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Microsoft Mesh Mixed Reality Platform Launched That Allows Users to Appear as Holograms in Virtual Meetings




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 3 March 2021

Microsoft on Tuesday set the stage for a future in which long-distance coworkers can collaborate as though in the same room, using augmented reality glasses and cloud computing power.

The US technology colossus launched Microsoft Mesh platform at its annual Ignite developers conference, which was a streamed event this year due to the pandemic.

“One of the easiest ways to think about it is Microsoft Mesh connects the physical and digital worlds, allowing us to transcend the traditional boundaries of space and time,” co-creator Simon Skaria said in a video presentation.

Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman, whose team created HoloLens augmented reality eyewear that has caught on with businesses, appeared as a hologram to unveil Mesh on a virtual stage.

Mesh is powered by Azure cloud computing systems that combine data centre processing power with artificial intelligence.

Holohedrons headgear with a $3,500 (roughly Rs. 2.5 lakhs) price tag is used to overlay digital imagery on real world settings, but the Mesh platform has the potential to be synced to virtual reality gear such as Facebook-owned Oculus as well as smartphones, according to Kipman.

Apple, Google, and Facebook are among the tech titans investing in mixed reality.

Mesh is designed to let people collaborate and share holographic experiences in real time no matter how far apart them may be, presentations showed.

“You can actually feel like you’re in the same place with someone sharing content or you can teleport from different mixed reality devices and be present with people even when you’re not physically together,” Kipman said.

People will initially be able to appear in Mesh experiences as avatars, but in the future will be able to project lifelike holograms of themselves, according to Microsoft.

The pandemic caused a dramatic shift to working and learning remotely, with reliance on cloud computing instead of offices or classrooms expected to remain part of people’s lives.

The Redmond, Washington-based company expects outside developers and partners to build applications on Mesh, and is working to integrate it in products such as Teams virtual collaboration service.

Niantic chief John Hanke took part in the Ignite presentation with a concept version of its popular Pokémon Go mobile game running on HoloLens.

“This notion of bringing my virtual friends along with me as I go out and walk and explore the world – I just love that concept and I’m really interested to see what we can do with that,” Hanke said.


Huawei Plans to Invest $1 Billion on Electric Vehicles and Smart Cars Amid US Sanctions




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 12 April 2021

Embattled Chinese tech giant Huawei on Monday vowed to weather wide-ranging US sanctions with a push into the intelligent vehicle sector and ramping up development of its own mobile phone ecosystem.

Rotating chairman Eric Xu said Huawei planned to invest $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,500 crores) in the projects – in cooperation with major Chinese automakers – of systems for electric vehicles and cars that use artificial intelligence.

It also planned to push ahead in helping develop applications for the coming advent of superfast 5G connections, in cloud computing, and in the software business.

“With these adjustments in portfolio, we are quite confident we can survive,” Xu told a gathering of industry analysts at company headquarters in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen.

“So the overall strategy and specific measures of Huawei are all revolving around enabling us to survive and develop under the entity listing in the long term,” he said.

Former US president Donald Trump in 2018 launched an aggressive campaign to isolate the company globally amid concerns that its telecom networking equipment installed worldwide could be used by China’s Communist Party government for espionage or sabotage.

China and Huawei have fiercely rejected the insinuation, saying the United States has never provided evidence.

The measures against the company include barring it from the huge US market, cutting it off from global component supply chains and pressuring allies to ban or rip out Huawei gear from their national telecom systems.

The administration of US President Joe Biden, who took office in January, has so far indicated no let-up on Huawei.

Executives have indicated in recent months the company would pivot from a reliance on its two main business units, but Xu’s comments Monday were the most specific to date.

Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecom networking gear and has long been a top-three smartphone supplier along with Apple and Samsung.

But it tumbled out of the mobile phone big three in late 2020 as sales plummeted due to the difficulty accessing necessary components, according to industry trackers.

Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC plans to unveil a new model of its ArcFox electric vehicle line at next week’s Shanghai Auto Show, for which Huawei provided operating components, Chinese media have reported.

