The weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories of 2011

This year we find horses helping to build the Internet, Apple having all the money in the world and way more wackiness

This year was certainly one of the weirdest and wackiest in recent memory. We have everything from burning iPhones and secret spacecraft to orbiting space hotels and self-driving cars. The year is over but you can relive the best parts here!

And don't forget we put together a list of the weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories from the first part of the year. Read here .

Apple Exxon

Big and bigger. Apple has all the money in the world, well, a lot of it anyway. In July the U.S. Treasury's cash balance fell to $74 billion and Apple had $76 billion. Then in August Apple briefly edged past Exxon Mobil Corp. to become the most valuable U.S. company. On that day the market value of Apple rose to $341.5 billion, just above Exxon's at $341.4 billion.

draft horse

Fred, a Belgian draft horse, waits as line crews attach a fiber optic cable to a utility pole in East Burke, Vt. According to Reuters, Fairpoint Communications hired Claude Desmarais and his horse Fred to pull fiber optic cable through difficult terrain in an effort to bring high-speed Internet to all of Vermont by 2013.

gold phone

Like we need this. Here we have Aesir's new mobile phone shown during a press presentation in Moscow. The phone doesn't do email or the Internet, and it doesn't have a camera, games or GPS navigation, but it is literally solid gold. Danish retailer Aesir said it hopes to sell its $57,400, limited-edition 18-karat gold phones to Moscow's fashion-forward elite, according to Reuters.

merging tsunami

Nasty stuff. NASA and Ohio State University researchers discovered the major tsunami generated by the devastating March 2011 Tohoku-Oki quake centered off northeastern Japan was a long-hypothesized "merging tsunami." The tsunami doubled in intensity over rugged ocean ridges, amplifying its destructive power at landfall.

privatization of space

Privatization of space. Space Exploration Technology said it would launch he world's most powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy, by 2013. SpaceX will fly its unmanned Dragon orbital capsule to dock with the International Space Station next year.

Twitter "Murmur Study"

Seems like a waste of paper but here we see artist Christopher Baker reading tweets printing in his "Murmur Study," which was exhibited at a book fair in Frankfurt, Germany. The installation consists of 132 common thermal printers connected to a computer system. Custom software collects every new tweet from the Twitter network in the Internet containing keywords associated with topics such as dialogue, ideas and literature, and prints them on the thermal printer designated to the keyword.


The U.S. Air Force launched its second secretive spaceship, the X-37B, in March and has extended the spacecraft's mission beyond the end of the year as of this writing. The X-37B carries a super-secret payload, but provides what the Air Force calls a flexible space test platform to conduct various experiments with network satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology, according to the Air Force.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Long road to retirement. The retired Space Shuttle Discovery awaits its turn to approach shuttle Endeavour outside Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at the Kennedy Space Center in August. Discovery, which temporarily was being stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building, is switching places with Endeavour, which has been undergoing decommissioning. Discovery will go on public display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Endeavour is slated for public display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.


The 6-ton NASA science Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth this year causing much consternation but no damage.

space tourism

A visitor sits inside a model of an orbiting hotel during the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, in August. A hotel in orbit, lunar sightseeing flights and luxury rides into the cosmos -- all are part of Russia's vision to ensure it is not left behind in the growing space tourism industry.

Mars Science Laboratory

Next stop, Mars. NASA successfully launched its ambitious Mars Science Laboratory rover this fall. Expected to arrive on Mars in August 2012, the lab including the interplanetary rover known as Curiosity will employ an array of new technologies to adjust its flight while descending through the Martian atmosphere, including a sky crane touchdown system that will lower the rover on a tether to the Martian surface.


The largest solar boat in the world, PlanetSolar, set sail this year. It has a 30-meter long and 16-meter wide catamaran topped with about 500 square meters of photovoltaic solar panels.


Daniel Goehring of the AutoNOMOS research team of the Artificial Intelligence Group at the Freie Universitaet demonstrates hands-free driving of the research car named MadeInGermany during a test in Berlin. The car, a modified Volkswagen Passat, is controlled by BrainDriver software with a neuroheadset device, which interprets electroencephalography signals with additional support from latest radar sensing technology and cameras. The BrainDriver is only a demo, however, and not ready for prime time.

bionic robots

Small bionic robots were all the rage this year. Here engineering school students look at the Delf Fly bionic robot during a demonstration at the International Workshop on Bio-Inspired Robots.


