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

Leading the News

Google Rolls Out Wearable Radar Chip, Interactive Fabric At I/O.

A number of media outlets, particularly the tech press, covered the various ideas and products mooted at Google I/O late last week. While much of the coverage reflected the fact that there were no blockbuster announcements, several projects did generate substantive coverage, including a tiny radar chip for wearables and a conductive fiber that can be integrated into clothes.

Frederic Lardinois writes for TechCrunch  (5/31) that Google “used its relatively low-key keynote to announce an evolutionary update to its mobile operating system, a new effort to bring Android to the Internet of Things and a number of new tools for developers to better monetize, advertise and analyze their apps.” The Telegraph (UK)  (5/29, Williams) ran a roundup of the eight “key” announcements from I/O, include Android Pay, a rival for Apple Pay, and Now On Tap, a method of providing more information on “whatever is on the screen” using the home button.

Chris Davies wrote at SlashGear  (5/30) that Google I/O 2015 “ended with many still holding their breath for the big bang,” adding that “even with Android M on the agenda, what we got instead was a more rounded view of how Google sees computing evolving, not only in near-saturated markets like the US and Europe,” but for those net yet online. Similarly, Zach Miners wrote for PC World  (5/29) that the focus was to “propel the Android operating system into new areas others have pioneered, like peer-to-peer payments and smart home appliances.”

Still, a number of new projects received coverage. Gizmodo  (5/29, Newitz) looked at the various develops from Google’s Advance Technologies and Projects Group (ATAP), focusing on “Project Soli,” a radar chip the “size of your thumbnail” that can detect hand gestures. An ATAP engineer showed attendees “how the chip uses everything from doppler to spectrogram readings to see hand motion, size, and velocity – eventually using machine learning to resolve those motions into recognizable commands.” The Wall Street Journal  (5/29, Barr) looked at the radar’s ability, noting that it could interpret a twisting motion between thumb and forefinger to scroll a smartwatch screen.

The New York Times  (5/29, Dougherty) reported that Google’s “Project Jacquard” is a “project that aims to make conductive fabrics that can be weaved into everyday clothes.” The fabrics “could register the user’s touch and transmit information elsewhere, like to a smartphone or tablet computer.” Mashable  (5/29, Pachal) reported that Google has partnered with Levi’s to use the technology. The New York Post  (5/30) also reported on the fabric.

IDG News Service  (5/29, Frank) reported that Google also “targeted people’s growing digital insecurity at its I/O developer conference this week with a number of new products that aim to protect communications and improve authentication.” “Project Vault” was created for those “who need the absolute highest security for their communications.”

Higher Education

Kline Supports Debt Forgiveness For Former Corinthian Students.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (6/1, Sherry) reports that House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline has been silent on the issue of forgiveness of student loan debt for former students of Corinthian Colleges Inc. But now, he has released a statement supporting the ideal. The piece notes that members of Congress, a number of state attorneys general, and advocates are calling on ED to “forgive billions of dollars of federal loans owed by former students of the now defunct Corinthian,” because of “allegations by the Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the company lied to students about job prospects and relied on unseemly recruitment practices.”

Mississippi Set To Launch First Dual Enrollment Program.

The Hechinger Report  (5/30, Skinner) reports Mississippi is set to begin a dual-enrollment program this August at the Golden Triangle Early College High School, which will open on the grounds of East Mississippi Community College. Modeled after North Carolina’s “New Schools” network, the school will enroll 62 students in its first class.

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Research and Development

LANL Researchers Looking To Develop “Battlefield MRI” Device.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (5/29) reports that “engineers and scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are designing a lower-tech, portable ‘battlefield MRI’ that could be deployed to war zones, as well as to poor and developing countries, to diagnose injuries and diseases more easily and at a lower cost.” Some 10 researchers including engineer Al Urbaitis and scientist Per E. Magnelind are “working in a nondescript metal building at the sprawling LANL campus as part of what’s called the SQUID team.” The acronym “stands for superconducting quantum interference device.” While standard MRI machines “use a very high magnetic field to align the protons in water molecules to create magnetic resonance signals,” the LANL team is “working on producing suitable body tissue images using much lower magnetic fields, similar to the Earth’s.” That’s where the “SQUID devices, the most sensitive magnetic field detectors around, come in.”

NASA’s Greased Lightning Plane Designed To Take Off From Anywhere.

The WTKR-TV  Norfolk, VA (5/28, Brown) website interviews David North, an engineer at the Langley Research Center, about NASA’s Greased Lightning plane, which could one day be used “for mapping, research, and much more.” With its ability to take off like a helicopter and the electric motors that power it, North said, “It’s not like any other aircraft I’ve ever seen. … We wanted to create a vehicle that could take off from anywhere in any space. So if you have a 15 x 15 ft. space, you could take off and then transition into airplane like flight.” The article notes that North stated that the plane is “in its testing phase right now.”

Gender Gap In Research May Be Gradually Closing.

The Tyler (TX) Morning Telegraph  (6/1) reports in a 1,100-word article that “historically, women have been underrepresented in STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, particularly in leadership roles” but that gap may be gradually closing. Currently, The Telegraph notes, “overall, women make up 30 percent of research project principal investigators, and only 20 percent of National Institutes of Health research center and small business principal investigators.” To combat this, the “NIH has created programs…that promote advancement of women in research careers within the NIH communities.” The article expands upon the work of some female scientists.

Global Developments

China, India Pushing To Boost Manufacturing Sectors.

