Photos of the year: From weird datacentres to a 3D printer that prints chocolate

The best tech snaps of 2011
By Nick Heath, Contributor
1 of 20 Scott Brownrigg Interior Design

Google Offices

The best tech snaps of 2011

From datacentres inside churches to outsourcing centres in the heart of rural India, the world of tech offered up some striking images in 2011. Here, silicon.com rounds up the best of them.

Google unveiled the rather natty looking design for its new London offices in February this year.

The new offices, designed by Scott Brownrigg Interior Design, capture a look that mixes the British seafront with a modern aesthetic, and include unconventional features such as timber beach huts that serve as meeting rooms and giant dice that double as videoconference booths.

Explore more of the offices and Google's eclectic taste by visiting Photos: Inside Google's new London offices.

2 of 20 University of Groningen

World's largest touchscreen

People impressed by the screen real estate offered by the Apple iPad need to check out the Reality Touch Theatre, described as the world's biggest touchscreen interface.

Unveiled in February the touchscreen, based at the University of Groningen in Holland, is based on a cylindrical 3D theatre that has been upgraded to be able to process more than 100 touches at any one time.

Get hands on with the world's largest touchscreen at Photos: World's largest touchscreen powers up.

3 of 20 Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

Android marketing madness at Mobile World Congress

It was hard to get away from Google's Android mobile OS at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year - with the green robot looming large over this year's show.

If the posters or giant Android models didn't take delegates' fancy then there was even a giant Android slide for them to try out.

See more pictures of the Google's Android take-over at Photos: Google Android marketing madness at MWC.

4 of 20 EPFL

Virtual reality headset

This retro-futurist looking get-up is part of a Swiss research project into how virtual reality affects people's perceptions of themselves.

As part of the research project taking place at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), test subjects, pictured in February this year, wear a virtual reality headset that immerses them in a variety of 3D environments where they interact with different avatars. Electrodes strapped to their head monitor their brain activity in an attempt to gauge the subject's reactions.

Explore more images of the project at Photos: Virtual reality, avatars probe consciousness.

5 of 20 Microsoft

Microsoft Kinect R&D

Computer vision can allow for some pretty snazzy new interfaces and new uses for computers, and in February this year Microsoft showed some of the uses that research projects are finding for its Kinect gesture-based gaming peripheral.

This shot shows a research project called Mirage Blocks, which uses a Kinect-style camera and a controller-less user interface, coupled with a 3D projector, to render real objects digitally in 3D space. One possible use for the system would be to allow remote workers to collaborate on design of an object.

To see more photos of the Microsoft's R&D projects for Kinect, see Photos: Microsoft Kinect pushes natural UI frontier.

6 of 20 Barcelona Supercomputing Center

MareNostrum supercomputer

Datacentres might not look too exciting in themselves but they can crop up in some exotic places.

In April silicon.com rounded up the most interesting locations where datacentres can be found - including the Torre Girona chapel, in Spain (pictured above) which is home to the MareNostrum supercomputer.

The machine, ranked as 118th in the list of the fastest 500 supercomputers in the world, is used for supercomputing research into computer, Earth and life sciences.

Explore more of the far flung corners of the world that are home to datacentres in Photos: The world's weirdest datacentres.

7 of 20 University of Chicago/Lloyd DeGrane

Robotic library

This is the underground storage facility for the University of Chicago's library. It opened its doors in May this year, relying on a robotic crane to retrieve books every time a user requests one of its 3.5 million items.

Reading material is stored in bins - each holding about 100 books or journals - inside the facility, which extends 50 feet below ground.

Barcodes are used to track each item so the automated retrieval system knows which bin to retrieve an item from when it's been requested.

To see more of the university's high-tech library visit Photos: Robotic library picks books out of the deep.

8 of 20 Philipp Schaake/Fujitsu

Crowd concept PC

This concept PC provided a glimpse of one possible future of computing.

The Crowd PC seen here won designer Philipp Schaake of Germany a $14,000 runner-up prize in the Lifebook category of the Fujitsu Design Award 2011 in May.

Crowd can be configured to resemble a notebook or slate, and can be tweaked so that the screen and keyboard are separate. The device's modifiable nature also allows it to be operated via the back cover when closed.

For pictures of more concepts that caught the judges' eyes at the Fujitsu Design Award 2011 check out Photos: Fujitsu future computing design winners.

9 of 20 Apple/City of Cupertino

Apple's new campus

It may resemble an intergalactic spaceship but this space age construction is what Apple wants its new base to look like.

The company revealed its plans for the campus in Cupertino, California - the town that plays home to its current headquarters - in June this year.

See more images of Apple's planned headquarters at Photos: Space base - Apple's new HQ comes with a sci-fi flavour.

10 of 20 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

ESA Research and Testing Centre

silicon.com's sister site CNET News.com took a tour of the European Space Research and Technology Centre in June this year.

The centre is used by the European Space Agency to develop and test components for its missions - covering areas such as telecommunications, science, human space flight, science, Earth observation and more.

This unusual looking room is the electromagnetic compatibility chamber. The cones are used to insulate the room against electromagnetic interference.

To explore more of the research and technology centre check out Photos: It really is rocket science inside the European Space Agency's test centre.

