By Lilly Workneh, CNN
In 2011, the tech world saw the release of coveted devices such as the iPhone 4S and the Kindle Fire, along with such spectacular fails as BlackBerry’s worldwide service outage and a hack that crippled Sony’s PlayStation Network.
But that was only part of the story. Along with the good and the bad came … the bizarre.
Japan’s “kissing machine” — along with other loony inventions — has made this year’s list of the most bizarre tech news. Photo: Kajimoto Laboratory, courtesy CNN.
And by bizarre, we mean the weird gadget creations and unexpected Internet sensations that went viral (cue Rebecca Black’s “Friday”). These strange developments made headlines by pushing the limits of technology in odd new directions — and this year it felt like there were more than ever.
Here are some of 2011’s most unusual tech headlines. They are stories we never thought could happen, which baffled us when they did.
1. Implanting organs in the name of art
As if two ears weren’t enough, an Australian artist named Stelarc has decided to implant a third beneath the skin of his arm.
This performance artist wants to make his arm an acoustic device by attaching a wireless microphone to the implanted ear. The process took more than a decade and, he says, will take another year for his cells to fully grow on the ear’s structure.
Once the ear is fully grown, the organ will be wirelessly linked to the Internet and allow the artist to share what his third ear hears with anyone who cares to tune in.
But, seriously, who wants to listen to an arm?
2. Japanese lab invents Internet kissing machine
Trying to give your partner a smooch through video chat and leaving lipstick smeared on your webcam is less than attractive.
Luckily, Japanese creators at Tokyo’s Kajimoto Laboratory have made a “Kiss Transmission Device” for those long-distance lovers who want to share their affection.
Simply wiggle your tongue on a plastic straw, and it will transmit a signal that remotely makes another plastic straw wiggle — presumably while it is in your lover’s mouth.
This takes “keeping in touch” to a new and literal level.
3. This ‘robot ostrich’ probably will outrun you
Many animals can sprint faster than a human. Now, a “robot ostrich” is among them.
Scientists are trying to imitate the fastest two-legged runner on the planet by creating a robot ostrich that stands almost 5 feet tall, weighs 66 pounds and can run at speeds up to 32 mph. Fittingly, founders call this speedy ostrich FastRunner.
Although it hasn’t been said what the robot bird will be used for, speculators assume that it is designed to go to war. To be sure, watching this birdie in motion may creep out those on the battlefield and beyond.
4. German scientists invent brain-powered car
No need to position your hands on the steering wheel to drive. Now, all you have to do is put your mind to it, and the car will execute your brain’s commands.
Scientists at Germany’s Free University are the innovators behind this brain-powered car.
A high-tech helmet is linked to an onboard computer that displays a cube on the screen. The driver can manipulate this cube with their thoughts. Using biological signals as patterns, the driver can pilot the car to drive in any direction, accelerate or brake.
This may be only the beginning of what can evolve in the world of brain-powered computing.
But don’t get too giddy just yet. The creators say the invention is only a “proof of concept experiment” and will not be speeding into action any time soon.
Still, the fact is that this creation is an out of the ordinary idea that bewilders us to think it exists at all.
5. Forget planking — who’s up for owling?
Some people stop at nothing and take owling to the extreme.
Planking was quite popular this year, as many folks went online to share images of themselves lying stiff as a board in public. But the trend shifted, at least for a brief Web moment, to mimicking everyone’s favorite wise and nocturnal feathered friend.
The spinoff became a peculiar addiction for some, and owling has become one of the largest Internet memes.
People have shared images owling atop statues, houses and office desks. Some have even taken this bird’s actions below ground level and participated in underwater owling.
It’s pretty simple. Squat on an object, press your arms toward the ground, straighten your back and raise your head as you gaze into the distance and sit perched, well, like an owl.
Bellowing a “hoot” or two is optional.
6. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg eats only what he kills
“The only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, announced in May.
He calls it a “personal challenge”; we say it’s just plain weird. Zuckerberg kills the animals and sends them off to a butcher in Santa Cruz, California, who cuts them into parts. From there, it’s left for Zuckerberg to cook and consume.
Zuckerberg has begun his slaughtering challenge and made goats, pigs and chickens his prey.
7. Feeling lonely? Go hug yourself
We all need a hug at times, but it doesn’t always happen when someone non-creepy is around to give us one. Instead, you can hug yourself by wearing a vest that hugs you back.
This invention, which was displayed at Japan’s 3D and Virtual Reality Expo this year, allows individuals to wear a coded black vest that simulates a hug through programmed air compressions.
The mastermind behind this creation says he was curious as to how it would feel.
We think that if that aforementioned non-creepy person isn’t around, it may be better to ask the creep for that hug before putting on this very odd vest.
8. Missing cobra sinks fangs into Twitter
Want to win more than 75,000 followers on Twitter within 24 hours? Morph into an Egyptian cobra and escape from New York’s Bronx Zoo.
This venomous snake slid its way out of the zoo back in late March and slithered onto social media, publishing witty tweets of its whereabouts like, “Leaving Wall Street. These guys make my skin crawl.”
Since March, the snake has been found, returned to the zoo and amassed more than 200,000 followers. It is still also actively tweeting through its account, @BronxZoosCobra.
And for the skeptics, the serpent published a post saying, “A lot of people are asking how I can tweet with no access to a computer or fingers. Ever heard of an iPhone? Duh.”
9. Camera adds makeup to photographs
Cameras — or at least one in particular — may replace diamonds as a woman’s best friend.
Panasonic’s Lumix FX77 camera allows users to add effects to the pictures they take, such as whitening teeth and magnifying eyes, making subjects picture perfect.
For the women who forgot to brush on the blush or add color to the lip, the beauty retouch function allows users to manipulate the settings and glamorize their pictures.
It is an electronic transformation with an automatic alteration tool that makes Photoshop and other photo editing devices eat dust.
10. MC Hammer launches his own search engine
From writing rhymes to selling millions of records, this hip-hop veteran has realized his dreams and now says he’s entered the final stages of creating an entire search engine.
MC Hammer said that his newest tech creation, called WireDoo, is built around searching for relationships and not just keywords. He announced the project at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco in mid-October and predicts that WireDoo could outperform Google.
It’s hard to decide what’s more strange: The fact that MC Hammer is launching his own search engine or that he believes his creation can take on Google on its own turf. It’s a tossup.
With all of the uncanny and out of the ordinary news that made headlines in the tech world this year, it bewilders us to think of what could possibly be left to create. But there are undoubtedly more where these … um … creative ideas came from.
We will just have to wait and see whether 2012 will beat them for sheer bizarreness.