ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Senate Passes Budget Bill With $18 Billion For NASA.

Spaceflight Now  (12/14, Clark) reports that on Saturday, the Senate passed a Federal budget bill giving NASA $18 billion and almost all the requested funds “to develop commercial space capsules to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by the end of 2017.” As with previous coverage, the article considers the Orion and Space Launch System the “big winners” in the bill, adding that NASA’s planetary science division’s budget also was increased.

The Augusta (VA) Free Press  (12/13) reported that Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine were pleased that the bill passed by the Senate kept in funds to repair the Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s launch pad damaged back in October by a launch failure.

The WAAY-TV  Huntsville, AL (12/12, Barrett) “Space Alabama” website had a breakdown of the budget comparing the Administration, House, and Senate versions of the budget to the one passed over the weekend by Congress.

Ahead of the Senate vote, the International Business Times  (12/13, Poladian) reported that former NASA chief technologist Mason Peck was glad NASA’s budget was increased to $18 billion. He also supported the money going to the SLS and Orion because these are “important near-term projects.” However, Peck criticized the low amount Congress gave to the Space Technology Mission Directorate budget, saying the budget is inadequate to support “the much-needed technologies” NASA needs to develop for the long-term.

Higher Education

NACIQI Releases Draft Recommendations For HEA Reauthorization.

Inside Higher Ed  (12/12) reports that the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises ED on accreditation issues, “on Thursday released a draft set of recommendations for changing accreditation during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.” Panel chair Susan Phillips pointed out that the recommendations are not a final draft, and that “the panel would continue working on the recommendations with the goal of producing a more final product during its next meeting in June.” Among the recommendations are replacing regional accreditation agencies with national ones, and allowing “alternative accrediting organizations.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (12/15) contrasts the recommendations with a more “modest set of proposals” the panel released in 2012, noting that the panel “is discussing amending those recommendations with a set of far-reaching proposals that would change both the accreditation process and the role of the panel itself.”

Senator Durbin Claims He Wanted Funding Cut for Corinthian.

BuzzFeed  (12/15, Hensley-Clancy) reports that Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) claims he “begged” the US Department of Education not to “channel 370 million taxpayer dollars into Corinthian [Colleges] even after it was clear it was failing.” The Department temporarily cut off the school’s financial aid in June, but returned access once the school said it was close to bankruptcy. Senator Durbin and other Democrats have called on the Department to forgive the loans of students who attended the for-profit university, though the Department of Education has resisted that idea. Senator Durbin noted that the Republican control of Congress next year may make regulation of the for-profit college industry more difficult.

For-Profit College Offers Associate Degrees Through Charter Schools.

NPR  (12/14, Kamenetz) reports for-profit college ITT Technical Institute sought to offer two-year associate degrees in network systems administration or software development to high school students in five cities through its Early Career Academy charter schools. Programs in Indianapolis, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Houston were all delayed due to governance issues, though the Troy, Michigan program is operating with 40 students and four faculty. The programs are framed as “the first time a proprietary college has sought to get into the charter school business,” marking a cost-lowering experiment in post-secondary access. The piece goes on to describe for-profit charter school operation and various business models.

#ASEEYoADiversity One-minute video – Freeman Hrabowski: “We need to change the culture. We assume most people wont make it in STEM.”

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The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

Research and Development

US Navy Working On Robotic Fish For Surveillance.

The website TweakTown  (12/15, Hatamoto) reports the US Navy is making progress with its Silent NEMO Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) project with the creation of the GhostSwimmer unmanned underwater vehicle, which mimics the swimming motion of regular fish and can operate in water 10 inches to 300 feet deep. Michael Rufo, Boston Engineering director of the Advanced Systems Group program, said, “GhostSwimmer will allow the Navy to have success on more types of missions, while keeping divers and sailors safe.”

In similar coverage, UPI  (12/14, Benson) reports that testing at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story (JEBLC-FS) finished Dec. 11 but more are planned in the future. The article notes that SilentNEMO is a “project aimed at examining the possible uses of underwater drones” and the GhostSwimmer resembles a large fish, weighing almost 100 pounds and measuring about 5 feet long.

US Tech R&D Initiative Gets Timeline.

The Defense News  (12/14, McLeary) reports that Stephen Welby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering, is leading an effort to help bolster US defense technology, looking at “proposals from the defense industry and commercial firms to determine which ideas deserve further scrutiny and, potentially, investment” as part of a project called the Defense Innovation Initiative. The Pentagon has identified five major categories that they are interested in identifying innovative technologies, including “space technology, undersea technology, air dominance and strike technology, air and missile defense technology,” and other technology-driven concepts. Analyst Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners cautions that the government’s insistence on owning the intellectual property for the technology it buys will be a major deterrence to commercial firms.

Industry News

Tetra Tech To Zero In On Its Engineering And Consulting Services.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/15, White) profiles consulting and engineering service firm Tetra Tech, Inc. which landed contracts across the world in the last two months, including in Afghanistan and “southern U.S. states.” Tetra Tech solves “water problems,” according to Chief Executive Dan L. Batrack, who notes that Federal contracts “have picked up lately,” pointing to business won from USAID, the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection agency and other Federal agencies.

GE Hitachi Robot Inspects Underground Pipe At The South Texas Project.

In continuing coverage, Power Engineering  (12/12) reports in a brief item that GE Hitachi’s ultrasonic “Surveyor” robot “successfully inspected a section of underground pipe at the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station” near Bay City “in less than eight hours.” It quotes Richard Rossi, GEH vice president of asset management services, as saying such pipes “are difficult to inspect and sometimes inaccessible. This technology enables an entire length of underground pipe to be inspected without the risk and expense of excavation.”