11 of 20 Nick Heath/ZDNET

3D chocolate printer

It might sound like something out of Willy Wonka's factory but researchers at Exeter University have developed a machine that is able to print in chocolate.

The printer, shown off in June this year, spurts out layer upon layer of chocolate to build 3D objects.

To indulge yourself with more shots of chocolaty goodness visit Photos: Come in Willy Wonka, your time is up - meet the printer that prints in chocolate.

Photo: David Martin/EPSRC

12 of 20 University of Leeds

Robot worm

This worm bot might look like the stuff of nightmares but it could one day help rescue victims of natural disasters.

The bot, pictured in July this year, was designed by University of Leeds engineering fellow Dr Jordan Boyle to demonstrate ways that robotics can learn from biology.

The way the robot moves is based on the locomotion of a real-life nematode worm that Boyle studied during his PhD research.

Possible applications for the robot include searching for survivors in collapsed buildings or navigating gaps in damaged structures to deliver aid to individuals trapped in disaster zones, according to the university.

Explore more pictures of the worm bot here - Photos: Giant robot worm to the rescue.

13 of 20 Autonomy

Augmented reality

Here's one of the more unusual uses dreamt up for augmented reality.

Using the Aurasma augmented reality app - revealed in July this year and developed by software company Autonomy - da Vinci's famous portrait of Mona Lisa is reimagined as an alien.

To see more pictures of Autonomy's Aurasma app in action visit Photos: From yachts to shoes and movies - how marketers are using augmented reality.

14 of 20 British Library

British Library Out of This World exhibition

The alien worlds, dazzling technologies and alternate realities of science fiction were on show at the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library in September.

The exhibition traced the themes explored through science fiction as a series of worlds: alien worlds, future worlds, parallel worlds, virtual worlds and the end of the world.

Discover more of the exhibits on show at the exhibition by visiting Photos: A history of the future - science fiction through the ages at the British Library.

15 of 20 Microsoft Research/CMU

OmniTouch technology

This interesting piece of tech is able to turn any surface - from a table to a hand - into a touchscreen.

The OmniTouch, shown off in October this year, is a wearable device that projects a graphical user interface, such as a computer desktop or a virtual keypad, onto any surface. Users are able to interact with these virtual interfaces using their fingers, which are tracked by sensors built into OmniTouch, in the same way they would use a touchscreen.

For more photos of the OmniTouch check out Photos: Microsoft's OmniTouch - The tech that turns any surface into a touchscreen.

16 of 20 Namas Bhojani

Rural Indian call centre

As India's outsourcing industry continues to grow, major IT vendors are starting to look to locate their operations outside of India's big cities.

This voice and data processing centre is located in Bagepalli, a small, dusty town 100km north of Bangalore. It is one of 10 such centres run that is run by RuralShores which, as its name suggests, specialises in running operations outside of urban areas in India.

To learn more about the growth of rural outsourcing in India visit Photos: Inside a rural Indian call centre - outsourcing builds a new life in the country.

17 of 20 Verne Global/Colt

Icelandic geothermal vent

What better place for a datacentre than just outside the Arctic Circle?

Verne Global sited its datacentre campus in Keflavik, Iceland, where the country's chilly climate can naturally cool servers and its abundant supply of geothermal and hydroelectric energy can provide renewable power to the facility.

Shown above is one of the valves at an Icelandic geothermal power plant supplying the Verne Global facility.

To see more photos of the Icelandic datacentre campus check out Photos: One of the coolest datacentres in the world - on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

18 of 20 Olympic Delivery Agency

Olympic Park

Above is a shot of the Olympic Park site in East London taken in November this year.

In the foreground are the Press and Broadcast Centres, which between them take up one million square feet of space, and which will be looking for tenants once the London 2012 Olympic Games are over. Technology, digital, new media and creative businesses are among those the Olympic Park Legacy Company - the organisation in charge of looking after the Olympic Park post-Games - would like to see take up residence in the park.

To see more images of the Olympic Park check out Photos: Offered - two Olympic Park buildings, one careful owner. Would suit tech companies.

19 of 20 Nick Heath/silicon.com

iCub robot

The Robotville exhibition at London Science Museum in December showcased the robots that could one day find their way into our homes and offices.

This is iCub, a diminutive robot that can engage with the world around it in a variety of ways.

iCub is able to learn about itself and the outside world by playing with people and objects. The robot can see through cameras in its head and feel using electrostatic sensors in its hands. The robot is able to carry out a range of human-like motions, such as crawling, sitting up and reaching for a ball.

The robot was made by the Italian Institute of Technology and is designed to investigate how people interact with humanoid robots.

For more photos of robots at the exhibition see Photos: One day, will these robots be a familiar sight in your home or office?.

20 of 20 James Martin/CNET

Nokia Kinetic

This is the Nokia Kinetic device - a concept produced by the Finnish handset manufacturer as a possible future design for the smartphone.

The handset, demoed in December this year, is built using a system of carbon nanotubes and a flexible elastomer that allows the screen to bent and twisted to navigate through menus and perform tasks.

To discover more of the tech inside Nokia's R&D labs check out Photos: Inside Nokia's R&D labs - a look at the future of mobile?.

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