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Are India’s New Drone Rules Aimed at Ease of Operations or a Door to Mass Surveillance?

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Drone Rules 2021 were introduced in India last week that relaxed many restrictions introduced a few years ago. The government also reduced fees for permissions to operate drones in the country and excluded the requirement for security clearance before getting any registration or licence. The update eases drone operations in the country and is designed to benefit different sectors looking to deploy unmanned aircrafts for emergency response, surveillance, geospatial mapping, and law enforcement. However, the new drone rules have introduced privacy concerns as there is no clarity on how to report misuse. The rules are also speculated to boost surveillance of citizens to a large extent.

On this week’s episode of Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital, host Akhil Arora speaks with Internet Freedom Foundation Associate Counsel — Surveillance and Transparency Anushka Jain, Skye Air Mobility Co-Founder Swapnik Jakkampuddi, and Founder and Director of Technology for Wildlife Shashank Srinivasan to talk about the scope of the new drone rules and how they can impact our lives.

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We open with the reforms introduced in the new drone rules to ease the use of drones among companies and government agencies. Last year, start-ups including Dunzo, Swiggy, and Zomato received the approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to fly test drone deliveries in the country. Dunzo also earlier this year kicked off pilot drone delivery of medicines and COVID-19 vaccines in Telangana. All that is going to be much easier with the new rules in place. Similarly, Swiggy launched trials for drone food deliveries.

Jakkampuddi of drone delivery firm Skye Air Mobility details some of the biggest hurdles that companies faced during the early beyond visual line of sight (BLVOS) trials that are expected to be eradicated with the new rules. He also states that the new rules ease operations for new drone pilots.

However, Srinivasan of conservation geospatial data consultancy Technology for Wildlife points out that the new drone rules don’t give any clarity on how they could help individuals and people like farmers might start using drones themselves instead of picking a third-party. He also emphasises that the rules don’t address issues around flying drones within national parks and Tiger reserves, which was part of the earlier regulations.

Jain of non-governmental digital rights organisation Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) also underlines various privacy concerns that exist in the new drone rules. She additionally foresees that by easing the usage of drones among individuals, corporations, and authorities, the rules could expand mass surveillance in the country. There are also privacy concerns as drones could easily be used to surveil others. During the state lockdowns due to surge in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, police departments in various states also used drones to conduct local surveillance and collect data of individuals to ensure the given restrictions were followed. That, however, also impacted privacy of many people.

You can listen to the full discussion by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.

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If you have not yet done so, please follow the Gadgets 360 podcast on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. Please also rate us and leave a review.

Make sure to tune in each week as new Orbital episodes release every Friday.

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Vivo X80, X80 Pro: Worth Buying Over Galaxy S22, iPhone 13, and OnePlus 10 Pro?

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Vivo X80 Pro and Vivo X80 — launched in India this week — aim to take on some of the most popular premium models in the smartphone market. Vivo’s new flagships continue the X-series legacy of offering top-notch camera experiences. That means not only do both Vivo X80 Pro and Vivo X80 come with Zeiss optics, they also include Sony image sensors. The regular Vivo X80 is also the first phone in the market to come with the recently launched MediaTek Dimensity 9000 SoC. Meanwhile, the Vivo X80 Pro carries the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip — the top offering from Qualcomm.

On this week’s episode of Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital, host Akhil Arora speaks with Senior Reviewers Sheldon Pinto and Aditya Shenoy to discuss the Vivo X80 series and how it sits against the likes of the OnePlus 10 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S22, and the iPhone 13.

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The Vivo X80 Pro carries a price tag of Rs. 79,999 for the single 12GB RAM + 256GB storage variant, while the Vivo X80 starts at Rs. 54,999 for the base 8GB + 128GB configuration, and goes up to Rs. 59,999 for the top-end 12GB + 256GB model. Both Vivo X80 Pro and Vivo X80 will go on sale from May 25.

Vivo X80 Pro First Impressions: A Worthy Upgrade?

If you were to make direct comparisons, the price of the Vivo X80 Pro would seem significantly higher than that of the Vivo X70 Pro that debuted in India at a starting price of Rs. 46,990 for the 8GB + 128GB model. But that’s the wrong comparison to make. The pricing of the Vivo X80 Pro is identical with that of the Vivo X70 Pro+, which came in at Rs. 79,990 for the same 12GB + 256GB variant.

