The Weirdest Tech Stories of 2015
By Chloe Albanesius, PC Magazine, 30 December 2015.
By Chloe Albanesius, PC Magazine, 30 December 2015.
Every year, the tech headlines are full of hard-hitting and explosive stories. But for every Superfish gaffe and Ashley Madison hack, there are robots that 3D print pancakes and air conditioners for your car. These are the stories that catch your eye and make you say WTF? In 2015, we were never in short supply of the odd, astonishing, and just plain weird tech stories. Here are a few of our favourites.
1. Robots Are Learning to Cook by Watching YouTube
Credit: University of Maryland
Researchers at the University of Maryland "trained" robots to react to objects in their environment by giving them YouTube cooking videos to watch. The robots processed the objects in the video, figured out what they were, and then applied that "knowledge" to objects in a real-world environment. The robots correctly identified and grabbed specific objects and, more interestingly, manipulated them the same way they saw others manipulating kitchen objects in the YouTube videos.
2. Nothing Says Romance Like an IKEA-Backed Online Wedding
People get married in weird places - from Costco to The Grammys - so why not host a virtual wedding sponsored by IKEA? Log in with Facebook and pick your favorite background: a rooftop cityscape, an all-white "modern" affair; a circus-themed prairie event; or Twilight-esque forest scene. Then, log in with Facebook and invite your friends and family.
3. Apple Watch Erotica? Apple Watch Erotica
Credit: Leonard Delaney via Amazon
With the launch of the Apple Watch, Leonard Delaney, scribbler of tech-tinged erotica, wasted little time in rushing out a short story detailing the love between a woman and her Apple timepiece. Invaded by the iWatch: An Erotic Short Story is available on Amazon for just US$2.99. The story's main character, Christie Aackerlund, "has no idea how many sensual features are packed into the tiny device," the story summary says.
4. Google Toy Patent Will Give You Nightmares
Google is looking to patent technology that would turn toys into Internet-connected controllers of gadgets in the home. The patent describes "an anthropomorphic device, perhaps in the form factor of a doll or toy, [that] may be configured to control one or more media devices." It sounds much like the Amazon Echo, but if you add a face, some fur, and perhaps a pair of overalls, things get creepy fast.
5. James Cameron's Brother Wants to Sell You a 'Vape Phone'
The first "cell phone that vapes" runs Android KitKat and delivers over 30 nectar flavors. Oddly enough, the phone's creator - not the vaping cell phone - might actually be the more interesting part of this story. The younger brother of Titanic director James, John Cameron has spent much of his career consulting on his elder sibling's films and getting smoked in the e-cig biz. But despite his sketchy business history, John Cameron insists the Vaporcade is real.
6. Your Surgeon Is...A Google Robot?
In March, Google partnered with Johnson & Johnson on a new project aimed at advancing surgical robotics. In other words, Google is developing robots that can perform surgery (or at least assist with the operation). Google's Life Sciences team will be working with Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon medical device company on the effort. The companies plan to bring together their intellectual property and expertise to create "an innovative robotic-assisted surgical platform capable of integrating advanced technologies," Johnson & Johnson said.
7. Amazon 'Dash' Button Lets You Order Things With One Tap
Given that this was announced on March 31, many wondered if the Amazon Dash button was an April Fool's joke. But these gadgets, which let you order one particular item with the push of a button, are indeed real. Affix them in an appropriate place - the laundry room, next to the sink - and push them to instantly order more laundry detergent, peanut butter, toilet paper, and other items via Amazon. Prime members will have to initially pony up US$4.99 for each Dash Button, but Amazon will give you the fiver back after your first button purchase.
8. Historic 1968 Tech Demo Now an Opera
Credit: Stanford Live
On Dec. 9, 1968, Doug Engelbart captivated audiences at a San Francisco computer conference in what is affectionately known as "The Mother of All Demos." This year, that mind-blowing display was revived in an appropriately grandiose manner: as an opera. The performance included re-enactments of Engelbart's speech, live vocal and electronic music, interactive video, computer-based voice processing and triggering, and Neill's interactive electro-acoustic instrument, known as the mutantrumpet. Technical jargon appeared like opera supertitles.
9. Pornhub Selling a 'Twerking Butt' VR Robot
Credit: Pornhub Twerking Butt
In July, Pornhub introduced a new device that is basically a disembodied derriere that will vibrate and twerk on command. The Twerking Butt lets you "experience the ultimate in cyber passion," according to Pornhub. How? Well, it comes with a VR headset so you can pretend it's not just you and a plastic butt. Twerking Butt comes clad in a black thong, which "covers" what Pornhub calls Cyberskin. Control it with an included controller or an app for iOS or Android. Buy now starting at US$599.
10. Florida Woman Arrested for Periscoping While Driving Drunk
A Florida woman was arrested in October after she used Periscope while driving. During the video, the woman can be heard saying that she's drunk as she navigates city streets. Viewers asked her to stop driving, but also called 911. Police officers watched the live video stream for clues of where she was and eventually found her.
11. Paris Airport Grounds Flights After Windows 3.1 (!) Glitch
Some pretty critical systems at Paris's Orly airport still run Windows 3.1. In 2015. A glitch in November took down the aging system, preventing air traffic controllers from giving pilots other critical information - like the "runway visual range" (RVR), or the distance at which a pilot can expect to be able to see down the runway. That's probably not as big a concern in sunny, clear weather, but it's definitely a concern when the weather is foggy (like it was that day).
[Source: PC Magazine. Edited. Some images added.]