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New Drone Rules 2021: No Security Clearance Required for Registration; No Operation Licence Needed in India

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By ANI | Updated: 26 August 2021

In a set of progressive rules which will significantly transform the Indian landscape for drones, the Centre on Thursday issued fresh norms for their usage in the country.

The relaxation in rules stipulate, no security clearance is now required before any registration or licence issuance for the operation of drones. While the fees for permissions to operate drones has been reduced to nominal levels, the new rules state.

Drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries. It has been specified that coverage of drones under Drone Rules 2021 has increased from 300kg to 500kg to include heavy payload-carrying drones and drone taxis, it added.

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Some of the approvals abolished under the new rules are include a unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, operator permits, authorisation of Research and Development organisation, and remote pilot instructor authorisation, the rules added.

The maximum penalty under Drone Rules, 2021 has been reduced to Rs. 1 lakh. This shall, however, not apply to penalties in respect of violation of other laws.

The interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones will be displayed on the digital sky platform. The yellow zone has been reduced from 45km to 12km from the airport perimeter.

No permission is required for operating a drone in green zones and upto 200 feet in the area between 8kms and 12km from the airport perimeter.

Online registration of all drones shall happen through the Digital Sky Platform. The easy process prescribed for transfer and de-registration of drones, it added.

An easy opportunity provided for the regularisation of existing drones in the country. No pilot licence is now required for operating nano drones and micro drones for non-commercial use, the rules state.

Safety features like ”No permission – no take-off” (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing etc to be notified in future. A minimum six-month lead time will be provided for compliance.

All drone training and examination to be carried out by an authorised drone school. Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) shall prescribe training requirements, oversee drone schools and provide pilot licences online, it added.

Type Certification of drones delegated to Quality Council of India and certification entities authorised by it. No requirement of type certificate, unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot licence for research and development entities.

However, the import of drones will be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council to be set up to facilitate a business-friendly regulatory regime.

Earlier in July this year, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had released the updated ”The Drone Rules, 2021” for public consultation.

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Apple to Pay One-Time Bonuses of Up to $1,000 to Store Employees: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 September 2021

Apple will pay one-time bonuses of as much as $1,000 (roughly Rs. 73,710 crores) to store employees next month, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. The company will give out $1,000 (roughly Rs. 73,710 crores) to retail staff hired before March 31, while those who joined later will get $500 (roughly Rs. 36,840), the report said.

New employees for the holiday shopping season will receive $200 (roughly Rs. 14,730) and bonuses will also be handed out to AppleCare and online sales staff, the report added.

Apple did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The company’s retail chief told Reuters in June that Apple was expanding its retail operations, betting that a combination of strategies developed before and during COVID-19 will make its stores more popular than ever.

In other Apple-related news, the iPhone maker has blacklisted Fortnite from its App Store for several years until all the court appeals are done, Epic Games Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney said on Wednesday.

Epic Games’ opening brief in its appeal to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is due December 12, according to a court filing and Apple’s reply is due by January 20, 2022. The full appeal process could take years.

Sweeney took to Twitter on Wednesday, calling out Apple’s move and said the company will continue to fight the tech giant.

“This is another extraordinary anticompetitive move by Apple, demonstrating their power to reshape markets and choose winners and losers,” Sweeney said on Twitter.

The two companies have been locked in a legal dispute since August last year when the game maker tried to get around Apple’s 30 percent fee on some in-app purchases on the App Store by launching its own in-app payment system.

The US tech giant is facing a raft of other legal and regulatory challenges to rules it forces game makers to follow, including the closely watched antitrust lawsuit brought by Epic Games.

Apple confirmed the authenticity of the letter that Sweeney shared, but declined to comment further. Apple has not yet said whether it will ask for the injunction to be paused pending the appeal process.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Bill Gates’ Green Tech Fund Bets on Silicon Valley Farming Robots

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 September 2021

Iron Ox, a Silicon Valley startup that believes robots can grow produce more sustainably, said it raised $50 million (roughly Rs. 370 crores) in a funding round led by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Iron Ox uses robots that are integrated with a hydroponic system consuming 90 percent less water than traditional farms, said CEO Brandon Alexander.

The company is putting that system to work at a 10,000-square foot (930 square metre) greenhouse in Gilroy, California, where a self-driving robot named Grover moves pallets of Genovese Basil and a robotic arm system lifts the pallets for inspection. Sensors check the water for nitrogen and acidity levels for healthy growth.

