The weirdest, wackiest, and coolest sci/tech stories of 2013 so far

From cool robots and unmanned aircraft to celebrity swatting and 'Moby Dick' emoticons, it’s been an interesting high-tech year

science and technology stories

This year we’ve had flying, high-tech sushi trays, radio-controlled Superman flying robots, Mission Impossible-like melting weapons, and a kinder, gentler Linus Torvalds. And it’s only July. Here we round up a bunch of the more interesting science and technology stories of the year so far.

A radio-controlled Superman plane
REUTERS/Mike Blake

A radio-controlled Superman plane is flown by designer Otto Dieffenbach during a test flight in San Diego. Otto and business partner Ed Hanley are a small start-up company that creates flying radio-controlled planes, designed in the form of people, characters and objects, for commercial and promotional uses.

Humanoid communication robot Kirobo
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Humanoid communication robot Kirobo showing off in Tokyo on June 26, 2013. Dentsu, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Toyota announced that Kirobo will be aboard the Kounotori 4 cargo spacecraft scheduled for launch from the Tanegashima Space Center to the International Space Station in August.

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

Carnegie Mellon researchers call the project Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. But really it's a great big data mining project that tries to trace the influence and ideas of Bacon, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, and more than 6,000 others from the 16th and 17th centuries to let scholars and students reassemble and discuss or debate the era's networked culture.

The project, the researchers say, pulls together centuries of books, articles, documents, and manuscripts that have been scattered and divided in order to understand the role of linked connections in spreading ideas and knowledge.

robot rock band Z-Machines
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Members of the robot rock band Z-Machines, guitarist Mach (front) and keyboardist Cosmo, perform during the band's debut live concert in Tokyo in June. Three robot rockers took to the stage to perform three songs, including one in collaboration with Japanese pop girl duo Amoyamo.

itray
REUTERS/Neil Hall

A flying sushi service tray known as the "itray", created using miniature remote-controlled helicopter rotor blades, is demonstrated by staff at a "Yo! Sushi" restaurant in London.

IBM

IBM says it has packed an integrated circuit about the size of a nickel with technology that can enable gigabit/sec mobile data rate and clutter-cutting radar image applications. The integrated circuit takes advantage of millimeter-wave spectrum, which spans the 30-GHz to 300-GHz range, 10 to 100 times higher than the frequencies used for mobile phones and Wi-Fi. Frequencies in the range of 90GHz to 94GHz are well suited for short and long range, high-resolution radar imaging, IBM said.

Project Zero
REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

A representative from European helicopter maker AgustaWestland presents Project Zero, the world's first electric tilt-rotor aircraft, at the Le Bourget airport near Paris in June 20.

DARPA researchers

The "Mission: Impossible" TV show famously started most episodes with a tape recorded mission message that ended with: "This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds, good luck, Jim." Then it melted down in a burst of smoke and flame.

DARPA researchers seem to want to take that sort of destructive notion quite a few steps further by designing electronics -- particularly smartphones and other devices -- that can melt or at least partially dissolve to the point that they would be useless to anyone else who came across them.

flying bicycle
REUTERS/Petr Josek

Journalists attend a presentation of a flying bicycle, carrying a dummy, at Letnany's fair hall in Prague, June 12, 2013. The flying bicycle, which was created by Czech designers, is kept aloft by six electrically-powered propellers.

Carnegie Mellon

A network of video cameras melded with a unique algorithm let scientists with the Carnegie Mellon University track the locations of multiple individuals in complex, indoor setting -- just like Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map. The Carnegie Mellon system was able to automatically follow the movements of 13 people within a nursing home, even though individuals sometimes slipped out of view of the cameras, and researchers said they made use of multiple cues from the video feed: apparel color, person detection, trajectory and, perhaps most significantly, facial recognition.

jet bicycle
REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

Raul Oaida prepares his bicycle propelled with a self-built jet engine to be tested on a road in the back of his house near Bucharest. Using his pocket money and sponsorship from various sources, Oaida clocked a speed of up to 42kph (26mph) with the jet bicycle during the test.

Wiper Glasses
REUTERS/Bobby Yip

A visitor tries on a pair of battery-powered Wiper Glasses during the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair in Hong Kong in January. The toy is expected to sell at a retail price of around $12.99.

outsourced
REUTERS/Mike Blake

A software developer who worked for a client of Verizon had outsourced part of his job to a company in China so he could have more free time to hit up YouTube, Facebook, and other sites.  The employee, identified as "Bob," reportedly paid just a fifth of his six-figure salary to a company based in Shenyang to do his job.

spaceship
REUTERS/Ueslei Marceli

Naturopathic practitioner Augusto Vinholis rests on a ladder outside his house, which he designed to be in the shape of a spaceship outside the city of Alto Paraiso de Goias, Brazil.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The world's largest Lego creation, modeled after the Star Wars X-wing starfighter, is seen at Times Square after being unveiled in New York last May.