This suggests that the Vivo X80 Pro has been introduced in the Indian market as the successor to the Vivo X70 Pro+ — not the Vivo X70 Pro. The vanilla Vivo X80, on the other hand, seems to be the successor to the Vivo X70 Pro. It’s confusing, I know, but this is what happens when companies try to simplify naming conventions.

As I said before, Vivo offers a list of camera-focused features on the X80 series to attract those in the market for enhanced mobile photography experiences. The Vivo X80 Pro comes with quad rear cameras that include a 50-megapixel Samsung ISOCELL GNV primary sensor, a 48-megapixel ultra-wide shooter carrying a Sony IMX598 sensor, a 12-megapixel portrait Sony IMX663 sensor, and an 8-megapixel sensor with a periscope-shaped lens.

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In contrast, the Vivo X80 carries a triple rear camera setup that houses a 50-megapixel Sony IMX866 RGBW primary sensor, along with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide shooter, and a 12-megapixel portrait sensor. Both Vivo X80 Pro and X80 also come with a 32-megapixel selfie camera sensor at the front.

Alongside the new hardware, the Vivo X80 phones have a list of software tweaks to deliver a customisable camera experience. The Vivo X80 Pro also retains the company’s gimbal technology that is touted to help provide increased exposure and stability.

The Vivo X80 Pro and X80 both come with IP ratings for dust and water resistance. The X80, though, only has an IP53 rating is meant for splash resistance — essentially, you can’t dive with the phone in a swimming pool.

Vivo X80 First Impressions: A Promising Premium All-Rounder

Design-wise, the Vivo X80 Pro and X80 both look almost identical, with the periscope lens on the former bringing a minor distinction at the back. The design is also quite similar to that of the Vivo X70 Pro+. We talk more about the design and performance of both Vivo X80 phones on our podcast.

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You can listen to the entire discussion by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.

In case you are new to our site, you can find the Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital on your favourite platform — be it Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Gaana, JioSaavn, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Don’t forget to follow the Gadgets 360 podcast wherever you’re listening. Please also rate us and leave a review.

New Orbital episodes release every Friday. So, make sure to tune in each week.

Disclosure: Vivo sponsored Sheldon Pinto’s flights and hotel for the pre-launch event in Dubai.

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Pixel 6a to Pixel Watch, I/O 2022 Signals Google Getting Serious About Hardware

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Google hosted its I/O 2022 consumer keynote this week, where it showcased its new hardware developments, including the Pixel 6a and Pixel Watch, as well as software innovations, including an ‘immersive’ view on Google Maps. While the Pixel 6a is confirmed to launch in India, the Silicon Valley giant has not yet provided any details on the arrival of the Pixel Watch and other products in the country that it showcased at the keynote. It also unveiled the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, as well as the Pixel Tablet as its next-generation hardware that will debut at a later stage.

To talk about the best of Google I/O 2022, Orbital host Akhil Arora speaks with Reviews Editor Roydon Cerejo and Executive Editor Jamshed Avari on this week’s episode of the Gadgets 360 podcast.

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The Pixel 6a debuted at the I/O 2022 consumer keynote with a price tag of $449 (roughly Rs. 34,700). The phone comes in three distinct colours, namely Chalk, Charcoal, and Sage. It has a single 6GB RAM + 128GB storage variant. Although Google has not yet revealed any specifics about the India launch of the Pixel 6a, it did confirm that the phone will make its way to India later this year. It is tipped to be available through Flipkart sometime by the end of July.

Google has offered its custom Tensor SoC on the Pixel 6a — similar to last year’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. The new phone also comes with a dedicated security coprocessor called Titan M1. It carries dual rear cameras, including a 12-megapixel primary sensor. There is also a 4,410mAh battery with fast charging support.

The Pixel 6a’s design reminds us of the existing Pixel 6-series models.

Alongside the Pixel 6a, at I/O 2022, Google unveiled the Pixel Watch after years’ long anticipation and a series of rumours. The smartwatch carries a circular domed design and swappable wrist bands. The Pixel Watch also features a Fitbit integration for enhanced fitness tracking support. Thank goodness the Fitbit acquisition finally means something.

Google also announced the Pixel Buds Pro as its next-generation truly wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds at the event. The earbuds come with active noise cancellation (ANC) support that makes them different from the existing Pixel Buds models. Details about the India launch of the Pixel Watch and Pixel Buds Pro were not provided at the I/O 2022 keynote.