“Then they say, ‘What is missing? What does that plant need that we’re not giving it’,” Alexander said. Any water not used can be pumped back into the system to be reused later.

Agriculture plays an important role in California’s economy, but water usage is increasingly in the spotlight. The last major drought in 2012-2017 cut irrigation for farmers, forced strict household conservation measures and stoked deadly wildfires.

Iron Ox grows Thai basil and strawberries and is working on cilantro, parsley, and tomatoes. The company is also building a new 535,000-square-foot greenhouse in Lockhart, Texas, 30 miles (48km) south of Austin.

Alexander said hydroponics – saving water by growing plants without soil – is just one piece of the puzzle for future farming.

“To really eliminate waste, to really get to that next level of sustainability and impact, we have to rethink the entire grow process,” he said.

The funding round included investors from Crosslink Capital, R7 Partners, and Pathbreaker Ventures, among others. Iron Ox declined to comment on its valuation.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google to Buy More Office Space in New York City as Big Tech Swoops Down on Real Estate

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 September 2021

Google plans to buy an office building in Manhattan for $2.1 billion (roughly Rs. 15,470 cores), as the Alphabet-owned search engine giant joins fellow technology companies in investing in prime real estate, even as hybrid work models become common.

The deal for St. John’s Terminal site in New York City, which Google currently leases, will complete in the first quarter of next year, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said in a blog post on Tuesday. The space is expected to open by mid-2023.

Tech giants, with billions of dollars in cash reserves, have been taking advantage of lower office building prices across cities in the United States.

Amazon’s $978 million (roughly Rs. 7,210 crores) purchase of the Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue last year and Facebook’s leasing of the Farley Building across from Madison Square Garden are seen as prime examples for Manhattan’s real estate prospects.

Tech was the top industry for the second straight year in Manhattan leasing activity, brokerage CBRE Group said in January this year.

While Big Tech is growing its footprint, others are vacating office spaces as pandemic-led remote working has prompted companies to reassess the need for real estate.

Financial firms, including JPMorgan Chase, were looking to sublet big blocks of office space in Manhattan, according to media reports from earlier this year.

Google’s latest investment “builds upon our existing plans to invest more than $250 million (roughly Rs. 1,845 crores) this year in our New York campus presence,” Porat said.

The investment comes at a time when most of its employees are working remotely and it has extended its voluntary return-to-office policy through January.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google Delays Office Return Until January Due to COVID-19: See What CEO Sundar Pichai Told Employees

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 September 2021

Alphabet-owned Google is extending its voluntary return-to-office policy through January next year, CEO Sundar Pichai said on Tuesday, citing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of the world.

The rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant is also making companies reconsider their mask mandates and vaccination policies.

“Beyond January 10, we will enable countries and locations to make determinations on when to end voluntary work-from-home based on local conditions,” Pichai said in an email to employees.

Hi Googlers,

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a humbling challenge for all of us and I continue to be impressed by the way our teams are navigating through it. In spite of these challenges, I'm happy to say that a large number of offices globally are already open for business, and we are welcoming back tens of thousands of Googlers on a voluntary basis. Given that conditions around the world are still highly variable, I wanted to share how we're planning to approach the next few months:

    First, as offices continue to reopen, we hope to see more teams coming together where possible, whether it be for regular team meetings, brainstorming sessions around a whiteboard, or outdoor socials. For some locations, conditions are starting to improve, yet in many parts of the world the pandemic continues to create uncertainty. Acknowledging that, we'll extend our global voluntary return-to-office policy through January 10, 2022 to give more Googlers flexibility and choice as they ramp back.
    Beyond January 10, we will enable countries and locations to make determinations on when to end voluntary work-from-home based on local conditions, which vary greatly across our offices. To make sure everyone has ample time to plan, you'll have a 30-day heads-up before you're expected back in the office.
    Finally, encouraging Googlers to rest and recharge during this time remains a big priority so we will plan two more global reset days next quarter: October 22 and December 17. 

The road ahead may be a little longer and bumpier than we hoped, yet I remain optimistic that we will get through it together. It's heartening to see Googlers starting to come back to more offices globally. The ability to reconnect in person has been re-energizing for many of us, and will make us even more effective in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks for all the great work thus far; look forward to a busy Q4 as we continue to find new ways to be helpful to people everywhere. 

-Sundar

In the last few weeks, companies including Amazon and Lyft delayed their return-to-office timelines to 2022 for US workers due to the pandemic.