Electronic waste continues to grow into a worldwide problem. Here an employee arranges discarded computers at a newly opened electronic waste recycling factory in China. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste is the fastest growing commodity in the waste stream, with a growth rate five times that of other parts of the business such as industrial waste.


Hanako Miyake demonstrates Japanese research project team Nerowear's Necomimi. The strap-on cat ears have abilities to wiggle, twitch, perk up or flop down by responding to user's brain waves. According to Nerowear, the machine can tell when users are relaxed and when they are concentrating through the two internal brain wave censors on the device, which they also have a plan to develop as a fashion accessory which allows nonverbal communication. The brain wave-controlled cat ears are raised when a user concentrates and flattened when a user relaxes.


Experiments from Hasbro's Fonedox project, which use Android phones to detect faces and touch, are displayed at the Google I/O Developers Conference.

Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse's chief executive officer, pilot Andre Borschberg, takes off with the solar-powered HB-SIA prototype aircraft during a flight from Brussels to Paris in June.


The ultimate robot athletes: Panasonic's Evolta robots swim, run and bike. Evoltas competed in the Ironman triathlon course in Hawaii.

The Power of Google

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt faces a wall of news photographers before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing called "The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?" on Capitol Hill. Not sure they came to any conclusion though.

MiMi Car

The so-called MiMi Car was used as a way for Japanese car makers to grab information from attendees of the huge Japanese consumer electronics show Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC). The idea was to get passersby to whisper what cool features they'd like to see future cars. "Mimi," by the way, means "ear" in Japanese.

The Wind Explorer

The Wind Explorer wind-powered car is fueled by batteries which are recharged by windmill every night. The car traveled more than 3,100 miles from Perth to Sydney, Australia.

fake Apple store

The biggest fake Apple store in the world. Here customers buy products in the fake Apple store in Kunming, China. The near-flawless fake store, which looks every bit like Apple stores found all over the world, was stumbled upon by a 27-year-old American blogger living in the city, the capital of China's mountainous southwestern Yunnan province. But Apple has no stores in Kunming and only 13 authorized resellers in the city, who are not allowed to call themselves Apple stores or claim to work for Apple, according to Reuters.

camera head

NYU photography professor Wafaa Bilal displays the digital camera mount he's had implanted in the back of his head as part of a year-long art project. Unfortunately, the project was put on hold as he had to undergo surgery to remove one of the anchoring posts. Images from the camera were to be streamed over the Internet and at a museum in Qatar that commissioned the project.


Lingodroids chat to each other at the University of Queensland campus. The two Lingodroids, developed by the university, have picked up their shared language by playing location games that led them to construct a shared vocabulary for places, distances and directions. Ruth Schulz, director of the project, describes the robots as "basically a laptop on wheels," but each is equipped with sonar, a camera, a laser range finder, microphones and speakers that allow them to speak to each other as they move around.

Suetake Sample iPhone cases

Who would want their iPhone case encrusted with sushi? Here a worker makes an iPhone case decorated with plastic models of sushi at Suetake Sample, a plastic food model maker. The company has been producing iPhone cases decorated with plastic food models such as sushi and eel bowl since the end of last year. No one knows why.

urine-controlled game

Looking to capture that manly desire to aim and shoot at something, a British company has come up with a gaming system that, well, lets men using a urinal actually aim at something and score points for peeing. The company, Captive Media, bills its new product as "the world's first interactive, networked washroom gaming system ... a urinal mounted, urine-controlled games console with hands-free control."

burning iPhone

Regional Express, an Australian airline, has reported extinguishing a passenger's Apple iPhone after it started glowing red and emitting dense smoke. The incident took place aboard flight ZL319 operating from Lismore to Sydney on Friday, Nov. 25, according to the airline, which said no one suffered harm. Although the phone itself is in tough shape.


Apple's much-touted Siri may sound like the Japanese word for buttocks, but that's no big deal given that iPhone users are unlikely to give a rat's backside about the coincidence. Nokia customers, on the other hand, may have more of a problem with their new Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 phones, especially if they're up on their Spanish, a language in which the word "lumia" apparently means "prostitute" ( from Buzzblog ).

BlackBerry outage

Police in the United Arab Emirates said that this summer's extended BlackBerry service outage significantly reduced traffic accidents there. From a story in The National, based in Abu Dhabi: In Dubai, traffic accidents fell 20% from average rates on the days BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents that week fell 40% and there were no fatal accidents (thanks to Buzzblog).