Xu said Huawei also had plans to cooperate with other Chinese auto manufacturers on electric or intelligent vehicles, a fast-growing market in China.

It also will step up efforts to develop its own mobile phone operating system, after US actions cut off it from using Google’s Android OS.

Analysts have said this is a tall task given the global stranglehold of Android and Apple’s iOS system.

Huawei has said it can build on its existing large base of users in creating a viable alternative.

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Cyberpunk 2077 Maker CD Projekt Has No Plans to ‘Shelve’ Game, Committed to Fixing So It Can Sell ‘For Years’




By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021

Video games maker CD Projekt has no plans to shelve Cyberpunk 2077 and is committed to fixing glitches to make its flagship game a long-term success after a troubled rollout, joint chief executive Adam Kicinski told Reuters.

Kicinski said CD Projekt was in touch with Sony, which pulled Cyberpunk 2077 from its PlayStation Store only a week after its debut in December amid complaints of glitches in the video game.

The role-playing game, billed as an “open-world, action-adventure story set in … a megalopolis obsessed with power, glamour and body modification” and featuring Hollywood star Keanu Reeves, was delayed three times before its debut.

“I don’t see an option to shelve Cyberpunk 2077. We are convinced that we can bring the game to such a state that we can be proud of it and therefore successfully sell it for years to come,” Kicinski said.

CD Projekt released a patch for Cyberpunk 2077 last month, and Kicinski said the new 1.2 patch was a step towards the game’s return to the PlayStation store and that the Polish games maker had “friendly relations” with Sony.

Cyberpunk 2077 had been CD Projekt’s most-anticipated game since 2015’s The Witcher: Wild Hunt.

Last month the company also unexpectedly cancelled plans to develop a standalone multi-player version of Cyberpunk 2077.

Kicinski said that the format is more risky for the company, which has to date focused on single-player games.

In another setback, CD Projekt was hit by a cyber attack in February. Kicinski said the company did not lose any data in the attack, which was caused by a hole in an external software, and it led to only a 2-3 week delay to its development work.

Kicinski, who has worked at CD Projekt since it was founded nearly three decades ago, said the company is looking for acquisition opportunities as it embarks on a “fundamental” change to be able to develop two high-budget games in parallel from next year. Acquisitions would not be aimed at boosting financial results and would not be restricted to any geographical locations, he said.

He also said that since hostile takeovers cannot be fully ruled out in the gaming industry, the company took steps a few years ago to reduce the risk of becoming a takeover target, including capping a shareholder’s voting rights to 20 percent.

CD Projekt faces class action lawsuits in the United States following the troubled Cyberpunk debut, and Kicinski said the company is represented by Cooley LLP law firm.

In one of those cases, CD Projekt said on Friday that legal claims against the company in the United States regarding the terms of distribution deals with Valve Corp. had now been withdrawn. Video games maker CD Projekt has no plans to shelve Cyberpunk 2077 and is committed to fixing glitches to make its flagship game a long-term success after a troubled rollout, joint chief executive Adam Kicinski told Reuters.

Kicinski said CD Projekt was in touch with Sony, which pulled Cyberpunk 2077 from its PlayStation Store only a week after its debut in December amid complaints of glitches in the video game.

The role-playing game, billed as an “open-world, action-adventure story set in … a megalopolis obsessed with power, glamour and body modification” and featuring Hollywood star Keanu Reeves, was delayed three times before its debut.

“I don’t see an option to shelve Cyberpunk 2077. We are convinced that we can bring the game to such a state that we can be proud of it and therefore successfully sell it for years to come,” Kicinski said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Run Out of Milk? Robots on Call for Singapore Home Deliveries of Groceries




By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021 

Hoping to capitalise on a surge in demand for home deliveries, a Singapore technology company has deployed a pair of robots to bring residents their groceries in one part of the city state.

Developed by OTSAW Digital and both named “Camello”, the robots’ services have been offered to 700 households in a one-year trial.

Users can book delivery slots for their milk and eggs, and an app notifies them when the robot is about to reach a pick-up point – usually the lobby of an apartment building.

