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

Leading the News

SpaceX, Two Other Firms To Build Hyperloop Mockups This Year.

The Christian Science Monitor  (1/19) reports that three companies are vowing to build test-models of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept this year, explaining that the concept amounts to “packing passengers into pods and shooting them at 800 miles per hour through tubes between Los Angeles and San Francisco.” Musk’s “aerospace company, SpaceX, will build a one-mile test track near its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters.” This mockup “will be up in time for the summer finale of SpaceX’s year-long Hyperloop design competition for student and independent engineering teams.” Two other firms – Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop Technologies – are also building test tracks this year.

Texas A&M University To Host Hyperloop Competition. KBTX-TV Waco, TX (1/20, 6:52 a.m. EST) broadcast an interview with Marilyn Martell, Senior Asst. Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications at Texas A&M University’s Dwight Look College of Engineering. The college is hosting the Hyperloop competition, which will take place next week. Martell mentions during the interview that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will make an appearance at the competition next Friday.

Higher Education

Thousands Call On ED To Cancel Student Debt Over Deceptive Practices.

The Wall Street Journal  (1/20, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that over 7,500 student loan borrowers have applied to ED for student debt forgiveness alleging that their colleges used deceptive promises of high-paying careers after graduation. The Journal reports that the former students are using a little-used Federal law, and describes the debt relief for former Corinthian Colleges students that ED has already granted. The Journal also suggests that the glut of applications is overwhelming ED, and quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying of the possible breadth of loan forgiveness, “We just don’t know. This is new territory for us.”

Entrepreneur Magazine  (1/20, Friedman) characterizes it as a “small loophole,” saying that “more than 7,500 people, owing roughly $163 million in student loans, have applied to have their debt waived in the last six months,” mostly saying “their schools deceived them with false promises of job placement and high paying positions.”

Engineering Students Create Pancake-Printing Machine.

The Boston Globe  (1/20, Annear) reports students at the Olin College of Engineering created the “Pancake CNC Machine”, a device that “prints” pancakes onto a griddle based on images provided to it. Engineering student Trent Dye said, “You can make anything: cartoon characters, geometric shapes, a yin yang symbol.” A team of four students used their engineering and programming skills to make the machine that controls the flow of batter from two bottles in order to draw the shapes on a griddle.

University Of Illinois Considering Tuition Freeze.

The Chicago Tribune  (1/20, Cohen) reports the University of Illinois trustees plan to vote on tuition rates on Thursday and are considering freezing in-state tuition for the second consecutive year amid a state education budget stalemate. The university is struggling to keep tuition low to attract and retain in-state students while dealing with a $640 million budget shortfall caused by the lack of state funding since last July. President Tim Killeen has recommended a tuition freeze despite the uncertainty surrounding state aid because the university’s “core mission” is “opening our doors wide” to provide opportunities for students in the state.

From ASEE
International Association of Continuing Engineering Education
Call for papers for May 17-20 conference in Porto, Portugal. January 31 deadline.

Surmounting the Barriers
The joint NAE-ASEE report makes recommendations for breaking down long-identified barriers to diversity in higher education.

Research and Development

DoD Looking To Install Lasers On Drones.

Ars Technica  (1/20, Gallagher) reports that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) at the Department of Defense is “giving a second look at the idea of airborne lasers as a defense against ballistic missiles,” adding that instead of employing “giant chemical lasers carried by enormous crewed aircraft, the MDA is hoping that solid-state lasers will soon be up to the job—and that they will be able to be carried by drones.” According to the article, vice admiral James Syring, director of the MDA, “is convinced that laser technology has improved enough to be up to the challenge.”

The Daily Mail  (1/20, Prigg) adds that Syring said that in the future, the MDA plans to use laser weapon technology on high-altitude drones. The article notes that the Pentagon “spent 16 years and $5 billion building the Airborne Laser, a heavily modified Boeing 747 jetliner with a bulbous chemical laser on its nose,” adding that in 2010, the laser “shot down a missile in a test.” The article explains that while Northrop Grumman developed the laser and Lockheed Martin produced the beam and fire control system, the project was eventually abandoned. Nonetheless, according to the article, the US Air Force Research Laboratory “is on track to demonstrate a working laser weapon on a fighter jet by 2020.”

