Here’s our curated list of important tech news from this week in byte size.
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Ask Alexa for COVID-19 vaccine information
Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, can help people by answering questions about vaccine availability and eligibility requirements for more than 85 countries, the company said in a blog post, and added that it can also help them find and connect with nearby vaccination sites. People can just say, “Alexa, where can I get tested for COVID-19?” to find their nearest COVID-19 testing locations, or just ask, “Alexa, where can I get a COVID vaccine?” to locate the nearby vaccination sites. They can also say, “Alexa, call the first one,” to connect to a particular site directly. In another update, Amazon launched Fire TV Cube that offers hands-free Alexa voice control in India for ₹12,999.
Facebook users can now transfer their posts, notes
Facebook has expanded data portability options enabling users to transfer their Facebook posts and notes to Google Docs, Blogger and WordPress.com, the company noted in a release. Facebook’s Data Portability Tool now renamed as “Transfer Your Information,” already allows people to transfer their photos and videos to Dropbox, Google Photos and Koofr. Users can access the tool in Facebook settings under ‘Your Facebook Information’, and follow the on-screen prompts to transfer their data. Users will be asked to re-enter their password before the transfer starts and encrypt their data as it moves between services, the firm noted. Facebook said it plans to continue expanding the data types and partners in the future. This week, Facebook also said it has made changes to its advertising tools, a week ahead of Apple’s iOS 14.5 software update.
Xbox cloud gaming on iOS, PC
Microsoft said on Monday it has started testing Xbox cloud gaming limited beta for Windows 10 PCs and Apple phones and tablets via web browsers. The company has begun sending out invites to select Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members, and will send additional invites on a continuous basis to players in all 22 supported countries, it added. “Our plan is to iterate quickly and open up to all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members in the coming months,” Catherine Gluckstein, VP, Project xCloud at Microsoft, said in a blog post. Invitees will be able to play over 100 Xbox Game Pass titles on xbox.com/play using a compatible Bluetooth or USB-connected controller via Edge, Chrome, or Safari browser. In another gaming update, with lockdowns brewing, here are all the latest games to keep you indoors, safe and sane — as well as games you can look forward to in the next few months.
New Zoom Meetings, Chat features
Zoom has introduced some new features on its platform to help people collaborate, and manage their communications better. People can use the Vanishing Pen feature to highlight text or objects on the shared screen without having to undo or erase highlight annotations in Zoom Meetings and Video Webinars, according to a company blog post. Additionally, the Whiteboard Auto-shapes feature allows users to create straight lines and perfect shapes when annotating on the Zoom mobile app. The firm has also added more emoji reactions to Meetings. Further, the platform now provides an option to account owners and admins to add a user’s manager to appear on an employee’s Zoom profile, the firm noted. Finally, using InformaCast, Zoom Phone users can trigger and receive mass notifications. Recently, Microsoft had introduced several new enhancements to Teams to improve the meeting, chat and collaboration experience of its users.
Convert old Galaxy smartphones into smart home devices
Samsung has announced Galaxy Upcycling at Home, an initiative that gives new life to older Galaxy smartphones by converting them into a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) devices through a simple software update. The programme enables users to easily turn their old Galaxy devices, into smart home devices like a childcare monitor, a pet care solution and other tools that meet individual lifestyle needs. Users can transform their old Galaxy devices, including all S, Note, and Z series released from 2018 running Android 9 and above, to provide enhanced sound and light-control features, by repurposing built-in sensors through SmartThings Labs, a feature within the SmartThings app. Samsung has implemented the beta service for Galaxy Upcycling at Home in the US, the UK and Korea, it said in a statement. In another update, Samsung is recycling its old Galaxy smartphones into healthcare equipment for underserved people in India, Morocco, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.
Fitbit announces ‘Luxe’ fitness tracker
Fitbit has announced a fashion-forward fitness and wellness tracker, dubbed ‘Luxe’. The device has a slim form factor and offers a wide range of health and wellness features, including automatic activity and sleep tracking, as well as wellbeing insights in the Fitbit app with the Health Metrics dashboard which tracks breathing rate, heart rate variability, resting heart rate, and skin temperature variation. The sleek tracker with a colour touchscreen can help people stay connected with customisable call, text and smartphone notifications across a broad range of Android and iOS devices. Luxe provides up to five days of battery life and can be paired with a wide range of stylish accessories. Luxe is available for pre-order for $149.95 (about ₹11,200), with worldwide availability later this year, the Google-owned firm said. This week, we delved into the intricacies of Apple’s AirTag; from design to the ultra wideband technology to the inevitable privacy concerns.
NASA picks SpaceX to land humans back on Moon
NASA has selected SpaceX to continue the development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis programme. The space agency plans to launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for a multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) to travel to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week-long lunar exploration the astronauts will use the HLS to come back to orbit where they will return to Orion before heading back to Earth. SpaceX’s HLS Starship leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks. In another update, SpaceX launched four astronauts into orbit on Friday using a recycled rocket and capsule, the third crew flight in less than a year for Elon Musk’s rapidly expanding company.
AWS, DISH team up to build cloud-based 5G O-RAN
Amazon Web Services (AWS) and DISH Network Corporation have partnered to reinvent 5G connectivity and innovation. DISH will leverage AWS infrastructure and services to build a cloud-based, 5G Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) in the U.S. that delivers consistent, cost-effective performance from core to the edge, according to an Amazon release. Both companies will also work to transform how organisations and customers, including AWS and Amazon, order and consume 5G services or create their own private 5G networks. AWS will also power DISH’s fully automated Operation and Business Support Systems that will enable the company to provision and operate its customers’ 5G workloads and monetise its network. “Together, we’re opening the door to new technologies that will transform factories, workplaces, entertainment, and transportation in ways people have only dreamed,” AWS CEO Andy Jassy, said in a statement. This week, Amazon said it has secured an agreement with space launch firm, United Launch Alliance, to support the deployment of its Project Kuiper satellites.
You can read more at thehindu.com/technology