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

Leading the News

Big Names Put $1 Billion Behind Open-Source AI.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/11, McMillan, Barr) “Digits” blog is among the media outlets that report on a $1 billion investment by some high-profile Silicon Valley names in keeping the development of artificial intelligence open and immune to profit pressures. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and Y Combinator executives are among those backing the OpenAI Inc. nonprofit research organization. Musk is famously apprehensive about the potential for destructive AI.

AI Could Some Day Adjust Advertising, Based On Human Reactions. MediaPost’s Media Daily News  (12/13, Sullivan) speculates on media applications of AI, such as “advertisements that adapt to human reactions,” altering engagement online and offline as a result. The report adds that it might become possible to adapt a media campaign from one source to “other types of media, such as display and search” by using “software and technology, camera and sensors in desktops and mobile devices.”

Higher Education

Former EDMC Students Criticize Settlement.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (12/12) reports that a number of former students of schools run by for-profit college firm Education Management Corp. are “angry” and are calling for their student loans to be forgiven. The students say “say the company got off cheap in a $95.5 million settlement of a federal lawsuit over allegations of illegal recruiting practices, money that will go to the federal and state coffers but not a dime for former students.” However, they would have to prove that they were defrauded, and Federal “prosecutors say they were unable to find that evidence.” The piece quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “What was found, it was not a misrepresentation to students.”

Student Loan Business Growing Rapidly Amid Increasing Servicing Woes.

Bloomberg News  (12/11, Lorin) reports on the entities who are profiting from the $1.2 trillion federal student loan program, notably, debt servicers, refinance lenders, firms helping students avoid default, and for profit schools. The article points out that the Department of Education is one of country’s largest financial institutions, the fifth largest in the US in assets if it were a bank. The loan program has ballooned in recent years, with the government disbursing $100 billion in education loans annually since 2010, over twice the volume in 2007. Borrowers, however, are increasingly complaining that the system is not working and debt collectors are harassing them. The CFPB has said that the “Education Department is reviewing performance standards for loan servicers ahead of rebidding its contracts next year and plans to introduce a single loan portal for all borrowers.”

Opinion: Colleges Need To Adapt To Nontraditional Students To Regain Enrollment.

In “Grade Point” on The Washington Post  (12/13, Selingo) , regular contributor Jeffrey Selingo argues that if colleges want to regain their past enrollment numbers they will have to adapt their practices to help “nontraditional students” navigate the complex financial aid system successfully in order to afford the increasingly high price of tuition. Selingo argues the enrollment of “well-prepared, well-off students” has peaked, and unless American colleges and universities adapt their enrollment will continue to decline.

Georgia Tech Online Degree Growing Faster Than Expected.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/14, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports the Georgia Institute of Technoloy’s online computer science degree has grown recently so that now 2,789 students are enrolled this semester, but the rapid growth of the program has also caused some problems for the institution partly because the university underestimated how long it would take many students to finish the program. The program recently graduated its first cohort of students and some expect the program will continue to grow.

November Prism Now Online
Cover story: Industrial RX for Healthcare. Systems engineers are out to show they can make medical practice cheaper while improving quality.

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This weekly newsletter keeps our members informed of important developments in Congress and federal agencies affecting engineering education and research.

Research and Development

Scientists Introducing Sense Of Touch To Prosthetics.

NBC News  (12/12, Morris) reported that, according to a study in the current issue of Science magazine, amputees may soon gain a sense of “touch” in prosthetic limbs. Stanford University engineers are developing a stretchable circuit that can sense pressure and convert it into a “digital response the brain recognizes and comparable to that found in a human grip.” US military research agency DARPA announced progress toward the same goal back in September. Program manager Justin Sanchez said, “By wiring a sense of touch from a mechanical hand directly into the brain, this work shows the potential for seamless biotechnological restoration of near-natural function.”

Six-Year-Old Gets 3-D Printed Bionic Hand.

The Houston Chronicle  (12/13, Kenning) reports that University of Louisville graduate students used 3-D printers and open-source designs to create a “bionic” hand for six-year-old Lucas Abraham, who was born without fingers on his right hand. The device uses tendon-like cords to allow the boy to grip when he bends his wrist. The 3-D printing technology made it possible to make the hands for less than $50 in materials, significantly lower than the price of traditional prosthetics. The new prosthetics are available in designs out of movies such as Transformers or Spider-Man “to ensure children want to wear them.”

Global Developments

Google Holds Meetings With UK Government About Driverless Cars.

The Telegraph (UK)  (12/12, Titcomb) reports that Google has held five meetings with representatives of the UK Department of Transportation over the past two years concerning the introduction of driverless cars into the UK. The meetings suggest that Google sees the UK as a “key market for its driverless cars” reportedly undergoing testing in California. Minutes of the meetings, held in London and California, obtained by the Telegraph reveal that Google bosses consider the UK “a leader in developing laws for driverless cars” with Sarah Hunter, head of Google X, saying that the company is “very positive about the non-regulatory approach being taken in the UK [which] places the UK in a good position and could be seen as an example of best practice”.