Sayer Named University Of Michigan Director Of Transportation Research Institute.

MLive (MI)  (1/20, Allen) reported the University of Michigan named Jim Sayer the Director of Transportation Research Institute. Jack Hu, vice president for research, said Sayer “has the right knowledge, experience, and abilities to lead the organization into its next 50” years. Sayer is a research scientist and heads the UMTRI Human Factors Group.

Self-Driving Cars Examined.

TechRepublic  (1/20, Reese) reports interest in self-driving cars, paired with “the Obama administration’s announcement to invest almost $4 billion in autonomous vehicle research over the next 10 years,” are driving efforts to “create the best self-driving car.” The article adds that “the rise of self-driving cars is going to have a major impact on businesses and professionals” with automated vehicles replacing corporate fleets and accidents drop by 80% by 2040. The NHTSA in 2013 “defined five different levels of autonomous driving,” but this week, On January 15, the NHTSA updated their policy to reflect that “the widespread deployment of fully-autonomous vehicles is now feasible.” It is expected to prepare best-practice guidance to provide the industry with. Levels zero to five range from driver-controlled to fully autonomous with no option for human interference.

Workforce

Va. Gov. McAuliffe Met With Alibaba Executives.

The Washington Post  (1/20, Gregg) reports Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is focused on bringing technology sector jobs to northern Virginia. The Post cites McAuliffe successfully lobbying San Francisco-based start-up Shift Technologies to spend $20 million to open an engineering hub in the area. McAuliffe has said one of his “missions” is to diversify the economy in Northern Virginia and “wean it off its heavy reliance on government contracting.” He has done this through “out-of-state trade missions,” including a trip to Cuba and a meeting this week with Alibaba executives.

Industry News

Booz Allen Hamilton Awarded $159 Million Contract To Streamline Army Networks.

C4ISR & Networks  (1/20, Peck) reports that Booz Allen Hamilton was awarded a $159 million General Services Administration contract. Under the contract, Booz Allen Hamilton “will provide the Army’s Project Director, Network Enablers, known as PD Net E, with systems engineering services to streamline the Army’s tactical and data networks.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Kansas Succeeds In Reducing Fracking-Related Earthquakes.

The Christian Science Monitor  (1/20) reports that while some states have seen an increase of earthquakes “triggered by the injection of wastewater and chemicals – left over from oil and gas drilling – deep into the ground,” Kansas “has seen the numbers in its most seismically active areas go in the opposite direction.” State officials credit “advances in science, as well as learning from the struggles of other states.”

Senate Will Hold Override Vote On Obama’s Water Rule Veto.

Less than a day after the President announced he had vetoed a GOP attempt to overturn “his contentious water rule,” Senate Majority Leader McConnell filed Wednesday for a Thursday vote on “a long-shot effort” to override the veto, The Hill  (1/20, Cama) reported. McConnell also “slammed Obama for his veto,” saying in a statement, “[Waters of the United States] isn’t really a clean-water measure, it’s an unprecedented federal power grab clumsily masquerading as one. … In passing a bipartisan measure to overturn it, Congress stood up for the middle class and said that America’s clean-water rules should be based on the kind of scientific, collaborative process the American people expect – not Washington politics.”

White House Adviser Urges Florida To Advance Solar.

The Miami Herald  (1/20, Nehamas) reports that White House adviser Robert Simon told a group that flooding and coastal erosion as a result of climate change could threaten global supply chains as well as Miami’s tourism and real estate sectors. He said Florida has made more progress than many states in cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions, “but there was still room for improvement. Florida has the third largest potential for rooftop solar but only the 13th most solar production.” The Herald reports that the economics of some solar projects are unfavorable “because of the hostility of Florida’s big utilities to solar power.”

Sen. Grassley Says Cruz’s Positions On Wind, Ethanol Are Bad For Iowa.

Politico  (1/20, Everett) reports that “Sen. Chuck Grassley agrees with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad that Ted Cruz’s positions on wind power and ethanol are bad for Iowa.” While Grassley said he respects the governor’s call for Cruz’s defeat on Tuesday, he will not campaign against Cruz. “Grassley has stayed steadfast in his neutrality thus far, and even subtly critical comments by the six-term senator could shift the impending Iowa primaries,” Politico explains.

Big Three California Utilities Back Rooftop Solar Counterproposal.

The Los Angeles Times  (1/20, Penn) reports that Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Gas & Electric “have united in an unusual counterproposal that would be less generous to solar-panel owners than the plan that the California Public Utilities Commission is set to vote on next week.” The PUC plan involves connection and usage fees for new solar power users, paying them at time-of-use rates that rise during periods of high electricity demand. Citing fairness, the utilities “have proposed a fixed rate of compensation that is lower than both the current system and the proposed PUC plan.” Robert Laffoon-Villegas, an Edison spokesman, did not say how solar owners would be impacted by the proposal, but said that “we still go back to the fairness argument, fairness for all of the customers in our service territory.” Rooftop solar proponents say the utilities’ move was a violation of protocol, coming after the window for submitting such information to the record had closed.

Double Counting In Green Energy Benefits Explained. UC Berkeley professor of business and public policy Severin Borenstein writes for the Los Angeles Times  (1/20, Borenstein) that if residential rooftop solar panels are leased or installed under a power purchase agreement, the Renewable Energy Certificates they earn are sold to third-parties, but “buying and selling utility companies both claim that green power as their own. And that’s essentially what’s been going on with solar rooftops.” The Federal Trade Commission “recently issued legal guidance stating that if a solar company sells its certificates, it is deceptive to tell homeowners they are getting ‘clean,’ ‘renewable,’ or maybe even ‘solar’ electricity with their lease or power purchase agreement,” Borenstein writes. He goes on to urge solar rooftop customers to find out what will happen to the RECs. “If they are sold to someone else, you get to use the electricity, but you have to give back the halo.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Iowa Lego Robotics Team Competed In State Competition.

The Oskaloosa (IA) Herald Online  (1/20) reports a Lego robotics team from Oskaloosa, Iowa called the “OskyBots” went to the state competition in Des Moines. Participants have to use robots to complete obstacle courses with walls and colored lines.

California Middle School Introduces STEAM Program To Increase STEM Interest In Female Students.

The Woodland (CA) Daily Democrat  (1/20) reports Lee Middle School in Woodland, California is introducing a new STEAM program with the aim of increasing interest in STEM careers with female students. The program selected 15 girls in eighth grade to participate in the “Playbook for Teens” pilot program. The students will complete a curriculum in six sessions to learn more about STEM careers and will be filmed by college students attending the Art Institute of Sacramento, so that similar programs can be created at other schools.

Local Engineers Teach Kids At Michigan Elementary School During STEM Week.

WLUC-TV  Marquette, MI (1/20, Lopez) reports engineers from a local paper mill visited students at Woodland Elementary School in Kingsford, Michigan as part of the school’s STEM week. The engineers helped students create things with simple supplies to teach them about engineering.

Defense Contractor Sponsoring STEM Education Initiatives In Colorado Springs Schools.

The Colorado Springs (CO) Gazette  (1/20, Kelley) reports Raytheon Company, a defense contractor, is funding several initiatives to improve STEM education in Colorado Springs. The company is paying for local students to travel to and attend an exhibit called “MathAlive!” at the Space Foundation Discovery Center in the city. Raytheon is also donating money to a program that trains elementary school teachers how to teach engineering to their students.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Amazon Announces Availability Of First Dash Replenishment Devices.
Obama Administration Calls For Pell Grant Expansion.
Georgia Tech To Launch Open Robotics Lab.
Edison Buys 500 Megawatts From First Solar.
NASA Renames Asteroid After New Orleans HS Student.

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