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

Leading the News

Cyber Security Experts Remotely Hack Into Chrysler Vehicle.

Kris Van Cleave reported on the CBS Evening News (7/22, story 9, 2:00, Rose) that in an effort to demonstrate a flaw in Fiat Chrysler’s U-connect computer system, which is “found in an estimated 471,000 cars and trucks,” two cyber security experts “took over a Jeep” being driven by a reporter from “Wired,” which posted a video of the demonstration to its website. Fiat Chrysler “has released a software update to offer improved electronic security.” Van Cleave added that Sen. Ed Markey has “introduced legislation requiring vehicle cyber security and privacy protection.”

A front-page story in the Washington Post  (7/23, A1, Timberg) on the vulnerability to hackers of cars’ onboard computers, reports that NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a speech Tuesday that “federal transportation officials also are working on the problem and have a cybersecurity research team at a car-testing facility in Ohio.” According to prepared remarks, Rosekind said, “The folks at our Vehicle Research and Test Center have figured out how to do some remarkable things with vehicle electronics, in order to prevent others from doing them. … NHTSA not only is aware of these threats, but we’re working to defeat them.”

Higher Education

Alexander Calls For Congress To Support Higher Education Innovation.

The Chattanoogan (TN)  (7/23) reports that Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander said Wednesday that Congress “needs to stop policies that discourage traditional colleges and universities from innovating” in order to improve workforce preparedness. The piece quotes Alexander saying, “Congress needs to help colleges and universities meet the needs of a growing population of today’s students—one that has less time to earn their degree, wants flexibility in scheduling their classes, and needs to start earning an income sooner. And Congress may also need to consider new providers of education that don’t fit the traditional mold.”

Politico  (7/22, Emma) reports in its “Morning Education” blog that the committee held a hearing on the issue on Wednesday, noting that Alexander was expected to focus on how Congress can “help colleges meet students’ changing needs and stop discouraging colleges and universities from innovating” and on whether the federal government should “consider a new definition for the college or university.”

ED College Rating Plan Abandoned In Favor Of Data Tool.

The Los Angeles Times  (7/22, Gordon) continues recent coverage of ED’s decision to abandon its plan to rate US colleges, noting that the original proposal was made by President Obama some two years ago, but “was met with protests and concerns from college leaders who contended that it was misconceived and could unfairly pit schools against each other.” The Administration said that opposition from colleges and Republicans did not lead to the change in plans, citing instead the difficulty of developing “a ratings system that worked well enough to help high school seniors, parents and counselors.” Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said that ED wanted to avoid “a black box that would be hard for consumers to penetrate and understand and that actually would not be an advance on the state-of-the-art.” Moreover, Mitchell said, assigning a college a single score “would belie a lot of complexity students and families need to understand. And it would mask some very big differences among institutions.”

CFPB Orders Discover To Pay $18.5 Million For Student Loan Abuses.

Reuters  (7/22, Stephenson) reports that the CFPB announced on Wednesday that it fined Discover Financial Services’ banking unit $18.5 million in penalties and consumer refunds, alleging the company conducted illegal student loan servicing practices, such as overstating minimum amounts due and taking unfair debt collection actions.

Bloomberg News  (7/22, Lorin) reports that Discover “will refund $16 million to consumers and pay a $2.5 million penalty” as a result of the CFPB order. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement that Discover “created student debt stress for borrowers by inflating their bills and misleading them about important benefits.” He added, “Illegal servicing and debt collection practices add insult to injury for borrowers struggling to pay back their loans.”

The Wall Street Journal  (7/23, Andriotis, Subscription Publication) reports that Discover was also ordered by the CFPB and FDIC in 2012 to pay about $214 million for deceptive sales and marketing of its credit card add-on products and adds that, according to the CFPB, Discover learned about violations to its debt collection practices in 2012 but did not address the problem until many months later.

The Washington Post  (7/23, Douglas-Gabriel), CNN Money  (7/22, Lobosco), USA Today  (7/22, Mccoy), the Huffington Post  (7/22), Forbes  (7/22, McGrath), and Chicago Tribune  (7/22, Yerak) also cover this story.

Study: Recessions Lead To Surge In Engineering, Business Majors.

The Chicago Tribune  (7/22, Briscoe) reports that a recent study by the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago found that students there is a correlation between economic downturns and the number of students pursuing more “pragmatic” studies, with the study noting that a one percent rise in unemployment rate “translates into significant gains in the number of men majoring in engineering (0.6 percent), accounting (0.2 percent) and business (0.1 percent).”

Senate Panel Approves Funding For DC College Tuition Assistance Program.

The Washington Post  (7/23, Chandler) reports that a Senate subcommittee has included language to maintain funding for the DC Tuition Assistance Grant program, a popular program “that many parents are fighting to protect and expand.” The language would match this year’s $30 million funding level.

