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

Leading the News

Obama Invites Muslim Student Detained Over Homemade Clock To White House.

President Obama is receiving glowing media coverage for praising and inviting 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed to the White House. In developments that sparked a torrent of outrage on social media, Ahmed was handcuffed by police and suspended from his suburban Dallas high school over fears that a homemade clock he had brought to school was a bomb. The President weighed in  on Twitter – where Ahmed’s story was the top trending topic nationally during the day. The controversy was also featured on all three network newscasts and on countless print and online outlets.

NBC Nightly News (9/16, story 3, 2:05, Holt) reported last night, “‘If you see something, say something’ – That is the mantra in this age of terror. But a troubling story out of Texas has many wondering whether the lines of vigilance and caution weren’t somehow terribly twisting, leaving a Muslim high school student handcuffed and humiliated over an innocent science project.” The Los Angeles Times  (9/17, Muskal) reports that the clock that led to the arrest “is basically a circuit board connected to a power supply and a digital display,” while the Dallas Morning News  (9/17, Selk) notes that police chief Larry Boyd “said the device…was ‘certainly suspicious in nature.’” However, he added, “the follow-up investigation revealed” it “was a homemade experiment, and there’s no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm.” Reuters  (9/17, Herskovitz) quotes police spokesman James McLellan as saying of Ahmed, “He didn’t explain properly what it was and they felt compelled to arrest him.”

As ABC World News (9/16, story 3, 1:50, Muir) reported, Mohamed had built it “to impress his science teacher,” but it “spooked his English teacher,” who in turn “told the principal, who told police.” According to the Washington Times  (9/17, Chasmar), Ahmed was then “handcuffed and taken to a juvenile detention center to be fingerprinted.”

Moreover, the AP  (9/17) reports, “the boy’s family says Ahmed was suspended for three days,” though “school district spokeswoman Lesley Weaver declined to confirm the suspension, citing privacy laws.” Vice  (9/17) quoted Weaver as saying, “We were doing everything with an abundance of caution to protect all of our students in Irving.” In fact, the CBS Evening News (9/16, lead story, 2:35, Strassman) reported in its lead story that Ahmed said in an interview that “neither police nor school officials have apologized.”

McClatchy  (9/17, Recio) said Obama “weighed in…as part of the rising outrage over the arrest.” On its website, NPR  (9/16, Chappell) indicated that the tweet from the President read, “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.” MTV  (9/17, Paoletta) titled its online account of Obama’s tweet “President Obama Just Gave Islamophobia The Middle Finger In The Most Diplomatic Way Possible.”

The Christian Science Monitor  (9/17, Gass) reported that Ahmed has now “been invited to visit NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (his ‘dream school’), and the White House – a personal invitation from…Obama.”

Higher Education

Comcast Announces Pilot To Give Internet To Low-Income Illinois CC Students.

The Chicago Tribune  (9/16) reports that Comcast announced on Wednesday that it is “expanding its low-cost broadband initiative, Internet Essentials, to include qualified community college students in Illinois.” The program will give “$9.95 per month high-speed Internet service to more than 90,000 low-income community college students across the state.” The current program “provides discounted broadband service to families of K-12 students who are eligible for the federally subsidized school lunch program.”

Online Technology Education Startup Udacity Wants To Bring Tech Skills To Everyone.

The New York Times  (9/17, Manjoo, Subscription Publication) reports Udacity, an online teaching start-up, believes that “after years of trial and error, it has hit on a model of vocational training that can be scaled up to teach millions of people technical skills.” Last year, Udacity introduced the “nanodegree”, a credential earned by completing an online course and recognized by many technology companies that helped to sponsor and develop the course. The article shares the story of Kelly Marchisio who earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, and then learned how to program after getting hired by Google as a customer service representative. Marchisio is now working as an engineer at Google. Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun believes that small online courses are the future of career education, “To keep pace with change, your education has to be done throughout your life.”

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Research and Development

Orion’s First Manned Flight Pushed Back For 2023.

The AP  (9/17, Dunn) reports that NASA officials stated Wednesday that there was not “much confidence” that the Orion capsule could launch in 2021 on its first manned flight because of the “history of running into unexpected problems in new programs.” The article notes officials will still aim for 2021, but the official launch date has been reset to 2023. While there are no current hardware or software problems causing the delay, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said, “We have to account for those because we’ve got a lot of runway in front of us here before we get there, and those things could pop up.”

