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

Leading the News

GM To Build Compact EV At Michigan Plant.

The announcement by General Motors that it will build a new compact electric car at a Michigan plant generated significant media coverage. The coverage highlights the relatively low price point of the vehicle and its long range between charges.

In a piece picked up from the Detroit Free Press, USA Today  (2/12, Priddle) reports that the company will produce an EV based on the Chevy Bolt concept car “that will be sold in all 50 states and will be built at the Orion (Mich.) Assembly plant.” The announcement was made by GM North America President Alan Batey in the Keynote speech to open the 2015 Chicago Auto Show.

Reuters  (2/13, Popely) reports that GM said it will invest $200 million in the project and that the vehicle is designed to have a range of 200 miles and a sales price of around $30,000 after tax breaks.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/13, Stoll, Subscription Publication) reports that the vehicle will likely go on sale in 2017. However, the Journal says that building an EV in the US is a risk for the company, as demand for them is currently weak and they are expensive to produce.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/11, Fleming) says that only Tesla’s $100,000 Model S currently has a longer range between charges. GM “has not announced a production start date for the Bolt, nor said when Bolts will be available in showrooms,” but company officials “have hinted that factories could be building the EVs next year and Bolts could be rolling to dealers in 2017.”

CBS News  (2/13, Kennedy) reports that Batey said, “The message from consumers about the Bolt EV concept was clear and unequivocal: Build it. We are moving quickly because of its potential to completely shake up the status quo for electric vehicles.”

The AP  (2/12) reports that the Bolt “looks like a cross between a Volkswagen Golf and BMW’s funky electric i3. Designers said it will have SUV-like cargo room and a high seating position, two attributes that have made small SUVs popular in the US.”

Higher Education

Senate Task Force Calls For Easing Of Regulation Of Colleges.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/13, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that a task force set up by the Senate and made up of college presidents and higher education experts is recommending that Congress and ED make oversight of the nation’s colleges and universities simpler and less penetrating, saying that the expenses needed to comply with Federal regulations would be better spend educating students. The Journal quotes ED Assistant Press Secretary Denise Horn saying, “The Department is always interested in finding ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our regulations, as well as any reporting requirements for higher education institutions, that are required as a consequence of the laws passed by Congress. We are reviewing the report’s recommendations and look forward to working with Congress on behalf of the best interests of students and taxpayers.”

The Hechinger Report  (2/13) reports that the panel said that schools “are overburdened by federal regulation, including requirements that they disclose certain consumer information to students and families.” This article points out that the panel “consists entirely of 16 present and past university and college chancellors and presidents and representatives of university associations,” and that its report was drafted by the American Council on Education. The report singles out ED’s gainful employment measurements for criticism, and urges congress to “order a review of the process through which the Education Department issues regulations.”

Driverless Cars Being Developed At Stanford.

NBC News  (2/13, Boyle) reports on driverless cars being developed by the Revs Program at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. According to the article, “the point is not to create Terminator-style robo-racers, but to translate road wisdom into more flexible algorithms for autonomous vehicles.”

ASEE Members Elected to National Academy of Engineering. Mory Gharib (Cal Tech), Jack Hu (University of Michigan), Clayton Radke (UC Berkeley), Vigor Yang (Georgia Tech), and Ajit Yoganathan (Georgia Tech) were elected to the honorific society.

#ASEEYoADiversity. These institutions have model programs for student retention, many focused on minorities and women.

Diversity Committee Newsletter. Read the Winter edition, with updates on the Year of Action.

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Research and Development

New Study Predicts “Megadrought” In Second Half Of Century.

USA Today  (2/13, Rice) reports that a new academic study warned that a “megadrought” could impact the Southwest and Great Plains between 2050 and 2100 if “climate change continues unabated.” Cornell researcher Toby Ault, a co-author of the study, “said megadroughts should be considered a natural hazard on par with earthquakes and hurricanes.” Such an event is “defined as a drought that lasts for decades or longer, such as those that scorched portions of the West in the 12th and 13th centuries.”