Bloomberg News  (5/31) reports that both China and India are pushing programs aimed at improving and advancing their manufacturing industries, suggesting this heralds “a broad shift that could draw the two Asian giants closer economically in the years ahead.” China’s Communist Party has recently launched Made in China 2015, “a 10-year campaign to push the country beyond labor-intensive work into more sophisticated sectors, from robotics to aerospace.” Meanwhile, India’s Make in India campaign is a push for increased foreign investment in manufacturing, potentially leapfrogging the country to “where China is now.”

Industry News

Elon Musk’s Companies Benefiting From Government Subsidies.

The Los Angeles Times  (5/30, Hirsch) reports entrepreneur Elon Musk has “built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space,” and “he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.” According to data compiled by the paper, “Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support.” Among the subsidies mentioned were “$497.5 million in direct grants from the Treasury Department.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Unveils New Ethanol Proposal.

The EPA on Friday unveiled a proposal to reduce the amount of ethanol in gasoline, the AP  (5/30, Jalonick) reports. Although the proposed rule is not expected to “have a major effect on pump prices,” it drew criticism from “farm groups that have pushed to keep high volumes of ethanol in gasoline.” EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe stated: “We believe these proposed volume requirements will provide a strong incentive for continued investment and growth in biofuels.”

The Wall Street Journal  (5/30, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that, in its announcement, officials pointed to two primary challenges the EPA faced when trying to meet ethanol quotas outlined in a 2007 law – the gasoline market’s ability to absorb more biofuels and the development of biofuels made from noncorn products. McCabe said, “We’re balancing two dynamics. Congress’ clear intent to increase renewable fuels over time to address climate change and increase energy security and the real-world circumstances that have slowed progress toward those goals.”

The Washington Post  (5/30, Mooney) reports that the proposed rule is an effort by the EPA “to put itself back on schedule after numerous missed deadlines but still failing to please business interests on both sides affected by the rule.” McCabe said, “We recognize at EPA that the delay in issuing the standards… has led to uncertainty in the marketplace,” adding that the new rule “will help provide the certainty that the marketplace needs to help these [fuels] develop.”

Obama Signs Short-Term Extension For Highway Funding.

The Hill  (5/29, Byrnes) reported that President Obama on Friday signed the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015 that extended highway funding for “several aspects of infrastructure” until the end of July. The article noted that the measure was “criticized” by White House press secretary Josh Earnest earlier in the day, as he called for “Congress to pass a longer-term deal.”

EPA Expected To Target Heavy-Duty Truck Emissions This Week.

According to sources, the EPA “is expected to propose regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty trucks,” the New York Times  (5/31, Kessler, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports. The “hotly debated rules,” which would increase truck fuel economy “to 40 percent by 2027,” are the latest regulations “in a stack of sweeping climate change policy measures on which President Obama hopes to build his environmental legacy.”

GOP Vows To “Rein In” EPA’s Water Rules.

The AP  (6/1, Daly) reports that the Administration says that the EPA’s new water rules “will protect the drinking water of more than 117 million people in the country,” but Republicans disagree and argue “the rule is a massive government overreach that could even subject puddles and ditches to regulation.” As a result, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) is “promising to ‘rein in’ the government through legislation or other means.” The piece then provides an overview of the proposals and the GOP’s objections.

WPost Says Clean Power Plan “Acceptable” But “Not Ideal.” In an editorial, the Washington Post  (6/1) says that a new EIA analysis of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan finds that while it will cut greenhouse emissions “significantly,” it comes “at some cost.” The Post says that the analysis shows that the plan “has merit,” but it is a “second-best policy that the country is stuck with because Congress is too cowardly or unwise to endorse a better one.” The Post says that plan is “acceptable” but “not ideal.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Chesapeake Public Schools Using 3-D Printers.

The Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot  (6/1, Johnson) reports that students in Chesapeake Public Schools in Virginia are leading how to use 3-D printers in CTE classrooms. Chesapeake Public Schools CTE technology education supervisor Anna Helmer said that the use of the devices “benefits our students because it exposes them to a new technology that has limitless uses within the workforce.” The Virginian-Pilot adds that a program called Mechatronics Career Pathway, to start in the fall, will allow students to take courses that will net them a high school diploma and a Career Studies Certificate in Mechatronics from a local college.

New Mexico Governor Lauds STEM Programs.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (5/30, Bush) reported that New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said Friday to 400 teachers from the state that “STEM education is absolutely critical to our vision” for schools. She added that the state is growing spending on STEM programs to recruit and keep teachers for schools with rural and poorer students, including a $5,000 stipend for those that work in more distant locales.

The AP  (5/30, Contreras) added that the Governor’s program represents a 20 percent growth in funding for math and science teachers in rural and poorer communities and that the funding for early childhood programs and public schools will reach more than $2.75 billion for 2015-16. Martinez said that “the future of our state’s economy depends on having an educated workforce that can meet the needs of employers in the years to come.” The move has been “welcomed” by Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera.

Alabama Elementary School Starts Girls Programming Club.

The AP  (6/1, Catoe) reports that Alabama’s Striplin Elementary School has created a Google CS First program for third- and fourth-grade girls under the direction of principal Delsia Malone. Malone noted that to learn how to program effectively, “Google recommends starting at age 9,” and that the girls-only program will soon have a male counterpart. Teacher Constance Keeling, who helped with the club, said she was “blown away by how much they learned.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

Google, Udacity Create Android Developer Nanodegree.
Texas College Prioritizes STEM Education.
NASA’s Greased Lightning Plane Designed To Take Off From Anywhere.
Ford Follows Tesla, Opens Up EV Patents To Competitors.
Pipeline Plan Needs Many North Dakota Landowners Approval.
Illinois District Gets $1.5 Million Grant For STEM Teacher Training.

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