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

Leading the News

FAA Announces New Drone Research Program.

The Washington Post and several trade publications are running coverage of the FAA’s announcement this week of the “Pathfinder Program,” its new drone testing program. For its part, the Washington Post  (5/7, Mcfarland) reports in its “Innovations” blog that the development signals that the FAA and the drone industry may be “finding common ground and moving toward safely integrating drones into U.S. skies.” According to the article, Small UAV Coalition executive director Michael Drobac said that a “spirit of camaraderie and community has developed between” the drone industry and Federal regulators. The Post notes that on Wednesday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that “data gathered at the trials could lead to FAA-approved operations in the next few years.”

Aviation Week  (5/8, Warwick) reports that the FAA’s partnership with CNN, PrecisionHawk and BNSF in this new drone program shows that the agency “will respond when companies bring potential solutions.”

Fierce Mobile IT  (5/8, Huntley) reports that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that the FAA’s new drone program is part of “an effort to achieve the ‘goal of safe, widespread UAS integration.’” Later, the article notes that “Foxx’s words on ‘widespread UAS integration’ are another obvious hint at the FAA’s desire to be a map, rather than a roadblock, to drone use across industries and the nation.”

Also covering the story in a similar manner as the sources above are Homeland Security Today  (5/8, Vicinanzo), Upstart Business Journal  (5/8, Lerman), Urgent Communications  (5/8, Jackson), Federal Computer Week  (5/8, Rockwell), and Popular Mechanics  (5/7, Moseman).

Higher Education

University Of Minnesota Students Win DOE Race To Zero Competition.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (5/8, Buchta) reports that a team of students from the University of Minnesota won the Race to Zero competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy. The competition challenges students to design a high-performance home that uses little to zero energy. The house had to be “so energy-efficient it can offset all or most of its annual energy consumption using renewable energy sources.” The competition is intended to support university building programs and inspire design and engineering students to incorporate energy efficiency into their work.

Study: Community College Students Lose Millions in Credits Transferring To UConn.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (5/8, Thomason) reports that students who transfer to the University of Connecticut from community colleges in the state lost an average of 12 credits, almost a semester’s worth, because UConn would not accept them. Taken in aggregate, the losses amount to $3 million. The university said that it plans to respond.

Families Have Difficulty Deciphering Financial Aid Letters.

The Hechinger Report  (5/7, Marcus) reports that students and their parents are having difficulty understanding the letters sent to them by colleges outlining financial aid offers. Especially for first-generation students, lack of clarity between grants and loans or omission of extra costs like textbooks and activity fees can cause families to misjudge the cost of sending a child to college. The article notes that efforts by members of Congress and several executive agencies have fallen short of ensuring that colleges accurately represent the costs of an education to prospective students.

NYTimes “Room For Debate” Feature Explores Student Debt Forgiveness.

A New York Times  (5/7, Subscription Publication) “Room for Debate” feature explores the issues surrounding calls for debt relief for former students of schools run by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc. who say they were fraudulently enticed to take out loans. Stakeholders who submitted essays on the topic include Ben Miller  (5/8, Miller, Subscription Publication) of the New America Foundation, Richard Vedder  (5/7, Vedder, Subscription Publication) of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, law professor Osamudia R. James  (5/7, James, Subscription Publication), Andrew Kelley  (5/8, Kelly, Subscription Publication) of the American Enterprise Institute, and Robyn Smith  (5/8, Smith, Subscription Publication) of the National Consumer Law Center.

ASEE Member Comments on Strategic Doing
President Nick Altiero encourages all member to read and respond to the Board’s “Strategic Doing” beta document. (Member login required.)

ASEE Call for Nominations
Officers to be nominated for society-wide positions are: President-Elect, Vice President Member Affairs, and Chairs of Professional Interest Councils I, IV and V. Deadline is June 1.

ASEE’s Annual Conference
Is right around the corner. Watch a video of high school-aged contest winners we featured at the meeting last year (and will be again this year!).

ASEE Perks
Learn about the broad collection of benefits available to ASEE members.

Research and Development

GOP Shifting Funding Away From Environmental, Earth Science Research.

The Washington Post  (5/7, Kollipara) reports there is a push among Congressional Republicans who “want to shift funding away from environmental and earth science research that can help policymakers assess how to regulate pollution and plan for the effects of climate change.” For example, the House science committee “advanced the America Competes Act, a bill that sets guidelines for how much money the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology can funnel toward various kinds of research.” Democrats are upset because under the proposed bill, which has been renewed twice, “several research offices, including the Department of Energy’s biological and environmental research division, would face funding cuts compared with what the White House is seeking.” Of the bill, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “This is mystifying given the Committee’s call for science-based regulations.”