Steve Yegge

Google engineer Steve Yegge, pictured, meant for his here's-what's-wrong-with-Google manifesto to be a "little family intervention" read by the 20,000 Googlers present on Google+. Instead -- well, think "reply all." Yegge's rant was not only made visible to the entire Google+ social network, but went viral and might have made Amazon's best-seller list if not for the fact that Yegge also trashes Amazon, his former employer, as well as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (thanks to Buzzblog).

Comet Elenin

NASA, which had gone out of its way to diminish wild doomsday reports about the impact of comet Elanin on Earth over the summer, reiterated its scorn for the hoopla by later in the year by issuing a statement detailing the comet's death. "Perhaps a little homage to a classic Monty Python dead parrot sketch is in order," NASA said. "Comet Elenin has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-comet."

Learning Thermostat

So what do you do after you've helped build the iPod? Build wicked cool thermostats, of course. That's what former Apple engineer Tony Fadell did, who is now the founder and CEO of Nest, which this week rolled out its Learning Thermostat. Fadell is considered the creator of the iPod.

Dirty Harry car

If you remember the "Dirty Harry" movie "Dead Pool" where a radio-controlled Corvette model car containing a bomb chases Harry around the streets of San Francisco and eventually detonates under his car and destroys it, then you have the general idea of the technology a retired 66-year-old mechanical engineer named Dante Barbis came up with to win a $25,000 prize from the Air Force Research Laboratory. "The solution consists of a remote electric-powered vehicle that can accelerate up to 130 MPH within 3 seconds, position itself under a fleeing car, then automatically trigger a restrained airbag to lift the car and slide it to a stop."

texting and talking

According to press out of the United Kingdom, a man who was driving at 70 mph while texting on one phone and talking on the other has been banned from driving for a year . Initial reports said that the driver, David Secker, was apparently using his knees to steer the car, an accusation he apparently refuted in court. From a BBC report: The court heard that when officers pulled Secker over, they had to wait for him to finish his phone conversation. Prosecutor Denis King said, "He was seen holding a mobile phone to his right ear and as he moved closer the officer saw he was holding another phone in his other hand as though he was texting."

alien armies destroy Earth

There was a bit of a dustup in the space research world this summer as a number of press outlets seized on what at first blush was reported to be NASA study saying alien armies might destroy Earth because of our greenhouse gas issues. The report was real and interesting, mind you, but it wasn't NASA's. The researcher who published the paper later tried to douse the fire, saying: "So here's the thing. This isn't a 'NASA report.' It's not work funded by NASA, nor is it work supported by NASA in other ways. It was just a fun paper written by a few friends, one of whom happens to have a NASA affiliation."

killer cellphone number

Nigerian officials this summer had to quell public concern that by answering a certain phone number, cellphone users are killed. From a BBC report: "Viral text messages had warned that several people had died when they answered calls with the ID 09141. The regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission, said this was 'unimaginable' and 'unscrupulous persons' were spreading fear. The text messages gave conflicting accounts of the number of people killed when they answered the call -- some put the death toll at seven while others put it at 10. "

Verizon firings

Most people thought  this one was just dumb. Verizon fired six workers and suspended 32 others for taking part in a Super Bowl pool this year. "Verizon does not tolerate illegal activities of any kind," and "betting is illegal in Massachusetts," Phil Santoro, Verizon's Boston-based spokesman, said. Whether the firings and suspensions were related or not to a recent strike by Verizon workers at the time is the question raised by some observers. Verizon denied the moves had anything to do with the strike.

butt dialing

A pain in the arse for police: A report out of Chicago recently said inadvertent dialing by one's cellphone to 911 emergency services is becoming a serious safety problem. According to a CBS report, officials in Evanston, Ill., say that nearly 20% of the wireless calls they get each month are "unintentional" or abandoned" calls, and they believe the vast majority of those accidental cellphone calls are butt dials.

Stratolaunch Systems

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen would never be accused of not thinking big. And big is what his next project amounts to: launching unmanned rockets into space from a massive aircraft. Allen's new company, Stratolaunch Systems, said it will build huge aircraft with a wingspan of 385 feet, bigger than a football field and 70% longer than the wings on a Boeing 747, making it the largest aircraft ever flown. The plane will be built by Scaled Composites, the rocket will be built by Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies, and the state-of-the-art mating and integration system allowing the carrier aircraft to safely carry a booster weighing up to 490,000 pounds will be built by Dynetics. The first test flight is targeted for 2015.

More wild stories:

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11 cool robots you may not have heard of

From Anonymous to Hackerazzi: The year in security mischief-making

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