Penn Energy  (12/12) also carries this story on its website.

NASA, Rockwell Collins To Study Single-Pilot Cockpit Concept.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/14, Ostrower, Pasztor, Subscription Publication) reports that NASA and Rockwell Collins will study whether it is possible with new technology to fly a plane with only one pilot in the cockpit and a copilot on the ground assisting remotely. According to the article, the study could help address a future shortage in airline pilots. The article also notes that while the idea has been talked about for years, NASA’s involvement raises its profile and increases its viability. Parimal Kopardekar of the Ames Research Center, who manages the project, said that even if feasible, a single-pilot cockpit “may be too expensive” to retrofit “and may be too difficult” to regulate unless a plane is built from the outset with the design.

Engineering and Public Policy

Manufacturing Research Gets Earmarks.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/15, Hagerty, Subscription Publication) reports, the budget bill that passed the Senate Saturday contains authorization to spend up to $300 million over 10 years to establish a network of institutes to foster collaboration between companies, universities, and other organizations to develop manufacturing technology. The National Association of Manufacturers has endorsed the plan.

WPost Calls For FAA Action On Drones.

In an editorial, the Washington Post  (12/15) says that the FAA needs to “finally release rules governing commercial drone flights shorn of the absurd requirement that operators must have hours of cockpit time in real planes.” Commercial drone pilots “should have adequate practice on the equipment they are actually using, and they should be up to speed on FAA rules,” but “don’t need to know how to land a Cessna.” Meanwhile, the Post says that the FAA “should also find better ways to keep drones out of sensitive airspace.”

Utility CEOs Discuss Increase In Power Demand Due To Energy Boom.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/12, Smith, Subscription Publication) reports that power demand is increasing due to new and expanding manufacturing plants connected to the U.S. energy boom. Several utility chief executives discussed this increased demand for power, including Entergy’s Leo Denault, American Electric Power’s Nick Akin, and Dominion Resource’s Tom Farrell. Farrell also discussed the extra electricity Dominion is selling to data centers. The EIA predicts that while residential power sales will remain static, commercial and industrial consumption will increase next year.

Bipartisan Group Of Senators Push For More Distributed Wind Power Funding.

The Hill  (12/13, Cama) reported that “a bipartisan group of senators is asking the Energy Department to allocate more funding for small wind energy applications.” The senators “told the Energy Department to dedicate more of its funds through its renewable energy technology program to distributed wind power, in which turbines are located near power users and not in large farms.” The senators wrote, “We believe distributed wind power systems deserve sustained, and increased support.”

Fuel Cells May Be Useful For Carbon Capture.

The New York Times  (12/15, Wald, Subscription Publication) reports that the more engineers experiment, the “more they find unexpected ways to capture carbon dioxide.” One “novel approach” is taking shape in Connecticut by FuelCell Energy, where “engineers say carbon capture could be a cheap byproduct of running a fuel cell.” The Department of Energy “sees potential in the technology, enough to provide a grant of $2.5 million for the experiment.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Toy Gender Dynamics No Longer As Rigid.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/14, Li) reports that construction toy sales have increased over the last several years as demand from girls and parents, with sales rising 22 percent in 2012 to $2 billion, while other toy sales have fallen. Morningstar equity analyst Jaime Kats points out that “If you aren’t catering to the girls’ side you are leaving half the market on the table.” The article then notes that toy makers moved from gender-neutral to gender-based toys in the past because targeted toys sold better. The article also explains that toy makers balance the design of new toys to make them more appealing to both boys and girls, particularly by avoiding “pinking and shrinking.” The article then explains several examples of such toys and how they attempt to appeal to both genders.

Women In STEM Myths Persist.

In the “Healthy Kids” blog on Philly  (12/15, Winston), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention scientific director Flaura Koplin Winston writes that she is encouraged by the growth of science-related toys marketed towards girls, noting that the National Academies’ statistics show only 11 percent of US practicing engineers are women. She details several problems explained in a recent National Science Foundation women in Stem report. These include the STEM culture discouraging girls as they grow up, math and science teachers having selectivity bias against girls in the classroom, the promotion and pay discrepancy for women in the STEM workforce, and that parents need to do more to encourage girls to enter the STEM field.

Female Scientist Figurines Reissued By Lego.

The New York Times  (12/12, Abrams, Subscription Publication) reports that Lego’s Research Institute female scientist set has been reissued after selling out this summer. While drawing praise from consumer groups, the figures have also been criticized for still wearing lipstick and having drawn-in curves.

Computer Coding Event Educates Virginia Students.

The AP  (12/13, Reid) reports that approximately 70 students from Bellevue Elementary, Martin Luther Jr. Middle School, and the Mayor’s Youth Academy attended an “hour of code” event at the Science Museum of Virginia last Tuesday. The event to teach computer programming basics was created last year by Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton encouraged their interest by linking coding to video games, making things, and earning a paycheck. CapTech principal Vinnie Schoenfelder told them that if they are problem solvers, “you get the opportunity to lead, and you get access to leaders early in your career.”

Also in the News

Engineer Pleads Guilty To Defrauding USAID.

Bloomberg News  (12/12, Voreacos) reports Derish Wolff, former CEO of engineering consulting firm Louis Berger Group Inc. pleaded guilty to overbilling and conspiring to defraud the US Agency for International Development during a nearly 20-year period. The company agreed to pay $69.3 million to resolve civil and criminal investigations by the Justice Department into “false, fictitious, and fraudulent overhead rates” that resulted in overbilling from 1999 to 2007.

Friday’s Lead Stories

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