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Research and Development

Research On How Wildfires Spread Could Improve Firefighter Safety.

Phys  (7/23) reports that a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “reveals new findings about how wildfires actually spread and could have significant impacts on firefighter safety and fuel hazards mitigation.” The research indicates that “flame dynamics that produce and transport convective heat” plea the largest part in determining how fires spread, noting that it had been previously thought that radiation heat played a greater role. Researchers from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering, and the University of Kentucky’s Department of Mechanical Engineering contributed to the study.

NIH-Backed Research Team Creates Wireless Brain Implant With Nanotechnology.

The ExecutiveGov  (7/23) reports a team of neuroscientists at the Washington University and the University of Illinois has created a “remote-controlled wireless implant technology for a brain activity research effort” using nanotechnology manufacturing methods. Dr. James Gnadt, program director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “said the agency supported the implant development project as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative.”

Industry News

Despite Stock Drop, Analysts Remain Upbeat On Apple.

Reaction to the drop in Apple’s stock covers several different themes – the continued optimism about the company’s prospects among analysts, the irrationality of the selloff, and its impact on supplies. Reuters  (7/22, Soreng, Maan) reports that despite the market reaction to Apple’s financials, analysts generally remain upbeat on Apple’s prospects. For example, only one of 16 brokerages that released ratings after the new numbers actually downgraded the stock. Bloomberg News  (7/22, Fahnenstiel) reports that of “the 13 analysts whose notes were examined for this article, only one downgraded their rating.” Chuck Jones writes for Forbes  (7/22) that Cowen’s Apple Analyst, Tim Arcuri, “downgraded Apple this morning from Outperform to Market Perform and dropped his target price from $140 to $130.” He writes that he “dislikes to downgrade stocks off of earnings reports,” but he “believes the company has entered a transition period from pure hardware sales to services creating hardware demand.”

Many tech and business writers also remained positive on Apple. Brian Barrett writes for Wired  (7/22) that whatever the take on Apple’s recent iPhone sales, the device “dominates the premium smartphone space as it seldom has before—and will continue to do so barring extraordinary events.” In a piece for Business Insider  (7/22), Jessica Smith highlights the strength of the iPhone revealed in the Apple’s financials, such as the higher average sales price than almost all previous quarters and the switchover rate from Android. Still, writing for CNBC  (7/22), John Melloy writes, “eight years after its debut, the iPhone is still the only thing that drives Apple’s stock price.”

Apple Suppliers Hit By Stock’s Drop. CNN Money  (7/22, Egan) reports that in the wake of the financials, the iPhone “pain” extends beyond Apple. It is “slamming the iPhone ecosystem, the collection of companies that supply the sophisticated technology powering the devices,” such as Cirrus Logic. Reuters  (7/22) reports that a number of European tech firms that are suppliers to Apple or linked to their products were also hit. The AP  (7/23, Veiga) reports that US stocks fell on Wednesday, weighed down by Apple and Microsoft earnings. Reuters  (7/22) reports that Taiwan stocks fell Wednesday in response to Apple’s weaker revenue forecast and lower-than-expected iPhone shipments.

Apple Cuts Capital Expenditure Plan. Bloomberg News  (7/23, Chan) reports Apple cut $1 billion worth of capital expenditures from its forecast after “iPhone sales and revenue forecast fell short of analyst expectations.” The company will cut spending “on areas including product tooling, data centers and retail facilities” by about eight percent to $12 billion.

Engineering and Public Policy

US Team Wins Wave Energy Modeling Award.

Offshore Wind  (7/22) reports that a team with members from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories has won the Center for Ocean Energy Research’s Hydrodynamic Modeling Competition. The team had to “predict the dynamic motion of a floating body in an irregular wave field using computer-based modeling software.” The Energy Department team beat challengers from MIT, Canada, and international universities.

Shell Receives Conditional Approval To Begin Drilling Off Alaska’s Coast.

The AP  (7/22, Freking, Joling) reports that on Wednesday, the Administration issued a pair of permits to Royal Dutch Shell to “begin limited exploratory oil drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast,” but “with conditions.” Shell “can only drill the top sections of wells because the company doesn’t have critical emergency response equipment on site to cap a well in case of a leak.” Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said that Shell “could submit an amended application for deeper drilling” when the appropriate equipment is available.

The New York Times  (7/23, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that the “capping stack” is currently aboard a vessel, the Fennica, which is heading to Portland, Oregon. If it “can eventually be deployed in the Chukchi Sea, Interior Department officials said, the company may submit an application to drill into the oil wells.” Reuters  (7/22, Gardner) reports that it is likely that the Fennica can reach the drilling site before preliminary drilling progresses sufficiently to require it, expected sometime next month.