The robots, which are equipped with 3D sensors, a camera and two compartments each able to carry up to 20kg (44 lb) of food or parcels ordered online, make four or five deliveries per day on weekdays and are on call for half day on Saturday.

They use ultraviolet light to disinfect themselves after every trip, said OTSAW Digital’s chief executive, Ling Ting Ming.

“Especially during this pandemic period, everybody is looking at contactless, humanless,” he told Reuters.

For the time being, staff accompany the robots on their rounds to ensure no problems arise.

Tashfique Haider, a 25-year-old student who has tried out the service, said it could be particularly helpful for the elderly so they wouldn’t have to carry goods home.

But a passerby worried the technology might be too much trouble for some.

“The younger customers will like it. I don’t think they (the older generation) will, because these are gadgets that younger people like,” said 36-year-old housewife Xue Ya Xin.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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LG, SK Reach $1.8-Billion Settlement to End Spat Over Electric Vehicle Battery Technology




By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021

Shares of South Korea’s SK Innovation and LG Chem jumped on Monday after the battery makers agreed on a SKW 2 trillion (roughly Rs. 13,340 crores) dispute settlement over EV battery technology, which analysts said freed them up to stay on top of battery developments from clients like Volkswagen.

LG Energy Solution, a wholly owned subsidiary of LG Chem, and SK Innovation also agreed on Sunday to drop all litigation in the United States and South Korea and not to sue each other for 10 years, after the core dispute had threatened the EV plans of Ford Motor and Volkswagen AG.

SK Innovation shares rose as much as 18.5 percent while LG Chem shares rose as much as 4.1 percent.

“This agreement has resolved uncertainties about the growth of the battery business and our pursuit of the U.S. market,” SK Innovation CEO Kim Jun said in a message to employees seen by Reuters. “It will enable us to accelerate the construction of the Georgia, US plant and actively promote additional investment and cooperation in line with the development of the US and global electric vehicle (EV) industry.”

Ford said in a statement on Sunday that it was pleased the battery makers had settled their differences, and that the agreement allowed Ford to focus on delivering EVs for retail and fleet customers.

“The market sees the deal in favour of SK as the settlement amount was less than expected; some had even said it could cost up to SKW 7 trillion (roughly Rs. 46,660 crores),” said Cho Hyun-ryul, analyst at Samsung Securities.

“The agreement is positive for both companies’ stock prices, by resolving the lawsuit issue for the future,” Cho added. “For SK, the value of its battery business had been reflected less in its stock price versus competitors. However, this deal with LG could serve as leverage.”

Shares in SK Innovation had fallen 19.7 percent since February, when US International Trade Commission sided with LG Chem on the trade secrets case, while LG Chem shares had fallen 15.4 percent.

However, analysts said the companies’ lawsuit-free future partly depended on how they responded to Volkswagen’s decision last month to move the bulk of its cars to a new unified prismatic battery and away from the pouch-style manufactured by LG and SK – although Volkswagen’s shift doesn’t mean other automakers will follow.

“Especially for SK, which is highly dependent on pouch-style batteries, the key is how it will win orders in the future. Although there are no public numbers, SK is known to be quite dependent on Volkswagen for the battery business,” said Kang Dong-jin, analyst at Hyundai Motor Securities.

The wider market was up 0.4 percent.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Alibaba Says Does Not Expect Material Impact From $2.75-Billion Antitrust Fine




By Reuters | Updated: 12 April 2021

China’s Alibaba does not expect any material impact from changes to its exclusivity arrangements with merchants, CEO Daniel Zhang said on Monday, after regulators fined the e-commerce giant a record $2.75 billion (roughly Rs. 20,640 crores) for abusing its market dominance.

Shares in Alibaba Group rose as much as 9 percent in Hong Kong trade as a key source of uncertainty for the company was removed, and on relief the fine and steps ordered were not more onerous.

Alibaba has come under intense scrutiny since billionaire founder Jack Ma’s public criticism of the Chinese regulatory system in October.

The company will introduce measures to lower entry barriers and business costs faced by merchants on its platforms, Zhang told an online conference for media and analysts.