The Washington Post  (2/13, Fears) reports that the study was conducted by researchers from NASA, Cornell and Columbia, and warned of “major water shortages and conditions that dry out vegetation, which can lead to monster wildfires in southern Arizona and parts of California.”

Bloomberg News  (2/13, Doom) reports the study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, “is further evidence that human activity is having profound, harmful and long-lasting impacts on the planet, and will continue to threaten the environment even if carbon emissions are significantly curtailed.” Columbia climate scientist Jason Smerdon said, “The bad news is, these past megadroughts – and we don’t use ‘mega-’ lightly – when we compare the characteristics of those to the projections from future models, the future’s worse.”

The AP  (2/13, Borenstein) reports that “megadroughts,” like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, “last for decades instead of just a few years.”

Former NASA Engineer To Take Part In Oklahoma State University’s Research Week.

The AP  (2/12) reports that Oklahoma State University is hosting its 12th annual Research Week next week. Former NASA aerospace engineer Donna Shirley will be a guest speaker, discussing what it is like to be “a female engineer in a male-dominated profession.”

Researchers Convert Solar Energy Into Liquid Fuel.

TIME  (2/13) reports that according to an article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “researchers at Harvard have discovered how to convert solar energy into liquid fuel.” TIME notes that solar energy had been used to convert solar energy “into hydrogen by using photovoltaic cells,” but scientists have now “figured out a way of using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.” The article states that bacterium is then used “to convert the hydrogen, plus carbon dioxide, into the liquid fuel isopropanol.”

Industry News

Internet Company Wants To Be The Lego Of This Generation.

The Huffington Post  (2/13, Stenovec) reports on SAM Labs, a “six-person London-based startup” which “makes a variety of ‘blocks’ – small buttons, lights, buzzers or sensors – which link wirelessly together via your computer.” Using the blocks, people can “connect everyday objects with a network, making their stuff more intelligent and, in theory, more useful.” The company is aiming to be “the LEGO for the Internet generation.”

Local Motors Produces 3D Printed Car

In a brief article accompanying a video, the Business Insider  (2/13) reports on Local Motors efforts to produce a car from parts made exclusively from a 3D printer. The video notes how the automotive industry, including Ford Motor Co., has already used the technology to reduce cost and turnaround time for replacement parts. Although Local Motors engineer James Earle states that the 3D printed car “could cost only about $7,000 to manufacture,” he notes that it is unlikely that 3D printed cars will supplant cars made on the traditional assembly line anytime soon. Earle notes the more likely scenario is that the technology will be used in “a niche market for customized cars.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Upcoming Keystone Veto Could Be The First Of Many.

The AP  (2/12, Lederman) reports that the President Obama’s “intentions to reject the Keystone bill are well known,” but his upcoming veto “nevertheless marks a turning point in Obama’s presidency, as he braces to fend off an onslaught of GOP attempts to reverse actions he has taken.” The AP notes that on Wednesday, the Keystone bill was “passed by the House on Wednesday on a 270-152 vote,” and Republicans have “planned a triumphant signing ceremony at the Capitol on Friday.” But the AP notes that “GOP leaders were expected to wait to send the bill to the White House until after lawmakers return from their recess later this month.” David Hawkings of Roll Call  (2/12, Hawkings) noted that “it’s been four years and four months since the last time a president rejected a bill that landed on his desk.”

TransCanada To Ask State Department To Approve Another Pipeline. The Wall Street Journal  (2/13, Harder, Sider, Subscription Publication) reports that in its earnings reports to be announced today, TransCanada will seek the approval of another pipeline project from the State Department, despite the delays the Keystone XL pipeline has faced. The Upland Pipeline Project would extend from North Dakota to Saskatchewan, crossing the US-Canada border. According to a person with knowledge of the plan, the pipeline is slated to be operational in 2018.

NYTimes Urges Obama To Veto Keystone Bill. The New York Times  (2/13, Subscription Publication) says in an editorial that “not building a pipeline means that more oil — and more carbon dioxide — will be left in the ground. That is the main reason to say no. Another is that, at least right now, this country does not need the oil.” The Times says the “stars seem very much in alignment for a courageous presidential decision that would command worldwide attention and reinforce America’s leadership role in the battle against global warming.”

