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


Leading the News

UT Austin Engineers Develop Centimeter-Level GPS Technology.

IEEE Spectrum  (5/11) reports that engineers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed “a small, cheap GPS system for mobile devices that gives centimeter-precision positioning accuracy,” contrasting this with commonly available technology which can have a 10-meter range of accuracy. The technology “could let drones deliver packages to your porch, autonomous vehicles navigate safely, and be used in precision farming.” Current systems with similar accuracy, like that used for Google for self-driving cars, “use fancy, dinner plate-sized antennas that can cost anywhere from $1,000 to over $3,000 with receivers that are even pricier.”

Popular Mechanics  (5/7) reports that the UT Austin engineers “found a way to take antennas that are only slightly higher quality, and then supercharge them with software that can counteract the most common types of interference that screw things up on the phone you’re using now.” The article describes the potential for advances in virtual reality technology, noting that the research team “made a 3D map of a rooftop and then walked around it while wearing” VR devices, and “the GPS was accurate enough to track the exact position of the user’s head.”

Network World  (5/11), Ars Technica  (5/7), the Independent (UK)  (5/5, Sherwin), and Motherboard  (5/11) also cover this story.

Higher Education

ED Announces $60 Million In College Affordability, Accessibility Grants.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (5/11) reports in its “Ticker” blog that ED has announced the second round of its “First in the World” innovation competition, and is seeking applications from colleges for some $60 million in grants. According to an ED statement, the grants will finance “the development and testing of innovative approaches and strategies to improve postsecondary education attainment.”

HBCU Presidents Criticize ED’s Planned College Rating System.

In an op-ed for Alabama Live  (5/11), George T. French Jr., Billy C. Hawkins, Peter E. Millet, and Leslie N. Pollard, the presidents of four HBCUs in Alabama, write about HBCUs’ “track record of enrolling and graduating students from low-income families.” The writers tout statements from President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the important role that HBCUs play in plans to “return the United States to world leadership in college graduates,” but worry that ED’s college rating plan could stymie such efforts. They argue that the plan “lacks the complexity necessary to adequately evaluate our institutions and would ultimately do more harm than good.”

Texas Professor To Work To Address STEM Inequality.

The Humble (TX) Tribune  (5/8) reported that Lone Star College-Kingwood biology professor Dr. Brian Shmaefsky in Texas will use his position as board member for the National Science Teachers Association to boost interest in STEM for students of all backgrounds. Shmaefsky was raised in an impoverished refugee family and works on the NSTA’s STEM equality task force. The group created guidelines for boosting under-represented populations in STEM careers, and the plan will be used by the Lone Star College System after the completion of the project.

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

University of Utah SVP Advocates Interdisciplinary Research.

In an op-ed in the Salt Lake (UT) Tribune  (5/10), University of Utah SVP for Academic Affairs Ruth Watkins argues that conventional academic research “simply doesn’t work for today’s challenges” and that “cluster hiring,” in which professors with overlapping interest are brought together for a single project, can help lead to better results on tackling interdisciplinary topics like the spread of disease or the effects of climate change. She concludes that if universities wish to “lead the drive” to solve world problems, they have to encourage their faculty and students to work with other disciplines.

“Smart Care” Apartment Created By UT Arlington.

The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram  (5/7, Petersen) reported that UT Arlington has created a “smart care” apartment that will track a patient’s activities, balance, gait, and weight to determine if potential problems are found. The floor is the “centerpiece” of the apartment, which also includes a bed that checks pressure points and sleep, a mirror that checks for health problems and a mug that records blood pressure. Christian Care Senior Living Communities hosts the apartment, and CEO Phil Elmore said that it represents “the latest and greatest” and will allow occupants to “remain independent as long as possible.”

KXAS-TV Dallas (5/11) Dallas (5/11)broadcast a report, noting that the apartment is intended “to help senior citizens stay healthy and independent. … every inch of the apartment uses state-of-the-art technology to collect information about the well being about the person inside.” Researchers “will spend the next five years studying how the apartment interacts with residents.”

WFAA-TV  Dallas (5/7) quotes UT Arlington researcher Manfred Huber saying, “A lot of this technology is specifically aimed at being invisible to you.” The piece notes that the Federal government “is investing in the research as the number of older Americans grows,” and reports that Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) “advocated for $600,000 to fund the five year experiment.” KTVT-TV  Dallas (5/7) also covers this story.

Langley Research Center Named A Vertical Flight Heritage Site.

The AP  (5/9) reported that on Friday, the Langley Research Center was designated “a vertical flight heritage” site by the American Helicopter Society International, “the world’s only international society for engineers, scientists and others working on vertical flight technology.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden accepted the award, which will be “prominently displayed” at Langley.

DARPA Produces Steerable Bullet.

Design News  (5/8, Wiltz) reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has released test footage of its Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) system – a bullet that can be directed to a moving target after being fired. The successful test comes six years after the project began and includes optical sighting features, but the agency would not comment further on the technology’s specifics. The article notes that researchers at Sandia National Laboratories developed a similar technology in 2012.