Alibaba executives said despite Saturday’s record CNY 18 billion (roughly Rs. 20,630 crores) fine and measures ordered by regulators, they remain confident in the government’s overall support of the company.

“They are affirming our business model,” said Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai. “We feel comfortable that there’s nothing wrong with our fundamental business model as a platform company.”

Shares bounce

Markets reacted positively, with shares jumping by the most since July last year.

“Now the penalty is determined, the market’s uncertainty about Alibaba will be reduced,” Everbright Sun Hung Kai analyst Kenny Ng said. “Alibaba’s stock price has lagged behind the overall emerging economy stocks for some time in the past. The implementation of this penalty is expected to allow Alibaba’s stock price to regain market attention.”

Aside from imposing the fine, among the highest ever antitrust penalties globally, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) ordered Alibaba to make “thorough rectifications” to strengthen internal compliance and protect consumer rights.

“The required corrective measures will likely limit Alibaba’s revenue growth as a further expansion in market share will be constrained,” said Lina Choi, Senior Vice President at Moody’s Investors Service. “Investments to retain merchants and upgrade products and services will also reduce its profit margins.”

SAMR said it had determined Alibaba, which is also listed in New York, had prevented its merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms since 2015.

The practice, which the SAMR has previously spelt out as illegal, violates China’s antimonopoly law by hindering the free circulation of goods and infringing on the business interests of merchants, the regulator said.

The probe comes as China bolsters SAMR with extra staff and a wider jurisdiction amid a crackdown on technology conglomerates, signalling a new era after years of laissez-faire approach.

The agency has taken aim recently at China’s large tech giants in particular, mirroring increased scrutiny of the sector in the United States and Europe.

Exclusivity issues

Alibaba said it accepted the penalty and “will ensure its compliance with determination”.

Speaking with analysts on Monday, Tsai said that other than a review of the company’s mergers and acquisitions, which the company’s peers also face, it does not expect further investigation from the antitrust regulator.

“We are pleased we can put this matter behind us,” he said.

Tsai added the company “doesn’t rely on exclusivity” to retain its merchants, adding such exclusivity arrangements in the past only covered a small number of Tmall flagship stores.

Alibaba and its peers remain under review for mergers and acquisitions from the market regulator, Tsai told the briefing, adding he was not aware of any other anti-monopoly-related investigations.

The fine is more than double the $975 million (roughly Rs. 7,330 crores) paid in China by Qualcomm, the world’s biggest supplier of mobile phone chips, in 2015 for anticompetitive practices.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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NASA Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Ready for First Flight




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 10 April 2021

NASA helicopter placed on Mars could make its first flight over the Red Planet within two days after a successful initial test of its rotors, the US space agency said Friday. The current plan for the first-ever attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet is for the four-pound (1.8kg) helicopter, dubbed the Ingenuity, to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater on Sunday at 10:54pm US Eastern Time (8:24 am IST) and hover 10 feet (3 metres) above the surface for a half-minute, NASA said.

“The helicopter is good, it’s looking healthy,” said Tim Canham, Ingenuity operations lead, in a press conference. “Last night, we did our 50 RPM spin, where we spun the blades very slowly and carefully,” he said.

The plan for Sunday is to have it rise, flying only vertically, hover, and rotate for 30 seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.

Then the Ingenuity will be lowered back down onto the surface.

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars, and also due to the demanding environment of the distant planet.

“Mars is hard not only when you land, but when you try to take off from it and fly around, too,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager.

She explained that the planet has significantly less gravity than Earth, but less than one percent the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere at the surface.

The makes it necessary for the Ingenuity to be able to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on Earth in order to fly.

“Put those things together, and you have a vehicle that demands every input be right,” said Aung.

NASA captured the test of the rotors in a short video shot from the rover just a few meters away, showing what looks like a small drone.

Aung said a second test would be conducted today, with the rotors running at high speed.

“The only uncertainty remains the actual environment of Mars,” she said, mentioning possible winds.

NASA calls the unprecedented helicopter operation highly risky but says it could reap invaluable data about the conditions on Mars.

NASA plans up to five flights, each successively more difficult, in a period of a month.

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