Google had earlier delayed its return-to-office policy from September to October. It was one of the first companies to ask its employees to work from home due to the health crisis.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google Employees Who Work From Home Could Get Pay Cut, as per Company’s Pay Calculator

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By Reuters | Updated: 11 August 2021

Google employees based in the same office before the pandemic could see different changes in pay if they switch to working from home permanently, with long commuters hit harder, according to a company pay calculator seen by Reuters.

It is an experiment taking place across Silicon Valley, which often sets trends for other large employers.

Facebook and Twitter also cut pay for remote employees who move to less expensive areas, while smaller companies including Reddit and Zillow have shifted to location-agnostic pay models, citing advantages when it comes to hiring, retention and diversity.

Alphabet’s Google stands out in offering employees a calculator that allows them to see the effects of a move. But in practice, some remote employees, especially those who commute from long distances, could experience pay cuts without changing their address.

“Our compensation packages have always been determined by location, and we always pay at the top of the local market based on where an employee works from,” a Google spokesperson said, adding that pay will differ from city to city and state to state.

One Google employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, typically commutes to the Seattle office from a nearby county and would likely see their pay cut by about 10 percent by working from home full-time, according estimates by the company’s Work Location Tool launched in June.

The employee was considering remote work but decided to keep going to the office – despite the two-hour commute. “It’s as high of a pay cut as I got for my most recent promotion. I didn’t do all that hard work to get promoted to then take a pay cut,” they said.

Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis who researches pay determination, said Google’s pay structure raises alarms about who will feel the impacts most acutely, including families.

“What’s clear is that Google doesn’t have to do this,” Rosenfeld said. “Google has paid these workers at 100 percent of their prior wage, by definition. So it’s not like they can’t afford to pay their workers who choose to work remotely the same that they are used to receiving.”

Screenshots of Google’s internal salary calculator seen by Reuters show that an employee living in Stamford, Connecticut – an hour from New York City by train – would be paid 15 percent less if she worked from home, while a colleague from the same office living in New York City would see no cut from working from home. Screenshots showed 5 percent and 10 percent differences in the Seattle, Boston and San Francisco areas.

Interviews with Google employees indicate pay cuts as high as 25 percent for remote work if they left San Francisco for an almost as expensive area of the state such as Lake Tahoe.

The calculator states it uses US Census Bureau metropolitan statistical areas, or CBSAs. Stamford, Connecticut, for example, is not in New York City’s CBSA, even though many people who live there work in New York.

A Google spokesperson said the company will not change an employee’s salary based on them going from office work to being fully remote in the city where the office is located. Employees working in the New York City office will be paid the same as those working remotely from another New York City location, for example, according to the spokesperson.

Google did not specifically address the issue for commuters from areas such as Stamford, Connecticut.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Amazon Extends Ban on Police Use of Facial Recognition Software

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 May 2021

Amazon said on Tuesday it is extending until further notice a moratorium it imposed last year on police use of its facial recognition software.

The company had halted the practice for one year starting in June 2020. Its announcement came at the height of protests across the United States against police brutality toward people of colour, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minnesota.

Civil liberties advocates have long warned that inaccurate face matches by law enforcement could lead to unjust arrests, as well as to a loss of privacy and chilled freedom of expression.

Amazon’s extension, which Reuters was first to report, underscores how facial recognition remains a sensitive issue for big companies. The world’s largest online retailer did not comment on the reason for its decision.

Last year, it said it hoped Congress would put in place rules to ensure ethical use of the technology, though no such law has materialised.

Amazon also faced calls this month from activists who wanted its software ban to be permanent.

Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy project director at the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed support for Amazon’s move and called on federal and state governments to ban law enforcement’s use of the software.

“Face recognition technology fuels the over-policing of Black and Brown communities, and has already led to the false arrests and wrongful incarcerations of multiple Black men,” he said in a statement.

Amazon offers face-matching with Rekognition, a service from its cloud computing division. Customers relying on the program to find human trafficking victims have still had access to the facial recognition capabilities, Amazon has said.

Critics have noted research born out of a project called Gender Shades, which showed Rekognition struggled to determine the sex of individuals with darker skin tones. Amazon has contested this.

Due to Amazon’s prominence and prior defense of facial recognition, its moratorium has carried significance. Rival Microsoft Corp said shortly after Amazon’s announcement last June that it would await US federal regulation before selling its face recognition software to police.

Pharmacy chain Rite Aid Corp also stopped use of the technology at its stores, it said the following month.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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