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

Leading the News

DOE Releases Landmark Energy Efficiency Standard.

The Washington Post  (12/18, Mooney) reports that DOE released on Thursday a new standard for commercial air conditioners and furnaces, “describing [it] as the ‘largest energy-saving standard in history’ and one that ‘will save more energy than any other standard issued by the Department to date.’” According to DOE, the new standard will produce $167 billion in cost-savings for businesses over the life of the regulation, and result in the release of 885 million fewer tons of CO2. Said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, “It’s over 10 percent of all the commercial space energy, it covers heating and cooling for roughly half of commercial space.” The standard, continues the Post, was crafted “through what Moniz calls a ‘consensus process’ involving industry, labor groups, and environmentalists,” and lauded by a number of groups on Thursday. Said Terry Johnston, COO of industrial air conditioner maker Lennox International, “They really came out with the most favorable ruling for all parties involved.”

The Hill  (12/18, Henry) reports that DOE “hail[ed] the announcement as one of the largest carbon-reduction measures the agency has ever pushed.” Moniz “said the rule will contribute to American commitments under” the new Paris climate agreement. Said Moniz, “Just days after the Paris agreement to cut global emissions and create a new era of affordable energy, today’s announcement marks the largest energy-saving standard in history and demonstrates that America is leading the effort to reduce energy costs and cut carbon emissions.” Commenting on the standard, the Natural Resources Defense Council “called the rule a ‘promising sign’ for the fight against climate change.” Said NRDC President Rhea Suh, “These groundbreaking standards will yield the greatest single amount of energy savings of any rule ever issued by the Department of Energy.”

The Washington Examiner  (12/18) reports that the White House is “claiming the largest energy savings in history in issuing” the new standards, “one of the first moves by the government to cut carbon emissions after a climate change deal was agreed to last week.” DOE has “landed in court in recent years for moving too fast and aggressively” on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas standards, observes the Examiner, but the new rule “went through extensive negotiation with the energy industry and others before being issued.”

E&E Publishing  (12/17) also reports on this story.

Google Criticizes California’s Proposed Autonomous Car Rules.

CNBC  (12/18, Kharpal) reports online that California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recently proposed rules that would require a licensed driver to be inside an autonomous vehicle “and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.” Chris Urmson, the head of Google’s self-drive division, criticized the proposal, saying that it “could hamper the progress of the technology,” the article adds. According to USA Today  (12/18, della Cava), Urmson said that the proposal is “misguided and threatens to rob key constituents of the benefits of driverless vehicles, including the blind and infirm.”

Business Insider  (12/17, Thompson) reports that the proposed rules prohibit self-driving cars that are not equipped with a “steering wheel or a brake pedal — Google’s cars have neither steering wheels nor pedals.”

Higher Education

Citing Gainful Employment Rules, Le Cordon Bleu Closing US Campuses.

Boston  (12/18) reports that the “highly acclaimed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school” is shuttering all of its 16 US campuses, though “current students will be allowed to finish their degrees.” Boston cites reports indicating that the company blamed increased ED regulation of for-profit schools, including the gainful employment rule.

The New York Daily News  (12/18, Pesce) reports that the schools are owned by the “money-losing” Career Education Corporation, and that the Le Cordon Bleu “brand is famous for teaching” noted chef Julia Child. The piece reports that graduates of the schools in recent years have “accused the school of misleading students about their job prospects after earning an expensive degree.”

Poor Students Face Many Challenges At College.

In an over 3,300 word article, The Hechinger Report  (12/18, Hacker and Marcus) highlights the financial and cultural challenges facing poor students at college and outlines how the current higher education system is increasingly catering to the needs of wealthier students at the expense of poorer ones. Poor students are more likely to work during college than their wealthier peers, some of whom enjoy a luxurious lifestyle while gaining an education. Colleges are giving more financial aid to richer students than in the past because of increased competition for students and financial struggles. The article cites many studies and statistics comparing the college experience of richer and poorer students and contrasts Trinity College and Capital Community College, both located in Hartford, Connecticut as an illustration of the growing divided in higher education. According to ED, the graduation rate for private, elite Trinity is much higher than Capital Community and this is part of a broader national trend where rich students are more likely to graduate and succeed in college than poor students. The overall tone of the article strongly suggests that the higher education system now exacerbates inequality, rather than serving as a stepping stone to the middle class as it did in the past.

