The Weirdest, Wackiest and Stupidest Sci/Tech Stories of 2010

From exploding Droids to robotic pack mules and Apple weirdness, it was a wacky year.

Weirdest 2010

It's hard to pick the weirdest and wackiest tech stories of 2010 considering there is so much nuttiness to choose from. But we'll give it a shot. Here we take a look at a number of stories that gave us pause in 2010.

The fly car cometh

Military scientists are looking to ramp up research and development of a flying military vehicle that will hold up to four people and have the ability to launch vertically and soar when necessary. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will this month hold its first Proposers' Day Workshop in support of a flying car program it will begin this year known as the Transformer (TX). The goal of the TX will be to build a flying vehicle that will let military personnel avoid water, difficult terrain and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats by driving and flying when necessary.

Google's self-driving car

Not content to rule the world, Google wants to take over driving cars too. In October the company said it had developed technology for cars that can drive themselves. From Google: "Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They've driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research." We aren't so sure.

Apple made Newsday kill funny iPad app ad

In September we were speculating about whether Apple was behind the sudden disappearance from YouTube of a newspaper's funny iPad app ad that depicted a Dad "forgetting" that an iPad is not a rolled up newspaper and using it to swat a fly ... with predictable results; the iPad shatters into a million pieces and we all get a good laugh. The video went seriously viral ... before the most widely distributed copy disappeared not only from YouTube but a whole bunch of news sites and blogs, including this one.

Your tires as a security threat

Researchers from Rutgers University and University of South Carolina have found that wireless communications between new cars and their tires can be intercepted or even forged. While the potential for misuse may be minimal, this vulnerability points to a troubling lack of rigor with secure software development for new automobiles, said Wenyuan Xu, a computer science assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, who was a co-lead on the study.

Droid 2 explosion tears off man's ear

A Texas man reported in December said that his Motorola Droid 2 smartphone exploded next to his ear as he was ending a call, resulting in a bloodied face and a trip to the hospital. Fortunately, no hearing loss occurred, according to a report by WFAA-TV in Dallas/Forth Worth. And yes, the phone was actually still working after the incident. The man, Aron Embry, said he heard a loud pop from his just 2-day-old phone and then felt blood running down his face as a result of the shattered glass covering, according to the report. He received four stitches at the hospital. Motorola is still looking into the incident.

Hey Steve Jobs doll, you're outta here

Apple was none-too-happy when M.I.C Gadget, the maker of the Steve Jobs action figure was set to begin selling the doll. According to this story the manufacturer received an e-mail from a law firm representing Apple Inc., informing it that the Cupertino giant did "not consent to the use of Apple's copyrights and trademarks" and requested the company immediately cease the marketing and sale of this figure. The Apple letter stated: "Unauthorized use of a person's name and/or likeness constitutes a violation of California Civil Code Section 3344, which prohibits the use of any person's name, photograph or likeness in a product without that person's prior consent." M.I.C. responded to "all Apple fanboys": "You are not going to get this phenomenal figure any more. M.I.C gadget hereby apologizes to Steve Jobs, Apple Inc, and their law firm for any inconvenience caused."

IBM Watson computer to play $1M game against Jeopardy! Champs

IBM is pitting its natural language Watson supercomputer against two of the quiz show Jeopardy's biggest champion players in a $1 million man v. machine challenge for the ages. IBM said the first-ever man vs. machine Jeopardy competition will air on Feb. 14, 15 and 16, 2011, with two matches being played over three consecutive days.

Woman gives USB wedding ring to geeky fiancé

It's the stuff of legends in the geek world. A wife-to-be of a Microsoft game developer bought husband custom-made USB wedding ring. According to this story, the gold ring isn't actually a functional USB drive, but its design is reminiscent of one.

Boy Scouts!

The Boy Scouts junior division, the Cub Scouts, this year began offering a merit badge for videogaming. The requirements aren't all fun and games though according to this PC World article: "In addition to scoping games ratings, to get the "belt loop" you have to "create a schedule...that includes your chores, homework, and video gaming" as well as "learn to play a new video game that is approved by your parent, guardian, or teacher."

The 10 year-old Microsoft expert

Meet Marko Calasan, a 9-year-old boy from Skopje, Macedonia who loves computers – especially those running Microsoft Windows operating systems. Calasan who celebrated his 10th birthday this year, holds four Microsoft IT certifications and has already decided the next certification he will add to his ever-growing resume.

"Suspicious" MacBook blasted by Israeli security officers and a number of other sites reported in March that Israeli Border Police took offense to a Macbook a student was carrying and blew a few holes in it with their guns. From the report: Israeli Border Police allegedly destroyed a MacBook Pro owned by Lily Sussman, a student and U.S. citizen who was recently interrogated while crossing from Egypt into Israel, according to her blog. The guards thoroughly searched Sussman's belongings while asking questions about people she knows, where she is traveling, her stance on the local conflicts, and her family, among other things. No reason for the destruction was apparently given.

Slow news week: Gates dances on table at Sundance festival

Numerous reports abounded that Bill Gates partied it up at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Their main observation was that the normally staid Gates was dancing on tables. From the NY Post: Bill Gates appears to be giving Paris Hilton a run for her money on the party scene at the Sundance Film Festival. The Microsoft billionaire was seen dancing, Paris style, on a banquette during a performance by John Legend and the Roots at an after-hours party for Microsoft search engine Bing at the Film Lounge the other night. A spy said, "He gyrated in a VIP booth until 2 a.m. Everybody was snapping photos of him until his security rushed him out the back door after he tipped a waitress $500." Really? Really?