The Wall Street Journal  (9/17, Pasztor, Subscription Publication) similarly notes that financial and engineering issues could necessitate a delay, although that is not guaranteed. William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, said that NASA is intentionally acting “somewhat conservative.” After the announcement, Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, blamed the delay on the Obama Administration’s budget cuts.

The Washington Post  (9/16, Davenport) “The Switch” blog reports that Lightfoot said that NASA needed to assume a delay to be “prepared for unforeseen future hurdles. We’re committing to this funding and readiness level to stay on the journey we’ve outlined to get to Mars.” According to Florida Today  (9/17, Dean), Gerstenmaier added, “I wouldn’t get too worried about these schedules. … We can get to where we can have a very functional capability that’s affordable, and we can continue to fly these exploration missions that will ultimately get us ready to go to Mars.” Even with the delay, Gerstenmaier said, “You can kind of fast forward a little bit, and with my operations background, I can see the future of how we can really use this hardware in pretty amazing ways.”

Mark Whittington at the Examiner  (9/16) blog, like Smith, said that the delay was caused by the Administration being “simply unwilling to provide enough funding to meet the 2021 date.” Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings  (9/16) posted a tweet where he was critical of the amount spent on the project.

Also covering the story are the CBS News  (9/16, Harwood) website, BBC News  (9/17, Amos), Popular Mechanics  (9/16, Wenz), Space Policy Online  (9/17, Smith), Spaceflight Now  (9/16, Clark), Reuters  (9/16, Klotz), SPACE  (9/16, Wall), Space News  (9/16, Foust, Subscription Publication), Motherboard  (9/16, Rogers), Wired UK  (9/17, Rundle), Inverse  (9/16, Tayag), RT  (9/17), and NASA Space Flight  (9/16, Bergin).

NSF Releases $3.2 Million To Develop Gigabit Technology.

The Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press  (9/16) reports, “The National Science Foundation has designated part of a $3.2 million grant to help the Mozilla Foundation” expand its “gigabit technology work in Chattanooga, Kansas City, and three yet-to-be-named cities.” The project started with a 2012 hackathon “designed to explore ways to take advantage of the city’s gigabit speeds, which are about 250 times faster than regular Internet.” The funding will be used “to build apps, improve education efforts and pursue workforce development.”

Industry News

At Frankfurt, Automakers Emphasize Tech Developments To Stave Off Silicon Valley.

In a feature on the Frankfurt International Motor Show, the AP  (9/17, McHugh) characterizes the environment as impacted by “a sense of impending disruption” from the tech industry, which could “lead to everything from real-time navigating around a slippery stretch of road, to eliminating the need for a home garage.” The news outlet implies companies like Google and Apple are not yet direct competitors, but are prompting automaker innovations to ensure they don’t lose competitive advantage. Among quoted executives, Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche emphasized a focus on keeping customer data safe, in part justifying Daimler, Audi, and BMW’s purchase of Nokia Here. The AP cites a McKinsey survey which found 37% of car customers would switch car brands for “better connected services,” up from 20% in 2014. Patrick Brady, Google engineering director for Android Auto, tells the AP, “We are partnering in so many different ways but there are other places where we are competing, and I think that’s healthy.”

Ghosn: Tech Industry Needs Automaker Talent For Autonomous Cars.

Reuters  (9/16) quotes Renault-Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn on the topic of engineering self-driving cars and the need for talent that already has experience with making vehicles. At a press conference in Frankfurt Wednesday, Ghosn said, “I think when you are talking about autonomous drive, this is not something that you can add to the car. That is one of the reasons you are seeing the outsiders massively hiring engineers from our industry. Why? Because they need to understand more the product in order to make the transformation they think they can make.” Reuters notes Google named former Hyundai Motors America chief John Krafcik as head of its self-driving car project earlier this week.

Joint Venture To Supply Mechanical Engineering Services To Goddard.

GovCon Wire  (9/16, Forrester) reports that a joint venture between ASRC Federal and ATA Aerospace will supply “mechanical engineering and associated services” to the Goddard Space Flight Center under a contract which “covers spaceflight and ground system hardware and software design, development, production, integration, testing and verification, as well as technology development and validation for Goddard’s applied engineering and technology directorate.”

