Tech Universe: Tuesday 30 October

By Miraz Jordan

LIVING SMALL: In Warsaw, Poland, Israeli writer Etgar Keret has just moved into his new house. That's not unusual, but even at its widest point the house is less than two metres across - making it one of the world's narrowest homes. It's been built into an alleyway in a former Jewish ghetto as a memorial to his parents' family who died in the Holocaust. The fully-functioning house includes a micro-kitchen, mini-bathroom, sleeping cubicle and tiny work area, all accessible via ladders. He could have trouble fitting in early morning stretches — literally. RT.com has more. Video here.

ROAD TOLLS: Texas has a new highway, with a speed limit of 85 mph (136 Kph). Toll booths read number plates and a toll tag on the cars as they drive past. To test whether the booths could cope with speeding vehicles one carmaker drove his 1,226 VR1200 Cadillac CTS-V on the closed road at roughly 180 mph (290 Kph) past the toll booths, although his maximum speed was 220.5 mph (355 Kph). The State Troopers also took the opportunity to test whether their speed cameras register accurately for such high speeds. They do. At that top speed you could drive Wellington to Auckland in less than 90 minutes. Jalopnik details.

ROBOT ARMS OPENING: The Da Vinci robot has four arms and performs open-heart surgery. A surgeon operates the robot via a control panel and courtesy of a 3D, high-definition view of the heart. Each arm is equipped with an expensive tool that has to be replaced after 10 operations. Whereas a surgeon has to open the whole breast plate to operate, the robot's arm are inserted between the patient's ribs, meaning less pain and a faster recovery. Really the robot is more like a very sophisticated set of prosthetics. BBC elaborates.

GUESSING AT PLANETS: The European Space Agency's CHEOPS satellite will launch in 2017. It will look at nearby bright stars already known to have planets orbiting around them and will precisely monitor the star's brightness. The telescope's job is to accurately measure the radius of an exoplanet, helping to reveal density and the planet's structure. Cheops will operate in a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 800 km. Its mission should last for around 3.5 years. It's amazing to think that the first exoplanet was only discovered around 20 years ago and now we're studying them in detail. ESA News has further info.

VIRTUAL TABLETS: Way back in 3200BC some folks in a region now in the south west of modern Iran were writing on wet clay tablets. Their Proto-Elamite writings remain to this day, with more than 1600 texts and fragments in museums around the world. One big problem though is that as yet no-one has deciphered them beyond a few numbers. So academics in Oxford in the UK used Reflectance Transformation Imaging to make and share high resolution images of the tablets. They hope the public can help decode the texts. The imaging system combines 76 separate photographic lights with computer processing to capture and reproduce every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets. The virtual images can be turned around and examined from every angle. Fancy yourself as a codebreaker? Take a look at the tablets. BBC explains. <> Proto-Elamite website also has the details.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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