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Drone Delivery of Medicines Successfully Tested in Bengaluru

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By ANI | Updated: 21 August 2021

Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) trial run for drone delivery of medicines was successfully completed in Bengaluru on Friday.

The pilot was led by Throttle Aerospace Systems (TAS) and UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) under the supervision of the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The trial was conducted within a 15-km radius at Gauribidanur on the outskirts of Bengaluru by UDAN for the last mile delivery of medicines.

During the pilot, two variants of drones were successfully tested– Medcopter X4 and Medcopter X8– with simulated deliveries to UDAN customers. Pharma Deliveries of up to 2kg payload were tested at various distances in the designated area varying from 2-7 kilometres aerial distance. The pilot deliveries saw an average of 3.5 kilometres distance being covered in 5-7 minutes. Two different modes of deliveries were also tested–tethered lowering of shipment and landing of copter with the shipment.

The success of the pilot run opens up the possibility of using beyond-line-of-sight drones for last-mile delivery of shipments in minimum time, to areas with improper road connectivity as well as faster deliveries in dense urban settings. Once commercialised, in addition to regular deliveries in remote areas, the technology can also be used to supply lifesaving drugs and medicines at the time of the natural disaster, pandemics, and calamities to the remotest corners of the country without facing any infrastructure or logistical challenges.

The trial conducted by TAS and UDAN is a testimony of their commitment to build a world-class supply chain to ensure medicines and essentials can reach easily every corner of India.

“The efforts by the authorities to integrate drones in the supply-chain ecosystem is a major step towards creating a framework for efficient last-mile delivery. The success of today”s trial run opens a massive opportunity to revolutionize customer experience in the distribution and logistics space. It is aligned with our vision to build tech-enabled solutions to empower small businesses such as kiranas, shop owners, chemists, and MSMEs that are based in the remote corners of Bharat,” said Soumyadeep Mukherjee, Product Engineer of UDAN.

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Science

First Movie in Space: Russian Actress, Film Director Return to Earth After Filming

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 18 October 2021

Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.

Yulia Peresild, 37, and Klim Shipenko, 38, landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan’s steppe at 04:36 GMT (10:06am IST), according to footage broadcast live by Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.

Shipenko appeared distressed but smiling as he exited the capsule, waving his hand to cameras before being carried off by medical workers for an examination.

Peresild, who plays the film’s starring role and was selected from some 3,000 applicants, was extracted from the capsule to applause and a bouquet of flowers.

The actress said she is “sad” to have left the ISS.

“It seemed that 12 days was a lot, but when it was all over, I didn’t want to leave,” she told Russian television.

“This is a one-time experience.”

The team was ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months.

21st century space race

The filmmakers had blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, travelling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for “The Challenge”.

If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The Russian movie’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centres around a surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.

Shkaplerov, 49, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film.

The mission was not without small hitches.

As the film crew docked at the ISS earlier this month, Shkaplerov had to switch to manual control.

And when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilised the ISS for 30 minutes, a NASA spokesman told the Russian news agency TASS.

The team’s landing, which was documented by a film crew, will also feature in the movie, Konstantin Ernst, the head of the Kremlin-friendly Channel One TV network and a co-producer of “The Challenge”, told AFP.

Russian firsts

The mission will add to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry.

The Soviets launched the first satellite Sputnik, and sent into orbit the first animal, a dog named Laika, the first man, Yuri Gagarin, and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.

But compared with the Soviet era, modern Russia has struggled to innovate, and its space industry is fighting to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.

Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.

Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.

Russia’s Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, ending Moscow’s monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.

In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia’s space programme revealed this year that it will be reviving its tourism plan to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.

After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists – including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa – to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.

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Entertainment

Squid Game, Netflix’s Biggest Hit, Estimated to Be Worth About $900 Million: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 18 October 2021

Squid Game, Netflix’s biggest original series launch, is estimated to be worth almost $900 million (roughly Rs. 6,770 crores) for the streaming giant, as per a report citing figures from an internal Netflix document.

The nine-episode thriller, in which cash-strapped contestants play childhood games with deadly consequences in a bid to win KRW 45.6 billion (roughly Rs. 290 crores), became an international hit after it launched last month.

In comparison to its estimated net worth, the showcost just $21.4 million (roughly Rs. 160 crores) to produce, Bloomberg said.

According to the report, about 132 million had watched at least two minutes of the show in its first 23 days, easily breaking the record set by UK costume drama Bridgerton, which was streamed by 82 million accounts in its first 28 days.

Netflix had earlier announced the show had amassed 111 million fans, but Bloomberg said those figures were based on slightly older data.

Los Gatos, California-based Netflix estimated that 89 percent of people who started the show watched more than one episode, the news agency said, and 66 percent of the viewers finished watching the series in the first 23 days.