Xcel Given Approval For Three Solar Projects.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (2/13, Shaffer) reports Minnesota utility regulators yesterday “directed Xcel Energy to go ahead with three large solar projects that will mean a tenfold increase the amount of electricity generated from the sun in Minnesota.” It is expected that the projects will “be online in 2016 to qualify for an expiring 30 percent federal solar power tax credit.” North Star Solar, the largest project, “is a 100-megawatt array planned southeast of North Branch, Minn., by Community Energy, a renewable energy developer based in Radnor, Pa.” Community Energy Solar President Eric Blank said of the project, “If you look at the entire Midwest this is far and away the biggest.”

Professor Calls For Prioritization Of Emissions Reductions.

In a New York Times  (2/13, Hamilton, Subscription Publication) op-ed, public ethics professor Clive Hamilton cites a recent National Research Council report that urges the Federal government to fund geoengineering programs, which cover “a variety of technologies aimed at deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming.” Hamilton makes note of the contradiction of “enthusiasm for geoengineering from some who have attacked the idea of human-caused global warming” and argues that US investment in geoengineering would indicate an ambivalence toward reducing emissions.

Elementary/Secondary Education

South Florida School Hosts Lego Robot Tournament.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel  (2/12) reports “Hollywood’s McNicol Middle Magnet and STEM School was buzzing with activity on a recent Saturday as the Hawks played host to the regional FIRST Lego League Championship for the fourth year in a row.” The event “featured 23 teams and more than 180 kids from Doral to Martin County.”

Girls Catching Up In STEM Credits.

Education Week  (2/13, Sparks) reports “the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics may be starting to turn, according to new 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.” The data showed that “by 12th grade, girls in 2009 were more likely than boys to have earned credit in advanced math and science, including Algebra II, chemistry, biology, and health sciences, though boys are significantly more likely to earn credit in computer science and engineering.” Meanwhile, the continued disparity and “overall performance difference could reflect lower interest in STEM on the part of the female students studied.”

Geekbus Getting Kids Interested In STEM.

KSAT-TV  San Antonio (2/12, Moritz) reports San Antonio students are getting interest in STEM through the Geekbus, a mobile station where students can get “an up-close look at a 3D printer in action and” learn “how the high-tech machines can make anything from toys to prosthetics.” The bus is making stops at schools all over Texas.

Gaming Can Give Troubled Teens An Interest In Learning.

Forbes  (2/11, Morrison) reports “students who get turned off by education can struggle to see the point of schools, but one project is showing how gaming can give troubled teens another shot at learning.” Kuato, a game developer, “has already won plaudits for its work in schools, where students have to learn basic code to take a robot through an adventure/shoot-em-up game.” So far, “the game has proved a hit in schools from Eton to the East End of London, and has been used in more than one million coding sessions in schools across the world, the equivalent of 60,000 hours of teaching code.”

Also in the News

Hamilton: Geo-engineering A “Dangerous Approach.”

In a New York Times  (2/13, Hamilton, Subscription Publication) op-ed, Charles Sturt University professor Clive Hamilton says “bringing geo-engineering from the fringes of the climate debate into the mainstream” has the impact of “legitimiz[ing] a dangerous approach.”

The New York Times  (2/12) “Dot Earth Blog” reports the National Academy of Sciences report on geo-engineering shows the “idea” is “wildly, utterly, howlingly barking mad.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Despite Veto Threat, Congress Sends Obama A Keystone Pipeline Bill.
Washington U Researcher Wins $1.7 Million Grant For Spinal Cord Study.
Researchers Discover Four Stars Forming From The Same Gas Filament.
New Device Would Allow Hearing With The Tongue.
DOE Wants Updated Efficiency Standards For Natural Gas-Powered Furnaces.
Battle Over Transportation Bill Heating Up.
Lifting Patients Becoming A Danger To Nurses.

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