Congress Approves Extending Perkins Loan Program For Two Years.

The AP  (12/18, Kerr) reports Congress has approved a measure that would extend the Perkins Loan program for two years after it expired earlier this year.

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Research and Development

Penn State Researchers Discover New Material For Large Electronic Displays.

Controlled Environments Magazine  (12/17, Mills) reports a group of materials scientists and engineers at Penn State have discovered a new material that is “both highly transparent and electrically conductive.” The material, made out of correlated metals, could be used to make large screen displays that are cheaper and more energy efficient than those currently available. Most electronic displays use indium tin oxide as a transparent conductor, but the cost of that material has increased greatly in the last decade because of surging demand.

Air Force To Demonstrate Laser-Armed Fighter Jets By 2020.

CNN  (12/18, Patterson, Brinkley) reports that aerial warfare may be facing a major shift, noting that the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) “said it’s on track to demonstrate a working laser weapon on a fighter jet by 2020.” Kelly Hammett, chief engineer for the directed energy directorate at AFRL, called the development of the weapons “a national tipping point,” adding, “We see the technology evolving and maturing to the stage where it really can be used.” While CNN notes that arming large aircraft with laser weapons “has been possible for years,” Hammett said that the more complex is to develop laser weapons that are compact, precise and powerful enough to be used by fighter jets at supersonic speeds. The article further highlights recent technology developments, and describes how laser weapons work.

DOE Announces Largest Energy Efficiency Rule In History.

The Washington Post  (12/18, Mooney) reports that the Energy Department released what it described as the “largest energy-saving standard in history,” saying it “will save more energy than any other standard issued by the Department to date.” The new standard governs commercial air conditioners and furnaces, which “consume a gigantic amount of energy across America.” According to the Department, the new standard “will translate into $167 billion in saved costs for businesses over the life of the standard, as well as 885 million tons fewer carbon dioxide emissions.”

Industry News

Self-Driving Cars’ Strict Adherence To Traffic Laws Causes Some Accidents.

Bloomberg News  (12/18, Naughton) reports that an ironic glitch has emerged in autonomous car design, in that while such cars are meant to “lead to a world without accidents,” they “have racked up a crash rate double that of those with human drivers.” Such cars obey traffic laws “without exception,” leading to a number of accidents at highway onramps. Programmers are now debating whether they should “teach the cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble.”

Columnist Discusses Hurdles Facing Autonomous Vehicle Industry. In commentary for USA Today  (12/17), columnist Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst of market research firm TECHnalysis Research, discusses autonomous vehicle technology. O’Donnell writes that while “we’ll continue to see important improvements” in autonomous vehicles technology, “NHTSA’s five levels of requirements for autonomous driving are going to be very difficult to fulfill in the near term.” He specifically points to “Level 3,” also known as Limited Self-Driving Automation, as requiring an “enormous amount of work.” O’Donnell goes on to discuss some of the “big hurdles” that face the autonomous vehicle industry.

VW Hires Compensation Funds Specialist For Emissions Claims.

The New York Times  (12/18, Ivory, Subscription Publication) reports Volkswagen has hired lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who is “known for his work distributing payouts after 9/11, the BP gulf oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombing,” to oversee a program that will “address claims related” to vehicles affected by VW’s “deceptive” emissions evasion software. Feinberg said he will immediately begin designing an “independent claims process.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Analyses Examine Renewable Tax Credit Extensions In Spending Bill.

The Washington Post  (12/18, Mooney) reports that the renewable tax credit extensions in Wednesday’s budget deal that were traded for the lifting the crude oil export bill “will lead to a world in which the U.S. installs more wind and solar by 2020 than it would have otherwise.” The Post adds that this is “precisely the kind of policy you would expect to see” following the Paris climate talks. However, “at the same time, it seems likely that that growth will still remain incremental, and that wind and solar still remain the minority when it comes to the sources of our power for some time.”

The New York Times  (12/18, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that “even as renewable energy stocks rallied… and advocates and executives cheered, some sectors of the industry appeared to benefit more than others.” While the wind and solar industries “got much of what they wanted, energy specialists said, while some technologies, like fuel cell storage and geothermal, were largely left off the table.” Meanwhile, “biofuels were somewhere in the middle.”

Bloomberg News  (12/17, Martin) reported that the solar energy tax break extended by the bill “will slow growth next by about 24 percent,” which is good news for an industry that was “racing to qualify for the investment tax credit that was set to expire at the end of 2016.” The extension “will ease the pressure, and installations will now be about 9.1 gigawatts, according to a revised forecast from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”

The Financial Times  (12/17, Crooks, Subscription Publication) adds that while not universally welcomed, the general view of the renewable tax credit extensions was strongly positive.

NHTSA To Take “Nimble, Flexible” Approach On Autonomous Vehicle Rules.

Reuters  (12/18, Shepardson) reports on NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind’s recent comments about autonomous vehicles. Rosekind vowed to take a “nimble, flexible” approach to developing new regulations for autonomous cars. Rosekind is also quoted as saying, “We need to figure out how to make sure this is not a patchwork (of state regulations).” While the agency is reviewing California’s rules on self-driving cars, Rosekind indicated that the NHTSA does not yet have a position on the state’s proposal to prohibit these vehicles without a licensed driver in the driver’s seat ready to take over. Reuters mentions that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has requested that NHTSA review its current guidelines on autonomous vehicles to ensure that they do not hamper innovation.

Funding Approved For Corps Of Engineers, MARAD.

Maritime Executive  (12/18) reports that the final version of the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill “includes substantial increases in funding for the US Army Corps of Engineer’s marine navigation programs and nearly meets the Maritime Administration’s requested funding level of $407 million.” The Corps of Engineers Civil Works program is receiving funding of close to $6 billion. “The program’s budget includes $3 billion for waterways operation and maintenance and $1.25 billion for harbor maintenance,” the article reports, adding that “MARAD’s funding includes $210 million allocated for the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which will provide $3.5 million to each of 60 enrolled US-flagged merchant ships for 2016.” Funding for the maritime academies is also included in the bill, along with funds to support small shipyards.

The Hill  (12/18, Bennett) reports that “the House this week unanimously approved” the Strengthening Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Coordination in Our Ports Act of 2015, which directs DHS “to create voluntary cyber guidelines for ports that would increase the reporting of cyber threats and overall exchange of information.” The Hill notes that “the noncontroversial measure moved rapidly by congressional standards.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Office Of Naval Research Sponsors High School Robotics Competition Near Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (12/18, Napsha) reports the Office of Naval Research sponsored a competition for high school robotics teams at Norwin High School near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Teams were required to build remote-controlled underwater vehicles that could navigate an aquatic course set-up in the high school’s swimming pool. The competition is part of the naval office’s SeaPerch program, which promotes STEM careers in high schools students aiming to increase gender and race diversity in STEM fields. Local universities include Carnegie Mellon and Penn State also support the program.

Florida School District Launching Two STEM Magnet Programs For Middle School Students.

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times  (12/18, Solochek) reports Pasco County school district in Florida is launching two new STEM magnet programs for middle school students next year. One program will be located at Centennial Middle School in Dade City, and the other will be at Bayonet Point Middle School, which is currently undergoing major renovations.

New York City College Partnering With Local School To Improve Computer Science Education.

THE Journal  (12/17, Schaffhauser) reports graduate school Cornell Tech in New York City is partnering with Roosevelt Island Public Schools, a K-8 school, to improve technology education. Cornell Tech sponsored a six-week introduced to computer science for the school’s teachers and the two partner schools hosted an event to introduce local families to the program and outline the curriculum.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Entrepreneurs Create New Toys To Teach Kids How To Code.
University Of Michigan Engineering Dean Creates Star Wars-Themed Music Video.
SpaceX Selects 124 Teams For Competition Designing Hyperloop Pods.
Corning, Ford Introduce Gorilla Glass Hybrid For GT Supercar.
Renewable Energy Industry Applauds Federal Budget Deal.
University Of Oklahoma Planned Computer Science Education Week Events.

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