Netflix declined to comment on the report. An attorney for the company told Bloomberg that it would be inappropriate for Bloomberg to disclose the confidential data contained in the documents that it had reviewed.

The series is also the first Korean drama to snatch the top spot on Netflix in the United States, and has even spurred interest among people in learning Korean.

In China, where Netflix is unavailable without a VPN, a Beijing bakery has introduced a Squid Game-themed confection-making challenge in its store.

The show has even drawn positive comments from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, with the billionaire calling the work “impressive and inspiring.” Amazon’s streaming service Prime Video competes with Netflix.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Social Networking

Facebook Announces 10,000 EU Jobs to Build ‘Metaverse’

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 18 October 2021

Facebook on Monday announced plans to hire 10,000 people in the European Union to build the metaverse, a virtual reality version of the Internet that the tech giant sees as the future.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been a leading voice in Silicon Valley hype around the idea of the metaverse, which would blur the lines between the physical world and the digital one.

The technology might, for example, allow someone to don virtual reality glasses that make it feel as if they’re face-to-face with a friend – when in fact they are thousands of miles apart and connected via the Internet.

“The metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities. And Europeans will be shaping it right from the start,” Facebook said in a blog post.

“Today, we are announcing a plan to create 10,000 new high skilled jobs within the European Union (EU) over the next five years.”

The European hires will include “highly specialised engineers”, but the company otherwise gave few details of its plans for the new metaverse team.

“The EU has a number of advantages that make it a great place for tech companies to invest – a large consumer market, first class universities and, crucially, top quality talent,” the blog post said.

Distraction from bad news?
The announcement comes as Facebook grapples with the fallout of a damaging scandal, major outages of its services, and rising calls for regulation to curb its vast influence.

The company has faced a storm of criticism over the past month after former employee Frances Haugen leaked internal studies showing Facebook knew its sites could be harmful to young people’s mental health.

The Washington Post last month suggested that Facebook’s interest in the metaverse is “part of a broader push to rehabilitate the company’s reputation with policymakers and reposition Facebook to shape the regulation of next-wave Internet technologies”.

But Zuckerberg also appears to be a genuine evangelist for the advent of the metaverse era, predicting in July that Facebook will transition from “primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company” over the next five years.

Facebook bought Oculus, a company that makes virtual reality headsets, for $2 billion (roughly Rs. 15,050 crores) in 2014 and has since been developing Horizon, a digital world where people can interact using VR technology.

In August, it unveiled Horizon Workrooms, a feature where co-workers wearing VR headsets can hold meetings in a virtual room where they all appear as cartoonish 3D versions of themselves.

Blurring the lines

Metaverse enthusiasts point out that the Internet is already starting to blur the lines between virtual experiences and “real” ones.

Stars such as pop diva Ariana Grande and the rapper Travis Scott have performed for huge audiences, watching at home, via the hit video game Fortnite.

In Decentraland, another online platform widely seen as a forerunner to the metaverse, you can already get a job as a croupier in its virtual casino.

“No one company will own and operate the metaverse. Like the Internet, its key feature will be its openness and interoperability,” Facebook said in its blog post.

It is not the only company pouring millions into developing the technology that could turn a fully-fledged version of the metaverse into reality.

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, announced earlier this year that it had raised $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,520 crores) in new funding, with some of that money set to support its vision of the metaverse.

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Internet

SolarWinds Hackers Said to Have Stolen Sensitive US Data on Russia Sanctions, Intelligence Probes

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

The suspected Russian hackers who used SolarWinds and Microsoft software to burrow into US federal agencies emerged with information about counter-intelligence investigations, policy on sanctioning Russian individuals and the country’s response to COVID-19, people involved in the investigation told Reuters.

The hacks were widely publicised after their discovery late last year, and American officials have blamed Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, which denies the activity. But little has been disclosed about the spies’ aims and successes.

The reluctance of some publicly traded companies to explain their exposure has prompted a broad Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry.

The campaign alarmed officials with its stealth and careful staging. The hackers burrowed into the code production process at SolarWinds, which makes widely used software for managing networks.

The group also took advantage of weaknesses in Microsoft’s methods for identifying users in Office 365, breaching some targets that used Microsoft software but not SolarWinds.

It has been previously reported that the hackers breached unclassified Justice Department networks and read emails at the departments of treasury, commerce and homeland security. Nine federal agencies were breached. The hackers also stole digital certificates used to convince computers that software is authorised to run on them and source code from Microsoft and other tech companies.

One of the people involved said that the exposure of counter-intelligence matters being pursued against Russia was the worst of the losses.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A White House official said that President Joe Biden has issued orders improving federal agency security, among other things requiring more multifactor-authentication and more monitoring of workplace devices.

In an annual threat-review paper released on Thursday, Microsoft said the Russian spies were ultimately looking for government material on sanctions and other Russia-related policies, along with US methods for catching Russian hackers.

