new treadmill changes pace automatically. Image courtesy of MilitaryHealth.

Let’s face it – running on treadmill sucks. You’re in one place, looking at the same things, and, well, it’s just not the same as running outdoors. But researchers from Ohio State have created a treadmill that sucks a little bit less – it changes pace with you.

This may not seem like much, but the new treadmill is designed to match how we naturally run. When you’re outdoors or on a track, you can change pace without even thinking about it, but if you do so on a treadmill, you find yourself hitting the top or close to the edge. Not anymore.

The automated treadmill uses sonar to tell where you are on the belt and adjusts automatically. If you pick up speed and get closer to the front, it speeds up with you, and if you slow down, it does to.

My only question is – why did nobody do this sooner?

“If you’re running outside and you want to speed up or slow down, there is no button to push. It is the same with this new automated treadmill,” Steven T. Devor, associate professor of kinesiology at OSU and one of the treadmill’s developers, said in a press release.“It is seamless and feels completely natural. You just go.”

The treadmill is now a final prototype and in the process of being patented. Devon said it should be ready for commercialization soon.

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Jawbone Releases The UP2

Introducing the UP2. Image courtesy of Jawbone.

Introducing the UP2. Images courtesy of Jawbone.

Last week Jawbone released the newest addition to its popular fitness wearable line, UP2. At $99, the UP2 is one of Jawbone’s cheaper wearables, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on value.

So this is a tad confusing, but the UP2 is the successor to the UP24, and it’s about half the size.  (The order went UP, UP24, UP3 and UP MOVE, now UP2 and soon UP4.)

Although it’s designed to be an entry-way into the fitness tracking world, the UP2 comes with all features you’d expect from a Jawbone tracker. It still automatically tracks your activity and sleep, and the app still provides a relatively easy way to log what food you eat. It’s also still shower-resistant, so you can wear the band 24/7.

Other features include:
• Smart wake alarms for power naps or normal sleep
• Bluetooth connectivity for real-time updates
• 7-day battery life (!!)
• Vibrations for alerts and reminders, like when you need to take a pill or have been sitting for too long

The new UP2 comes in two different colors and styles.

The new UP2 comes in two different colors and styles.

The UP2 also has Smart Coach, which learns your habits and suggests ways to live a healthier, more productive life. For example, if it notices that you take more steps when you go to sleep earlier, it will prompt you to set a goal of going to bed a little earlier that day. Talk about using data to make you a better version you!

In addition to the UP2, Jawbone announced the upcoming UP4. The tracker, which will retail this summer, has the same features as the UP3, including heart rate monitoring.  Jawbone is also partnering with American Express to bring a tap-to-pay feature the tracker, the first fitness wearable to do so.

To learn more about the entire UP line, check out Jawbone’s website.

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Want to stay up-to-date with latest health/tech trends? Follow us to get emails when new posts get published, then follow Crunch Theory on Facebook and Twitter.