Republicans Target NASA Program Which Is ‘Fundamental’ To Research Not Related To Climate Change. The National Journal  (5/8, Plautz, Subscription Publication) reports that for congressional Republicans, NASA’s Earth science program is “are just another example of an administration wasting money on climate-change research.” Former NASA scientist Waleed Abdalati said that programs like the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment are part of other valuable research beyond climate change and that it is “not something any other agency can do” and urged lawmakers to reconsider cutting a “fundamental element of the NASA mission.”

New Technology To Increase Satellite Quality.

The Boston (MA) Globe  (5/6, Christian) reports that new ion propulsion technology developed by a startup company promises to make satellites more durable and easier to maneuver. The development, by Accion Systems, began as a PhD research project at MIT. The company is now in talks with several large corporations about integrating its technology into existing space ventures.

Northwestern PhD Student Helps Develop New Cancer Detection Method, Will Present at TEDx Event.

The Chicago (IL) Tribune  (5/6, Macarthur) reports that a PhD at Northwestern University will present a new method of detecting cancer after surgery at a TEDx Talk on Saturday. Brian Aguado is an advisee of Professor Lonnie Shea, who is developing a method of implanting a “bait” structure to attract immune cells to an area, signaling the possible development of a tumor. Aguado says that the team is hopeful that trials can begin “within the next five years.”

Industry News

Some Companies Are Now Printing And Selling DNA.

The NPR  (5/7, Stein) “Shots” blog reports that some companies are now printing and selling DNA. “This trend…is making particular stretches of DNA much cheaper and easier to obtain than ever before.” That “excites many scientists who are keen to use these tailored strings of genetic instructions to do all sorts of things, ranging from finding new medical treatments to genetically engineering better crops.” However, “some people who are keeping tabs on the trend” are concerned about the “possible uses of the technology.”

GM Falling Short On Electric Vehicle Goals, Reduces Operations’ Carbon Footprint.

The Detroit Free Press  (5/8, Gardner) reports that General Motors “declared that the auto industry’s future is electric just as Americans’ rekindled demand for pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers are driving the bulk of the automaker’s profits.” GM expects to fall short of its goal of having 500,000 vehicles with some form of electrified powertrain on US roads by 2017, and the Free Press reports that analysts believe that although “none of the electrified models are making money,” they are essential to GM’s portfolio if it “is to comply with federal fuel economy standards that require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon across all models sold in the US by 2025.” The Free Press reports that GM has reduced facilities waste, increased its use of renewable energy, stopped burning coal at its facilities, and reduced water use.

Engineering and Public Policy

NHTSA Demonstrates How Cars Can Be Hacked.

Consumer Reports  (5/7, Travers) reports a demonstration from NHTSA Electronics Project Engineer Frank Barickman on how computer engineers are able to perform “hacks” including manipulation of fans, windows, lights, horns, locks, brakes, steering, and engines, while cars are in motion because of their “intimate knowledge of the car’s software coding, unlimited access to the car, and a hard-wired connection to the car’s control center.” The article notes that Barickman says he is unaware of actual hacks that don’t involve physical access to a car and that the NHTSA is using this information to determine how cars are vulnerable to hacks. Consumer Reports gives some tips to prevent violations of consumer data privacy by hackers.

Additional coverage: KOMO-TV  Seattle (5/7), WINK-TV  Fort Myers, FL (5/7).

Private Industries Hope FAA’s UAV Regulations More Lax Than Anticipated.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (5/7, Green) reports that private industries are hoping that upcoming FAA regulations on drone technology for commercial use will be more lax than previously anticipated. The Sentinel reports that the FAA is committed to a “staged implementation” of new UAV regulations, according to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta at this week’s Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Unmanned Systems conference, though it has “granted many exemptions” for private companies investing in and developing the technology.

News Media UAV-Use Encouraged, But Still Requires FAA Approval. The AP  (5/8, Ho) notes that while at least two companies have been approved to use UAVs for the primary purpose of gathering news, the FAA still has “strict restrictions on drone operations.” The AP adds that journalistic “bread and butter” cannot currently be fulfilled by UAVs because of the flight preapproval process, which would make reporting on unforeseen events almost impossible.