The Washington Post  (7/23, Mufson) reports that the decision was “decried” by “environmental groups” who see it “posing a grave risk to the area’s marine life.” The Post says that the permits “are the latest twist in a long-running saga,” that began with Shell paying $2.1 billion for leases in 2008.

Senate Energy Reform Package Introduced.

Reuters  (7/23, Gardner) reports that the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources introduced its version of the energy reform package on Wednesday. The Energy Policy Modernization Act is supported by both Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The Hill  (7/23, Cama) reports that Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon told reporters that the chairwoman wanted a “bill that was bipartisan in nature” to give it “the best chance of passing the full Senate.” However, Dillon also noted that she would not be giving up on the more controversial proposals left out of the bill, like repealing the crude oil export ban. Platts  (7/23, McMahon) reports that the bill “would speed decision-making on liquefied natural gas exports, focus the intent of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and require reviews of how federal rules impact electric system reliability.” Further, the bill empowers the White House Council on Environmental Quality to resolve interagency disputes on hydropower licensing and orders the EIA to establish an office to analyze financial markets. It also has multiple provisions on cybersecurity coordination. Bloomberg News  (7/23, Snyder) notes that the bill’s provisions on the SPR stand in opposition to a separate Senate proposal to sell 101 million barrels of it to fund highway infrastructure improvements.

Additional coverage is available from the Washington (DC) Examiner  (7/22, Hoskinson)

Elementary/Secondary Education

Google Sponsors STEM Education Event In Chicago For Kids.

The Chicago Tribune  (7/22, Elahi) reported Google is bringing its Geek Street Fair to Chicago. The event offers students opportunities to learn about new technologies and STEM careers. Google expects more than 1,500 students between the ages of eight and 14 to attend the event.

Middle School Students Compete In Robotics Competition In Virginia Using Military Technology.

Southern Maryland Online  (7/21) reported teams of middle school students participated in a robotics competition at the Virginia Demonstration Project Summer Academy in King George, Virginia. The competition required students to use robots to complete simulated Navy missions, such as disarming counter-improvised explosive devices. The event allowed students to use technology used by the US military and also learn about related STEM careers.

US Navy Gives $300,000 Grant To Naval Museum To Develop Duplicable STEM Education Program.

The Inside Bay Area (CA)  (7/22, Hegarty) reported the US Navy Office of Naval Research awarded a $300,000 grant to the museum in Alameda, California that houses the decommissioned USS Hornet to develop a STEM education program targeted to K-12 students. The US Naval Academy and the Naval Historical Foundation will help develop the curriculum and hope to use it at other Naval museums across the US.

Middle School Students Attending Robotics Camp At University Of Louisiana.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate  (7/22, Duchmann) reported Louisiana middle school students are attending the week-long “Innovation, Design, and Robotics” program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The program teaches students about coding, design challenges, robotics, and biomimicry.

Raytheon Gives Grant To Virginia School District To Teach Engineering To Elementary School Students.

Leesburg (VA) Today  (7/22) reported Raytheon Company has given a $37,000 grant to Loudoun County public schools in Virginia to teach engineering concepts to elementary school students. The grant paid for 25 Loudoun County teachers to attend an “Engineering is Elementary” workshop to prepare them to teach engineering to their students. The teachers were given a curriculum and materials at the workshop to help them.

Hundreds Of Louisiana Teachers Receive Training To Teach Career And Technical Education Courses.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate  (7/22, Sills) reported 450 Louisiana high school and college teachers attended the week-long Super Summer Institute to receive “training that qualifies them to teach career and technical training courses to high school students.”

Idaho Working To Improve STEM Workforce In State.

The AP  (7/22, Kruesi) reported Idaho’s STEM Action Center had a board meeting on Wednesday to start drafting recommendations to improve Idaho’s STEM workforce. Idaho legislators approved $650,000 to fund the STEM Action Center earlier this year.

Also in the News

Connecticut College Professor Discouraged Teen From Building Gun-Firing UAV.

The AP  (7/23) reports the FAA is investigating after a video of a UAV shooting a hand gun, apparently created by a Connecticut teenager, was posted to YouTube. A spokesperson for Central Connecticut State University, Mark McLaughlin, said “the student mentioned to an engineering professor this summer that he was planning to put a weapon on a” UAV. McLaughlin said the professor “strongly discouraged the student.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

FBI Online Crime Investigators Lured Away By Private Sector.
Biden Makes Case For Free Community College In Denver.
Researchers Want Robots To Play Competitive Soccer By 2050.
Unconventional Resources Technology Conference Held.
Dominion Considers Ways To Reduce Cost Of Offshore Wind Power.
NASA Education Wing Partners With Ohio District.

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