Google May Develop Key Self-Driving Car Component In-House. Business Insider  (12/12, Oreskovic) discusses reports that Google may seek to develop LIDAR laser sensors, a key component in driverless cars. The report is based on a Google job posting seeking a mechanical engineer “focused on lasers for its self-driving car group” with the job description saying that the engineer will “drive the mechanical design of novel LIDAR systems and take lead on the productization of complex opto-mechanical-electrical systems.” The listing also adds that the applicant will “collaborate with external suppliers” an indication that Google may continue to work with outside vendors such as Velodyne while “taking a bigger role in the design of the system.”

Industry News

NYTimes Analysis: Volkswagen Corporate Culture Enabled Unlawful Behavior.

The New York Times  (12/14, Ewing, Bowley, Subscription Publication) reports Volkswagen’s “cutthroat and insular” corporate culture “is coming under scrutiny as potentially enabling…lawbreaking behavior,” according to experts and current and former employees. One high-level Volkswagen executive described management style as: “Be aggressive at all times.” The company stresses a lack of open criticism or admission of flaws and absolute obedience. The Times suggests that this aggressive corporate culture is in part responsible for the recent emissions fraud scandal.

Engineering and Public Policy

Pumped Water Storage Is Growing Renewable Energy Source.

The Christian Science Monitor  (12/10, Roach) reports that energy systems engineer Vladimir Koritarov at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory stated that over 98 percent of installed storage capacity worldwide is pumped hydropower, the only energy storage “that is mature, reliable, proven, and commercially available to provide large utility scale energy storage.” According to the DOE’s Global Energy Storage Database, 292 pumped storage hydropower facilities worldwide provide 142 gigawatts of power, and an additional 46 projects capable of providing 34 gigawatts are being developed. Public and private chemical battery supporters, construction costs and times, environmental factors all are all obstacles to pumped storage hydropower facility growth, but the technology is still growing in the US and other countries. Center on Global Change at Duke University research scientist Chi-Jen Yang stated that pumped storage hydropower is rapidly growing in China, with 10 to 15 stations under construction, each capable of producing at least one gigawatt.

Moniz: Renewable Energy In US Could Soon See Rapid Growth.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told the CNBC  (12/14) program “On The Money” that even with climate the deal, “We recognize fossil fuels will continue to be a part of the portfolio for quite a long time” but that “almost every country in the world…declared their targets to cut down on (greenhouse gas) emissions, pretty substantially.” In the US, “alternative energy sources, including wind and solar power, currently generate about 10 percent” but Moniz “thinks those figures are poised to ‘far exceed’ those levels soon.” Moniz said, “Wind energy has gone up by several fold just in the last five to six years…and now (wind) provides about 4.5 percent of our electricity. You add that with solar, we’re talking 5 percent.”

Moniz Discuss Role Of Innovation In Climate Change Fight. In an interview with Scientific American  (12/11, Biello) Moniz discussed how innovation will help the world combat climate change. Moniz said, “There is no question that the world now understands that innovation is the core to meet the INDCs (national climate action plans, known as ‘intended nationally determined contributions’). We’ve had a lot of cost reduction and innovation and deployment increases. That virtuous cycle has put us in a pretty good spot to meet a 10 year horizon, maybe a 15 year horizon.”

Murray Named Director Of DOE Office Of Science.

The Tri-City Herald (WA)  (12/14) reports Cherry Murray was “confirmed by the federal Senate on Dec. 10 as director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.” She “will oversee research in the areas of advanced scientific computing, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental sciences, fusion energy sciences, high energy physics, and nuclear physics.” Murray “will have responsibility not only for supporting scientific research, but also for the development, construction, and operation of unique, open-access scientific user facilities.”

Atomic City Underground  (12/11, Munger) reported Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “Dr. Murray will be an outstanding Director of the Office of Science, drawing upon her experience in academia as professor and dean of engineering and applied sciences at one of the country’s leading universities, key R&D leadership roles in industry, and as former head of science and technology at one of the Department’s national laboratories. I thank the Senate for the approving her nomination and look forward to working closely with her as Director.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Students Across Country Continue “Hour Of Code” Initiatives As Part Of Computer Science Education Week.

The Akron (OH) Beacon Journal  (12/14, Davis) reports sixth-grade students at Green Intermediate School in Green, Ohio got the opportunity to try out computer coding during the international “Hour of Code” initiative, which aimed to give as many students as possible around the world a chance to make a computer program. Students at Green created and played a Star Wars-themed game. The AP  (12/14, Whittaker) reports third-grade students at Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, New Jersey also participated in the “Hour of Code” during last week’s national Computer Science Education Week. The New Jersey students programmed a bumble-shaped robot called Beebot to navigate a maze on the floor by pushing buttons on the side of it.

Richmond Scheduled To Open Regional High School Focused On Teaching Computer Programming.

The AP  (12/13, Llovio) reports 13 schools systems in the Richmond, Virginia area have banded together to create a new regional high school focused on teaching students computer programming. The project is currently named “Richmond Regional School for Innovation-CodeRVA” and is scheduled to open next year to better prepare students for careers in computer science. The first class is expected to have about 80 ninth-grade students, and then the school will grow from there.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Ford Announces Plan To Produce 13 New Electric Car Models.
Scalia Comments On Affirmative Action Ignite Criticism.
MIT Researchers Create Computer Program That Learns Like Humans Do.
VW Says Emissions Cheating Began In 2005.
Pumped Water Storage Is Growing Renewable Energy Source.
Future Education Secretary John King Jr. Visits Washington DC High School For Computer Science Education Week.

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