Cristin Goodwin, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit, said the company drew its conclusions from the types of customers and accounts it saw being targeted. In such cases, she told Reuters, “You can infer the operational aims from that.”

Others who worked on the government’s investigation went further, saying they could see the terms that the Russians used in their searches of US digital files, including “sanctions.”

Chris Krebs, the former head of US cyber-defense agency CISA and now an adviser to SolarWinds and other companies, said the combined descriptions of the attackers’ goals were logical.

“If I’m a threat actor in an environment, I’ve got a clear set of objectives. First, I want to get valuable intelligence on government decision-making. Sanctions policy makes a ton of sense,” Krebs said.

The second thing is to learn how the target responds to attacks, or “counter-incident response,” he said: “I want to know what they know about me so I can improve my tradecraft and avoid detection.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Cryptocurrency

Crypto Exchange Binance Has Ireland in Plans for ‘Decentralised’ Regional Headquarters

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

Major cryptocurrency exchange Binance sees Ireland as part of its plans to establish a number of headquarters across the world, its CEO told Reuters on Thursday.

Regulators across the world have in recent months scrutinised Binance, the world’s largest exchange by trading volumes. Some have banned the platform from certain activities, while others have warned consumers that it was unlicensed to operate.

In response, CEO Changpeng Zhao said in July he wanted to improve relations with regulators, and would break with its “decentralised” structure and establish regional headquarters.

Last month, Binance registered three firms in Ireland, corporate registry documents show.

“Historically, we claim that we don’t have headquarters. We are actually just in the process of establishing a few headquarters in different parts of the world,” Changpeng Zhao said in an interview.

Asked if Ireland featured in Binance’s plans to establish headquarters in a particular country, Zhao replied: “Yes it does.” He declined to give further details of the plans for the country.

“When we first started we wanted to embrace the decentralised principles, no headquarters, work all around the world, no borders,” he said. “It’s very clear now to run a centralised exchange, you need a centralised, legal entity structure behind it.”

Trading volumes at Binance soared between July and September, suggesting a recent crackdown by regulators across the globe has had little impact on the platform’s business.

Binance’s corporate structure is opaque. Its holdings company is registered in the Cayman Islands, according to British court documents and Malaysia’s securities watchdog.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Technology

Tesla Headquarters to Move From California to Texas

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Thursday the electric carmaker plans to move its headquarters from Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto, California to Austin, Texas, where it is building a massive car and battery manufacturing complex.

Tesla joins Oracle, HP, and Toyota Motor in moving US headquarters to Texas from California, which has relatively high taxes and living costs. While Silicon Valley also is a hive of development of new ideas and companies, Texas is known for cheaper labour and less stringent regulation.

“I’m excited to announce that we’re moving our headquarters to Austin, Texas,” Musk told the company’s annual meeting, held in the Texas car factory.

“This is not a matter of, sort of, Tesla leaving California,” he said, saying it plans to increase output from its main California factory and Nevada factory by 50 percent.

The Fremont, California factory nonetheless is “jammed” and it is tough for people to afford houses in California, he said.

Billionaire Musk himself moved to the Lone Star State from California in December to focus on the electric-car maker’s new plant in the state and his SpaceX rocket company, which has a launch site in the southern tip of Texas.

Musk had a rocky relationship at times with California, threatening to move Tesla headquarters and future programmes to Texas during a row over the closure of Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California due to COVID-19, for instance.

At the meeting he showed off a design of what looked like a cowboy-style belt buckle emblazoned with “Don’t Mess With T” – the T in the style of the Tesla logo. The phrase is based on a venerable and popular Texas anti-littering campaign – Don’t Mess with Texas.

Director term cut

Despite some criticism from activist shareholders and a proxy advisory service, shareholders followed board guidance on several key proposals, including reelection of Kimball Musk, Elon’s brother, and James Murdoch as board directors.

But they voted in favour of a stockholder proposal to reduce director terms from three years to one year and a proposal regarding additional reporting on diversity and inclusion efforts.

“It’s unfortunate that the shareholders did not agree to remove Murdoch and Musk’s brother. But I think they know the pressure is on them,” Stephen Diamond, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said.

“They’ve got a lot more work to do on governance. Just changing the term is just an artifact of a larger governance issue,” William Klepper, a professor at Columbia Business School, said.

Advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) had recommended that Tesla investors not re-elect the two directors because of concerns about excessive compensation packages to non-executive board members.

Shareholders also voted against a stockholder proposal asking for a study into the impact of Tesla’s use of arbitration on workplace harassment and discrimination.

The proposal, opposed by the board, was thrown into the spotlight after a Black former contract worker on

Monday won a $137 million (roughly Rs. 1,030 crores) jury award against Tesla over workplace racism.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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