Southern Company To Use UAVs To Inspect Power Lines. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (5/8, Seward) reports that Southern Company “will begin researching ways drones might be used to inspect thousands of miles of power lines,” having “received Federal Aviation Administration clearance to pilot unmanned aerial systems for business purposes.” According to the article, “Southern said drones could help provide more detailed assessments of storm damage,” and “Chief Operating Officer Kimberly Greene said the quicker assessment could lead to faster power restoration.” In addition, “The company said drones could also improve routine inspections, and do so more safely and cost-effectively.” The article adds that Southern “said its initial drone research will be conducted at Georgia Power’s Klondike Training Facility in Lithonia.”

Moniz To Speak At Wind Energy Conference.

The E&E News PM  (5/8) reports Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will speak at the American Wind Energy Association’s wind industry conference, the association said yesterday. The Energy Secretary’s “appearance at AWEA’s conference, May 18-21 in Orlando, Fla., will be the first for a Department of Energy chief.” It is expected that Moniz will “focus on DOE’s Wind Vision program, which recently issued a report showcasing how domestic wind energy production could jump to 35 percent of overall domestic power generation by 2050.”

Energy Secretary Lowers Uranium Transfer Rates.

The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico  (5/8, Guillén) reports Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz “has signed a new secretarial determination that lowers the rates for uranium transfers to contractors in exchange for clean-up work or down-blending.” Some Republican legislators “have been critical of Moniz’s May 2014 determination that allowed DOE to transfer up to 2,705 metric tons of natural uranium annually.” The Energy Secretary “notes that the new levels don’t mean he was wrong when he set the transfer rates last year, but that after ‘balancing’ DOE goals and reviewing public comments, he has decided that the new lower rates ‘are appropriate in the near term.’” Sen. John Barrasso still “is not totally satisfied with the new levels.”

Congress Urged To Support Clean Power Plan.

In an op-ed in The Hill  (5/8, Cantor) Corey Cantor of the Clean Energy Leadership Institute writes that “instead of working to destabilize and nullify” the Clean Power Plan, “Congress should embrace the opportunity and help states prepare.” Cantor writes that the plan encourages innovation by allowing states flexibility in meeting carbon targets and that most Americans support government action on climate change. Cantor adds that states have the opportunity to create green jobs and the country has the opportunity to “re-claim its mantel of climate leadership on the international stage.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

STEM The Best In The Educational Acronym “Love Affair.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (5/8, Adler) reports in a whimsical post that in the education world’s “love affair” with acronyms, STEM was a “match made in heaven.” The NSF acronym grew after the US decided it “desperately” needs more math and science education and was popular in a way its “clunky predecessor” SMET never was. The article concludes that “time will tell” if the acronym will result in “positive results” for students.

Illinois School Opens New Science Lab.

The Chicago Tribune  (5/7, Pollard) reports Elmwood Park High School in Illinois opened its science lab to the public Tuesday. The $9 million, 18,000 square-foot space has two levels, six labs, and a large amphitheater-style room. Superintendent Kevin Anderson said the labs will grow the science curriculum, and more students have enrolled in science classes.

African-Americans Remain Underrepresented In STEM.

US News & World Report  (5/8, Bidwell) reports that African-American men are still “one of the most underrepresented demographics” in STEM even as the field is “still largely dominated by men.” The number of black men earning science and engineering doctorates has “stayed essentially flat” in absolute numbers between 2003 and 2013, as have bachelors’ degrees figures. Roadblocks include a dearth of resources, role models, and “relatability,” as well as “systematic problems of perception and low expectations.” National Society of Black Engineers executive director Karl Reid said that the lack of black men in STEM is “a byproduct of a failing system for African Americans in the overall school system.” University of Maryland–College Park dean of the school of engineering Darryll Pines added that the deepest problems are, in the words of the paper, “a sense of hopelessness among certain communities” and a feeling of “not being treated equitably.”

New York City To Offer STEM Summer Classes.

The New York Daily News  (5/8, Colangelo) reports that around New York City 1,200 students will be allowed to take part in the SUMMER STEM 2015 program that will feature “cutting-edge” summer classes. City schools chief Carmen Fariña said Thursday that summer learning is “crucial for staving off learning loss and preparing students for their next school year.” The program will cost the city $2 million, with Microsoft adding $500,000 in grants. The Curriculum was created in conjunction with the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Applications will be made available in mid-May.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Asian Americans Well Represented In Tech Sector, But Not At Executive Levels.
Study: College Majors Lead To Varying Earnings Prospects.
Nikola Labs To Debut iPhone Case With Recharging Function.
California Issues First Mandatory Water Restrictions.
Arizona Students Use Integrated Technology In Building Design Lesson.

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