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Google Pay takes its QR soundbox to small merchants in India after trial run

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Google said Thursday it plans to roll out the SoundPod, its portable speaker designed to instantly validate and announce successful payments, to small merchants across India over the coming months. The Google Pay expansion in India, where the company is among the mobile payment market leaders, comes even as the firm winds down some of its payments apps in the U.S.

The company, which began a limited trial of SoundPod last year, received positive feedback during the testing and helped merchants reduce the checkout time, Ambarish Kenghe, VP of Products for Google Pay, wrote in a blog post.

The miniature jukeboxes, colloquially dubbed “soundboxes” domestically, have witnessed wide adoption in India, enabling merchants to find respite upon receipt of remuneration and contest any illegitimate claims.

Financial services firm Paytm currently leads the soundbox market and PhonePe is also increasingly expanding its device. More than 20 million merchants in the country already use one of these boxes, which industry insiders estimate costs about $18 to $20 to make. (Incidentally, Paytm is currently “fighting for its survival” as it navigates regulatory clampdown.)

The soundbox was invented to serve small Indian merchants unable to afford regular point-of-sale devices but accepting of UPI payments. (UPI, a payments network built by a coalition of retail banks in India, has become the most popular way for Indians to transact.) Now more popular than Visa, Mastercard and Amex combined, the devices last year prompted the payment giants to look at ways to take advantage of their reach.

It has also evolved into a lucrative subscription model over time as various players impose subscription charges on merchants. The real allure of the soundbox, according to one industry insider, extends beyond its auditory alerts — it provides invaluable insights into merchant behaviors, facilitating the offering of loans based on this data.

Google Pay is offering the SoundPod at a minimal cost — levying a one-time fee of $18 for one year, or a one-time fee of $6.06 per day for 25 days in a month. The company said merchants who use SoundPod to process 400 payments in a month will get $1.5 in cash back.

“To be able to play a role in India’s digital payments story is a matter of deep pride for us, providing invaluable lessons on how digital transformation happens in tech-forward societies, and we continue to stay deeply invested in this journey for the long term,” added Google’s Kenghe.

Reliance, India’s largest firm by market cap, also began testing a similar device at its campus last year, TechCrunch earlier reported. The company confirmed the device in a subsequent earnings call and said it plans to soon launch it to the market.



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NASA To Make Major Announcement On Its Ambitious Mars Sample Return Mission Today; Watch Live

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NASA is hosting a press conference on April 15 for a big announcement regarding its Mars Sample Return Mission. The agency said that the speakers will discuss the next steps of the mission aimed at retrieving samples collected by the Perseverance rover on Mars at 10:30 pm IST. The speakers include NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson and Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, Nicky Fox.

You can watch the teleconference live at NASA TV and its official website here. The discussion will be based on the report by the Independent Review Board which was set up in 2023 to evaluate the technical, cost, and schedule plans prior to confirmation of the mission’s design.

ALSO SEE: NASA Shares Views Of Perseverance Rover’s Sample Collection In Latest Milestone On Mars

The Mars sample return program, apart from its complexities, has a major problem to deal with – a supposedly ‘unrealistic’ budget. Ever since its landing in the Jezero crater on Mars, the Perseverance rover has collected two dozen soil and rock samples which are waiting to be shipped to Earth early next decade.

The samples are being collected because scientists believe they might have signs of ancient life on the red planet since it used to have oceans billions of years ago.

According to NASA’s plan, it will send a lander with a rocket to Mars which will transfer the samples to an orbiter built by ESA. This orbiter will then send the samples back to Earth. All this is expected to cost between $8 to $11 billion, the review board said in its report released last September. In the upcoming announcement, NASA might clear the air regarding the feasibility of the mission and if it is worth pursuing.

ALSO SEE: What Does A Solar Eclipse On Mars Look Like? NASA Answers With Breathtaking Views





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Mess Created By NASA Will Be Inspected By ESA’s Hera Mission; Here’s All About It

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is gearing up for an ambitious mission called Hera, set to launch in October 2024. The mission’s target will be Dimorphos, an asteroid orbiting the larger space rock Didymos.

Dimorphos gained international attention when it became the subject of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. On September 26, 2022, NASA’s spacecraft intentionally collided with Dimorphos to test whether altering its orbit was a viable method of planetary defense.

Now, ESA’s Hera mission is poised to rendezvous with Dimorphos in 2026, building on the groundwork laid by DART. The objectives are ambitious: Hera will delve into the Didymos binary asteroid system, conducting the very first assessment of its internal properties. Additionally, it will meticulously analyse the aftermath of DART’s kinetic impactor test, including studying the crater left behind by the collision.

Hera represents a significant milestone in asteroid deflection technology, paving the way for future planetary defense strategies. By conducting a detailed post-impact survey of Dimorphos, Hera aims to transform the DART mission into a well-understood and repeatable defense technique.

ALSO SEE: NASA’s DART Mission’s Second Observer Captures Unsettling Images Of An Asteroid Crash

What makes Hera even more groundbreaking is its role as humankind’s first probe to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system. It will also be armed with innovative technologies, including autonomous navigation and low-gravity proximity operations.

Using ground-based telescopes, scientists know that DART changed Dimorphos’s velocity but they need a close-up inspection to determine the change in its mass. The HERA mission also includes two cubesats – Milani and Juventas – that will collectively investigate Dimorphos’s composition and change in its properties.

NASA ruled the DART mission a success after the spacecraft was able to change Dimorphos’s orbit around Didymos by 33 minutes. Scientists believe that this technology could one day help us deflect a planet-killing asteroid if one heads toward Earth someday.

ALSO SEE: Collision Of NASA’s DART With Asteroid Dimorphos Changed Its Shape; Finding Excites Scientists





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Unexpected Discovery In A Nebula 3,800 Light-Years Away Leaves Astronomers Surprised

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Astronomers peering into the depths of space have stumbled upon a celestial spectacle unlike any other – a stellar pair locked in a cosmic dance, surrounded by a mesmerizing cloud of gas and dust. But what sets this duo, dubbed HD 148937, apart from the stellar crowd is a remarkable tale of cosmic collision and rebirth.

Located a staggering 3800 light-years away in the Norma constellation, HD 148937 is home to two stars of immense magnitude, each boasting a mass far surpassing that of our Sun.

Yet, upon closer inspection, astronomers were met with a perplexing revelation – these stars, once thought to be twins, harbor striking differences. One star appears 1.5 million years younger and inexplicably magnetic, while its counterpart bears the marks of age and lacks magnetic allure.

Utilizing data collected over nine years from cutting-edge instruments like PIONIER, GRAVITY, and FEROS, astronomers uncovered a violent history. The evidence pointed to a tumultuous past, wherein three stars once roamed the system, until two stars collided, birthing the stunning nebula that now envelops HD 148937.

ALSO SEE: NASA’s Hubble Telescope Captures ‘Fierce And Fabulous’ Tarantula Nebula Brimming With Baby Stars

“The two inner stars merged in a violent manner, creating a magnetic star and throwing out some material, which created the nebula,” professor Hugues Sana, lead investigator explained in an official statement.

This cosmic ballet not only reshaped the system’s destiny but also shed light on a longstanding mystery in astronomy – the origin of magnetic fields in massive stars. While magnetic fields are common in stars like our Sun, their presence in more massive counterparts has long puzzled astronomers. The discovery of HD 148937 provides compelling evidence that such magnetic fields can arise from stellar mergers, a phenomenon observed only in theory until now.

“Magnetism in massive stars isn’t expected to last very long compared to the lifetime of the star, so it seems we have observed this rare event very soon after it happened,” said Abigail Frost, lead author of the new paper published in the journal Science.

ALSO SEE: ESO’s Very Large Telescope Captures ‘Gloomy Portrait’ Of Cone Nebula, A Staggering Star Factory





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