WSSU Receives $2.3 Million Grant To Support Research Initiative.

The Winston-Salem (NC) Journal  (5/11) reported that the National Institutes of Health has awarded Winston-Salem State University Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program a five-year, $2.3 million grant “to prepare undergraduate students in the biomedical and bio-behavioral sciences and help them compete for graduate programs leading to doctorates, medical degrees or a combination of a doctorate and medical degree.”


NSF Grant Awarded To Lone Star College System.

The Montgomery County (TX) Courier  (5/11) reports that the NSF awarded the Lone Star College System a $430,291 grant for the creation of Process Technology workforce training instruction modules. The program is intended to foster safety and efficiency in the energy industry, though the training and an Associate of Applied Science degree will also allow graduates to work in food and beverage processing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and brewing.

Engineering and Public Policy

Transformer Fire Forces Shutdown Of Indian Point Nuclear Plant.

ABC World News (5/10, story 2, 0:25, Muir) reported on a “scare” at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant “just outside New York City.” The “toxic cleanup” is underway after “a transformer caught fire sending dark smoke into the sky and automatically shutting down the plants two reactors. The company says the fire was put out quickly and the reactor is safe, but fluid from that transformer leaked into the Hudson and crews are cleaning it up.”

The CBS Evening News (5/10, story 7, 0:20, Glor) reported, “Parts of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant outside New York City are still off line tonight” after the fire. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) “says emergency crews are on the water trying to contain the damage. Officials say the nuclear reactor itself is safe and stable.”

Rep. Cresent Hardy: Discussion Needed On Yucca Mountain.

The Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal  (5/10, Tetreault) reports that Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV) said in an interview that there needs to be a conversation about the political approach to the Yucca Mountain repository. Hardy published an opinion piece in the Review-Journal in March saying as much, but has only been approached by one other congressman on the issue in the two months since. However, Hardy says that he does not necessarily support the project, but believes that a discussion is needed in the face of mounting pressure from the rest of the country.

Indiana Regulators Reject Duke Energy, Indiana Michigan Power Rate Hike Requests.

The AP  (5/11) reports the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on Friday rejected Duke Energy’s rate hike request “sought to pass on nearly $2 billion to ratepayers for the costs of a planned electrical grid upgrade.” The regulators also denied a similar request by Indiana Michigan Power. Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler called the two rulings “significant victories for consumers.”

Utilities Face Growing Challenge From Residential Solar Power.

TIME  (5/8, Barone) reports demand for rooftop solar panels “is heating up: A record 187,000 US homeowners installed solar panels in 2014,” and Elon Musk recently announced Tesla “would begin manufacturing batteries for homes, which could expand the appeal” by permitting solar electricity storage. However, utilities fear distributed generation will undercut maintenance of the centralized transmission grid, leaving a “dwindling numbers of nonsolar customers could be left to bear the costs of maintaining the grid.” Utilities say having to purchase unused power from solar customers at retail rates, or net metering, they “lose out,” and they have “tried, with some success, to roll back net-metering policies in many of the 44 states that allow the practice.”

Senate Bill Would Improve Access To ‘Waste Heat To Power’ Technologies.

The AP  (5/11) reports that New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has introduced a bill that “addresses regulatory barriers that hamper the use of heat recovery technologies known as combined heat and power and waste heat to power.” Shaheen said, “Deploying these efficient energy production technologies will save money, create jobs and reduce pollution.”

New Indiana Energy Efficiency Plan Criticized.

The AP  (5/11, Schroeder) reports that Republican Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday “signed Indiana’s plan to reduce energy usage, which will allow major utility companies to develop their own energy-efficiency programs and charge customers to implement them.” The move has been “largely criticized by opponents and environmentalists, who question whether utilities, which sell electricity, should be in charge of programs that reduce their own sales,” the AP reports. State Sen. Jim Merritt suggested that “lawmakers will probably need to revise the new law in as little as three years to further adapt to federal requirements.” Rebecca Stanfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the plan does not set targets or cost-effectiveness and “pits utilities against their customers.” The AP reports that a “provision in the law allows utilities to charge customers for ‘lost revenue,’” when consumers opt for more efficient options and no limit is placed on recoverable revenue. Stanfield said, “It’s hard to imagine this resulting in very much savings.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

North Carolina Schools Receive $1 Million Federal Grant.

The Wilmington (NC) Star News  (5/10, DelaCourt) reports that Pender County schools in North Carolina has received over $1 million in Federal funding to add academic support. The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant will span four years and will create after-school programs, tutoring, sports, arts, culture, parental involvement programs, and STEM activities.

Friday’s Lead Stories

FAA Announces New Drone Research Program.
University Of Minnesota Students Win DOE Race To Zero Competition.
GOP Shifting Funding Away From Environmental, Earth Science Research.
Some Companies Are Now Printing And Selling DNA.
NHTSA Demonstrates How Cars Can Be Hacked.
STEM The Best In The Educational Acronym “Love Affair.”

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