Ingenicomm Wins NASA’s PIKES Contract. The Washington Exec  (9/16, Thompson) reports that last week, NASA announced that Ingenicomm won NASA’s Programmatic and Institutional Knowledge Exchange Services (PIKES) contract “to provide service, material and personnel needed in all aspects of managing events such as; workshops, agency meetings, peer reviews, etcetera.” Accordion to the article, the company will open a new facility at the Goddard Space Center to support the work.

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Administrator McCarthy Grilled On Gold King Mine Spill.

The E&E Daily  (9/16, Subscription Publication) reports that “Republican leaders on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plan a deep dive this morning into U.S. EPA’s role in a mine spill last month.” According to the article, “a top EPW Committee aide said lawmakers will likely ask ‘why they went ahead with the work at the Gold King mine without doing any detailed engineering work.’” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is scheduled to testify before the committee.

The Greenwire  (9/16, Subscription Publication) reports that McCarthy said “her agency takes full responsibility for last month’s abandoned mine spill and defended response efforts amid tough questioning from senators this morning.” McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “EPA has taken responsibility to make sure we clean it up appropriately.” She said the Animas and San Juan rivers “have returned to pre-event conditions.”

The AP  (9/17, Daly) reports that McCarthy “dismissed complaints Wednesday by Republican lawmakers that her agency downplayed the seriousness of a toxic mine spill that fouled rivers in three Western states.” McCarthy called the spill “tragic and unfortunate” but added that the EPA, as the AP puts it, “has taken responsibility to ensure that 3 million gallons of rust-colored sludge released into Colorado’s Animas River is cleaned up.”

Additional coverage was provided by The Hill  (9/17, Cama, Henry), The Hill  (9/17, Cama), the Farmington (NM) Daily Times  (9/17), the Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune  (9/17, Daly), the Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution  (9/17), the Houston (TX) Chronicle  (9/17), US News & World Report  (9/16), the Washington (DC) Post  (9/17, Matthew Daly |, Ap), the Quincy (IL) Herald-Whig  (9/17), the State College (PA) Centre Daily Times  (9/16), the Washington (DC) Times  (9/17, Shastry), the Denver (CO) Post  (9/17, Matthews), the Durango (CO) Herald  (9/15), the Durango (CO) Herald  (9/16), Colorado Public Radio  (9/17), C-SPAN  (9/17), the Daily Caller  (9/17, Bastasch), The Week  (9/17), Yahoo! News  (9/17, Daly, Press), and KCNC-TV Denver (CO)  Denver (9/16).

Elementary/Secondary Education

JPL Engineers Help Mentor Robotics Teams.

The Glendale (CA) News Press  (9/17, Corrigan) reports on the local “ThunderBots” team, which has been competing for years in the FIRST robotics competition. The article notes the team has “some of the most skilled mentors,” including David Brinza, a project engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Brinza said, “There’s probably a dozen teams that have mentors that are from JPL … NASA has actually provided grants to teams … We tell them that NASA is doing this as an investment in the future, that basically, we’re trying to develop a workforce.”

Microsoft Announces $75 Million Expansion Of Computer Science Education Program For Young People Around The US.

USA Today  (9/16, Guynn) reports Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced a $75 million expansion of their YouthSpark program, which teaches computer science to young people around the country. The program will fund schools and nonprofits who teach computer science. One part of the program is Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, which consists of technology company engineers team-teaching computer science in high schools.

Georgia Working To Improve Schools To Meet Demand For High-Skilled Workers.

In a more than 2,200 word article, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (9/17, Stirgus and Davis) reports on the efforts of Georgia leaders and businesses to improve the state’s education system to better prepare people for high-skilled jobs in the state. The article mentions companies that have left the state or moved jobs elsewhere due to the shortage of high-skilled workers in Georgia as well as other companies that have worked to improve local schools to better staff their businesses. Georgia leaders are working to improve schools to meet predictions that an increasing percentage of jobs in the state will require higher education degrees and certificates.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Biden’s Appearance At Solar Conference Highlights Importance Of Federal Aid.
Obama Says Opposing Views Should Be Voiced On College Campuses.
Development Agency Awards $20 Million To Stony Brook University For Advanced Technology Center.
Giant Robot Will Make Composite Parts For SLS.
Ocean Thermal Demonstration Plant Shows Promise.
Massachusetts Teacher Receives Grant For “Engineering Is Elementary” Curriculum Materials.

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