3D food printer

NASA this year awarded $125,000 to Anjan Contractor, head of Systems & Materials Research Corporation, to develop a 3D food printer. Reportedly the first item the entrepreneur says he plans to build is a 3D printers to print a pizza that can be produced in space for those long voyages. Here we see Contractor’s 3D experiments with chocolate.

Linus Torvalds

Either Linus Torvalds has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a doppelganger, someone is simply impersonating him on the LKML (Linux Kernel Mailing List), or the famously profane fellow is finally mellowing out. Here's an excerpt from a post to LKML in which someone claiming to be Torvalds discusses the latest release candidate of the Linux kernel and the amount of work that it has entailed, especially for Torvalds: “Guys, guys, guys. I'm going to have to start cursing again unless you stop sending me non-critical stuff. So the next pull request I get that has "cleanups" or just pointless churn, I'm going to call you guys out on, and try to come up with new ways to insult you, your mother, and your deceased pet hamster.”

giant-mantis robot

The giant mantis robot with hydraulic legs was built by the UK’s Matt Denton, who, according to a BBC story, says a mining company and a marine research organization are now interested in using it for work applications. The robot, driver-operated by joysticks within a cockpit, can only travel at 1.5km/h (1mph) and manage a distance of 5km on a 20-litre (4.5-gallon) tank of diesel.

surveillance

The Washington Post reported in March that Federal investigators in California routinely used a sophisticated surveillance system to scoop up data from cellphones and other wireless devices in an effort to track criminal suspects. but failed to detail the practice to judges authorizing the probes. The investigations used a device known as a StingRay, which simulates a cellphone tower and lets agents collect the serial numbers of individual cellphones and then locate them. Although law enforcement officials can employ StingRays and similar devices to locate suspects, privacy groups and some judges have raised concerns that the technology is so invasive -- in some cases effectively penetrating the walls of homes -- that its use should require a warrant.

Moby Dick

The US Library of Congress welcomed Moby Dick onto its vaunted shelves this week, but it wasn't the famous Herman Melville-penned whale tale version, oh no, it was the version told exclusively in emoticon -- you know those little signs like J, ;). Emoji are the emoticons typically used in Japanese texting though they obviously are used worldwide to annoy or entertain everyone depending on your opinion of them.

bionic eye

The US Food and Drug Administration approved what it says is the first bionic eye, or retinal prosthesis, that can partially restore the sight of blind individuals after surgical implantation. Clinical trials demonstrated that totally blind individuals could safely use the device to successfully identify the position and approximate size of objects and detect movement of nearby objects and people, the FDA stated.

Certainly one of the more entertaining hacks of the year: A TV station in Montana had its signal hacked and an emergency broadcast was issued for dead bodies rising from the grave -- you know the Zombie Apocalypse.

Oxford University

In February, Buzzblog wrote: Fed up with phishers using Google Forms to commandeer campus email accounts as spam engines, Oxford University recently blocked access to Google Docs for two-and-a-half hours in what it called an "extreme action" designed to get the attention of both its users and Google. The ill-conceived move generated attention -- mostly in the form of widespread complaints from those affected, as well as criticism from outside network professionals.

asteroid

Asteroids are hot. NASA stepped up its plan to mitigate the asteroid threat to Earth by announcing the latest in its series of Grand Challenges where it dares public and private partnerships to come up with a unique solution to a very tough problem in this case, how to best spot, track, and possibly alter the direction of killer space rocks. Meanwhile, asteroid mining company Planetary Resources did a successful Kickstarter -- over $1,2 million -- crowdfunded space telescope for space exploration, including asteroid watching.

swatting
REUTERS/Mike Cassese and TB3E97107P57T REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Sadly, the criminal act of “swatting” -- making false phone calls to police in an attempt to illicit a major SWAT team response to a fake situation, is all the rage around Hollywood. Music icon Sean Combs, Tom Cruise, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and Selena Gomez are just a few of the swatting victims this year.  Los Angeles has responded by introducing legislation to make the perpetrators reimburse the police -- if they ever catch any. Mind you, this is not a Hollywood-only situation; police across the country have seen an uptick in swatting incidents.

X-51A Waverider unmanned aircraft/rocket

The final flight of the X-51A Waverider unmanned aircraft/rocket had a huge success on its final launch --  reaching Mach 5.1 over the Pacific Ocean on May 1. The cruiser traveled over 230 nautical miles in just over six minutes. It was the longest of the four X-51A test flights and the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever.