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Week in tech: From WhatsApp avatars to new Pixel features

Nasa's Ingenuity Mars helicopter set a new altitude record. Meanwhile, you can now send digital avatar stickers on your WhatsApp chats

Facebook describes these avatars as a digital version of you that can be created from billions of combinations of different hair styles, facial features, and outfits. (WhatsApp/Facebook)

By Nitin Sreedhar

LAST PUBLISHED 08.12.2022  |  12:00 PM IST

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There were some big news updates from the world of science and technology this week, including some exciting developments on Mars and the Moon. Nasa's Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, set a new altitude record during its 35th flight earlier this week. According to a NASA JPL tweet on 6 December, the helicopter set a new max altitude record, hitting 46 ft (14 meters) above the Martian surface.

Later on in the week, the uncrewed Orion capsule, part of NASA's Artemis I mission, sailed within 80 miles (130 km) of the lunar surface. This was the closest approach to the moon for a spacecraft built to carry humans since Apollo 17 flew half a century ago, a Reuters science news summary report said. The capsule's lunar flyby, on the return leg of its debut voyage, came a week after Orion reached its farthest point in space, nearly 270,000 miles from Earth while midway through its 25-day mission, the U.S. space agency said on its website. The capsule is set to return to Earth on Sunday, 11 December.

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Here's a look at what else made news in the world of science and technology this week.

Google’s December Pixel feature drop

Google Pixel users started the week on an exciting note with a new feature drop that promises more on not only the Pixel smartphones (starting from the Pixel 4a) but the Pixel Watch too. One of the key new features on the Pixel smartphone includes the ability to review security and privacy settings, risk levels, and other information all in one place. Google says this will make it easy for users to protect their phone, accounts and passwords. The Pixel Recorder will now include speaker labels. According to a Google blog post, when you record and transcribe a conversation in English with a Pixel 6 or newer device, the Recorder app will identify and label each speaker and insert line breaks when the speaker changes. There’s also a new powerful search available on Pixel 4a and newer Pixel phones, that can quickly find everything from an app, contact, screenshot to a setting or web result

Avatars on WhatsApp

Personalized avatars and emojis are the flavor of the season. On 7 December, Facebook introduced avatars on its instant messaging platform WhatsApp. Now, WhatsApp users will be able to create a personalized avatar and use it as their profile photo. Facebook describes these avatars as a digital version of you that can be created from billions of combinations of different hair styles, facial features, and outfits. Users can also send their avatar as a sticker, which will show different emotions and actions, within their chats on WhatsApp.

FILE - Visitors passing an advertisement for the video game 'Call of Duty' at the Gamescom fair for computer games in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. (AP)

‘Call of Duty’ comes to Nintendo Switch?

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Microsoft executive Phil Spencer said on 7 December that the hugely popular Call of Duty game franchise could become available on Nintendo's Switch console if Microsoft’s acquisition of developer Activision Blizzard goes through. The US tech giant is in the process of buying the game maker Activision Blizzard, but the huge $69-billion purchase has yet to be finalized while it is examined by antitrust authorities, according to an AFP report. Since its released in 2003, Call of Duty has become one of the most successful first-person shooter games, spawning various other standalone games and series, and is a popular title on both Microsoft's Xbox consoles and Sony's PlayStation.