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Beyond that, Google also teased future hardware, showcasing the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, as well as the Pixel Tablet. The Pixel 7 series is confirmed to debut later this year — alongside the Pixel Watch. However, the Pixel Tablet is teased to arrive sometime in 2023.

Google also demonstrated its new ‘immersive’ view on Google Maps that is aimed to offer a rich, digital model of the world to users through their mobile devices. It will work on both Android and iOS hardware, and use Google Cloud for rendering the experience to put less burden on the device.

The new offering has initially started rolling out in Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo. However, there is no word on whether — or when exactly — we’ll get it in India. The track record is not good on such features.

Google also announced an expansion of languages on its Translate app to 24 additional languages. These include more Indian languages in Assamese, Bhojpuri, Mizo, and Sanskrit.

The event also gave us a sneak peek of the next-generation Google Glass that appear to be more natural over the original Google Glass. Exact details on when we could see the new augmented reality (AR) pair of glasses are yet to be announced, though.

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We talk more about the Google Glass upgrade, as well as how well the Pixel 6a might perform in the Indian market. You can listen to all this and more by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.

If you are new to our site, you can find the Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital on your favourite platform — be it Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Gaana, JioSaavn, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Don’t forget to follow the Gadgets 360 podcast wherever you’re listening. Please also rate us and leave a review.

New Orbital episodes release every Friday. So, make sure to tune in each week.

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How Amazon Alexa Continues to Learn About India

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How Amazon Alexa Continues to Learn About India

Amazon Alexa has been in India for over four years now. The voice assistant, which initially debuted on Amazon Echo speakers, is currently available across a range of third-party devices including smart TVs, smartphones, and wearables such as smartwatches, as well as truly wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds and headphones. And of course, there are Amazon’s own Echo devices. Although Alexa kicked off its journey in India only in English, it has gradually started understanding Hindi and Hinglish — a blend of Hindi and English — that is popular across the country.

On this week’s episode of Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital, host Akhil Arora speaks with Dilip RS, the Country Manager for Alexa Skills and Voice Services at Amazon India, to understand the journey of Alexa in the country. The conversation is joined by Gadgets 360 audio expert Ali Pardiwala, who has reviewed a number of Alexa-integrated devices.

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Amazon formally introduced Alexa to India through the first family of Echo speakers back in October 2017. The Echo range was initially invite-only, and made available to all customers in February 2018. However, shortly after the initial Echo series, the voice assistant expanded in the country through third-party devices including speakers from Logitech and Harman Kardon and a Moto Mod for Motorola phones.

Before the formal debut of Alexa in India, scores of early adopters in the country — including our host — were testing out the experience by getting Echo speakers from outside the country. But the official launch helped Amazon to get a vast range of datasets to polish localisation. Dilip tells us that Alexa now understands both Hindi and English words, as well as a multilingual mode in which you can interact with the voice assistant in both languages simultaneously.

“People who speak to Alexa in Hindi, they actually have a 50 percent higher range of questions,” he notes.

In 2018, Amazon introduced a skill called Cleo that helped Alexa learn Hindi and other Indian languages directly from users. The engineering team at Amazon later built a bilingual Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system that enabled Alexa to understand Hindi and English words at the same time. The system also includes slots to incorporate content from multiple Indian languages in Telugu, Tamil, and Marathi, Dilip tells us in the conversation.

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“Alexa has to truly understand what the customer is intending in which language and even respond back in that,” he adds.

Dilip also reveals that over the last four years, Echo devices have expanded their reach to almost 85 percent of pin codes in the country. These are no longer limited to some metros, but available in cities such as Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and Bundi, Rajasthan.

In addition to its regular consumers, Amazon is seeing government school teachers in India using Alexa-powered Echo or third-party devices in their classrooms to have their students interact more freely and improve their diction. Dilip says: “The kids are asking questions that they’re not comfortable asking their teachers. Their attendance rates went up in school.”

We also talk about the privacy side of things and how Alexa works even in areas where Internet connectivity is not at par with metro cities. You can listen to all this and more by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.

In case you are new to our site, you can find the Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital on your favourite platform — be it Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Gaana, JioSaavn, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

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Don’t forget to follow the Gadgets 360 podcast wherever you’re listening. Please also rate us and leave a review.

New Orbital episodes release every Friday. Make sure to tune in each week.

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