That damned white iPhone4

It's a ghost, literally. The mysterious white iPhone4 has been driving mostly sane folks nuts all year long. In October Apple issued a statement that the elusive smartphone wouldn't be available until spring. Apple has threatened several times to make the white iPhone 4 -- which was spotted in the wild at a New York City press event -- generally available but has then announced delays. Apple said in early July that the device would be available later that month, but later that month said it would be available later this year.

Wackiness defined

The Ig Noble awards are an amalgam of wackiness. (Go here for a slideshow.) The 20th annual Ig Nobel Prizes were no different with fruit bat sex and whale snot research leading the way. Organized by the same people who produce Annals of Improbable Research, the prizes commemorate the world's funniest research, and sometimes the world's biggest villains (BP is a winner this year). Here's a list of the 2010 prizes, with text from the official award announcements.

* Boeing building unmanned aircraft that can fly for five years. One of the more unique unmanned aircraft took a giant step toward reality this week when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) inked an agreement with Boeing to build the SolarEagle, a plane capable of remaining at heights over 60,000ft for over five years. Boeing says the first SolarEagle under the $89 million contract could fly as early as 2014.

Would 1,000 space-bound lasers deter a missile attack?

Here's an idea: The government puts 1,000 lasers in space over the U.S. to shoot down any missiles fired at us, oh, and the system will cost $20 billion. It might be an interesting start for a movie, but not so much in real life...well maybe. A number of news outlets, including AP and NBC, reported that John Raese, a West Virginia politician and businessman and Republican nominee for Senate this year said he actually wants to deploy such a system. "If there is a rogue missile aimed at our country, we have 33 minutes to figure out what we're going to do. We are sitting with the only technology in the world that works and it's laser technology. We need 1,000 laser systems put in the sky and we need it right now. That is [of] paramount importance," Raese said. He lost the election.

Pa. school district laptop spying case settled for $610,000

The sometimes surreal case of the school district that allegedly spied on students through their laptop computer cameras ended in October as the parties involved came to a $610,000 settlement. The Lower Merion School District will pay $185,000 to the two students who claimed the district spied on them by secretly activating the webcams on their laptops. Another $175,000, will be put in trust for Blake Robbins, the student whose family pointed out the problem last winter. Another student will get $10,000. A large chunk, $425,000 will go toward legal fees.

Ferocious hot chili pepper to make nasty weapons

The military in India is looking to weaponize the world's hottest chili, the bhut jolokia or "ghost pepper," according to a number of news outlets. The Bhut Jolokia chili pepper from Assam, India is no ordinary pepper. In tests first conducted by the New Mexico State University in 2008 and subsequently confirmed by Guinness World records and others, the Bhut Jolokia reached over one million Scoville heat units (SHU), while the next hottest, the Red Savina Habenero clocks in at a mere 577,000. Scoville units are a universally accepted measure of chili hotness.

Could a roly-poly, wind-powered rover soon zip across Mars?

Could a spherical, wind-driven rover be prowling the Mars surface in the future? Such a spacecraft is being looked at courtesy of a computer model project at North Carolina State University that lets engineers design all manner of space vehicle designs. The so-called tumbleweed rover could roll over the surface of Mars like a tumbleweed, quickly covering vast distances. It has been discussed for more than 10 years, but so far there has been no consensus on exactly what that vehicle should look like.

NASA satellites watch comet death dive into the Sun

The collision of a comet with the Sun has been captured by instruments onboard NASA's twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) satellites. Solar physicists at the University of California, Berkeley said the comet was probably one from what's known as the Kreutz family of comets, a swarm of comets ejected from their orbit in 2004 by Jupiter, that typically orbit close to the Sun. Astronomers said this one was making its first and only loop by the Sun.

Researchers tout glass invisibility cloak

Using magnetic resonance technology and glass material, a team of researchers at Michigan Tech and Penn State says they can create a cloak that will make objects invisible to human eyes. According to the Michigan Tech News and a paper published on the topic, the researchers said they have developed a "nonmetallic cloak that uses identical glass resonators made of chalcogenide glass, a type of non-conducting glass material. In computer simulations, the cloak made objects hit by infrared waves - approximately one micron or one-millionth of a meter long - disappear from view," the researchers stated.

Military building robotic pack mule

What kind of robot will automatically follow a leader, carry 400 pounds of military gear, walk 20 miles in all manner of weather and go 24 hours without refueling? Well, we might soon find out as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a $32 million contract to build its Legged Squad Support System (LS3) which uses sensors and a GPS to walk along with soldiers across all manner of terrain in any weather without pulling any muscles.

FBI begins flashing world's largest mugshots

The FBI said this year it began flashing criminal's mugshots on an electronic billboard among the dazzling light show that is Times Square in New York City. The digital billboard is part of the FBI's successful nationwide effort to nab criminals by splashing their mugshots on more than 1,500 public screens in 40 states for millions of citizens to see. At least 30 cases have been solved as a direct result of digital billboard publicity, and many others have been solved through the bureau's overall publicity efforts that included the billboards, the FBI stated.

Airborne laser weapon blasts rocketing missile

After years of preparation, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency this summer said it had for the first time blasted a rocketing ballistic missile with a megawatt laser from a modified Boeing 747. The Airborne Laser Testbed is an infrared, megawatt-class, high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) installed inside a modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles as they lift off and head toward the atmosphere, a point in flight known as the boost phase, Boeing said.

Aircraft flight can make it rain and snow?!

If the temperature and atmospheric conditions are right, aircraft climbing or descending can indeed make it snow or rain. From the research paper: "Ice particle production by commercial turboprop aircraft climbing through clouds much warmer than the regions where contrails are produced has the potential to modify significantly the cloud properties and effectively seed them under some conditions." Through this seeding process, the aircraft leave behind odd-shaped holes or channels in the clouds, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

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