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

Leading the News

Google Seeks To Expand Autonomous Car Testing And Production Capabilities.

The Detroit Bureau  (2/12, Eisenstein) reports on Google’s intent “to expand the range of places it is testing its autonomous prototypes” and is, moreover, putting out “Help Wanted” notices for people with manufacturing experience, such as “one for a manufacturing process engineer who would be responsible for ‘designing factory assembly stations, optimizing production floor layout, automating critical manufacturing processes and approving fixture designs used in the assembly of electronic modules for the self-driving car.’” The story notes that NHTSA indicated this week that it would classify an autonomous car’s computer programs as “the equivalent of a human driver,” a stance that follows Secretary Foxx’s announcement last month that DOT wants “to speed up the development and commercialization of autonomous vehicle technology.”

CNBC  (2/12) also reports on Google’s hiring spree “for its self-driving car project as it looks to accelerate the drive to bring the vehicles to market,” with “36 job listings by the Alphabet-owned company from marketing to manufacturing jobs, highlighting how Google sees its role in the future of the auto industry.”

Google, NHTSA Discuss Legality Of Self-Operating Vehicles. PC Magazine  (2/12, Newcomb) reported that when Google questioned the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the legality of its self-driving vehicles, the NHTSA responded in a letter that the legal and regulatory definition of a “driver” includes self-operating systems. The NHTSA also revealed that Google recommended taking “human control out of the equation” because occupants’ attempts to override autonomous cars’ decisions “could be detrimental to safety,” suggesting that the NHTSA may regulate passenger-only autonomous cars.

US Navy Considering Placing Railgun On New Destroyer.

The AP  (2/14, Sharp) reports the US Navy is testing a railgun that the service’s director of surface warfare Admiral Pete Fanta has proposed placing directly onto the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, a future Zumwalt-class destroyer, rather than testing a prototype on another vessel as currently planned. The railgun uses what the article calls “literal whiz-bang technology” with “the possibility of providing an effective weapon at pennies on the dollars compared to smart bombs and missiles.”

The Daily Mail  (2/15, Zolfagharifard) features a similar article along with graphics and a video detailing the railgun. Popular Mechanics  (2/15, Moseman) and Scout  (2/15, Osborn) also cover the story.

UT’s Liu Named Member Of National Academy Of Engineering.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (2/15) reports the Governor’s Chair for Power Grids Yilu Liu “was named a new member of the National Academy of Engineering.” The position “is a joint appointment at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.” Liu “is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.”

Higher Education

Schumer Promotes Reducing Educational Debt Act.

The AP  (2/15) reports that Senator Charles Schumer was at Syracuse University promoting the Reducing Education Debt (RED) Act. Senator Schumer stated that the RED Act could help 9 million students by allowing them to refinance at lower interest rates and attend two years of community college for free.

The Reducing Educational Debt Act Would Be Funded by Income Tax Hike and Eliminating Tax Breaks. The Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard  (2/15, Weiner) reports that the Reducing Education Debt (RED) could create an average savings of $3,800 per year for full time community college students by having the federal government match $3 for every $1 invested by a state for tuition and fees. The RED Act would be paid for by eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies and implementing a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on people earning more than $1 million per year.

Gap In African American Student Enrollment In Majors For Higher Paying Jobs.

Philly (PA)  (2/15, Lai) reports that U.S. Census Bureau data shows that more African American students are studying fields such as education and social work at Universities nationwide instead of pursuing majors in higher paying fields such as science, business and engineering. One explanation for the gap is a lack of exposure to the higher paying fields. Measures taken to increase the exposure and enrollment of African American Students to majors that lead to higher paying fields include providing field trips, summer programs, and weekly talks from professionals at magnet schools and introductory summer programs for the sciences at The College of New Jersey.

Justice Scalia’s Death Unlikely to Affect The Court’s Upcoming Ruling in ‘Fisher’.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (2/14, Hoover, Kelderman) reports that citing the recusal of Justice Kagan from the case and the likeliness that Justice Kennedy joins his conservative counterparts, The Higher Education Chronicle reports that the Challenge to The University of Texas at Austin’s race conscious admissions policy by Abigail Fisher in Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin is unlikely to be affected by Justice Scalia’s death. However, Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes race-conscious admissions policies, and Jeffrey Rosen, a professor at George Washington University’s law school, both noted that Justice Scalia’s departure will affect the decision making process due to the absence of his strong opinions and his willingness to go farther than Justice Kennedy in imposing a color-blind rule across the board.

Nebraska Community Colleges Seek To Promote Career And Technical Education Programs.

The Scottsbluff (NE) Star-Herald  (2/13, Smith) reports that in an effort to promote career and technical education (CTE) programs at Community Colleges in Nebraska, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald reports that Nebraska Community Colleges have started a promotional campaign that aims to dismiss some of the negative stereotypes of these programs. The campaign, created by Educational Marketing Group Inc., seeks to attract people to CTE programs to fill the needs of employers seeking skilled workers through radio spots and internet advertisements.

From ASEE
ASEE ED on NPR’s Air Talk
Norman Fortenberry discussed the efforts to make STEAM from STEM

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

Research and Development

DARPA’s Submarine-Hunting Drone Ship Set To Launch In April.

Jalopnik  (2/15, Rogoway) reports on the first known images of the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or ACTUV, also known as Sea Hunter, that is being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as “a long-endurance unmanned ship that will hunt and track the quietest submarines on Earth.” Jalopnik says “Sea Hunter is being developed in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research and the Space and Naval Systems Warfare Command.” Meanwhile, “engineering industry innovator Leidos and Oregon Iron Works…designed and constructed the exotic experimental vessel.” The ship is scheduled to be christened in April but has already been spotted in the water at Portland’s Swan Island ship building and maintenance facility by a local photographer. The report says the vessel “will undergo a set of increasingly challenging trials over the better part of two years, work that could lead to a fleet of similar drone ships deployed around the globe.”

Ars Technica  (2/15, Gallagher) reports that Leidos tested the ACTUV navigational and collision avoidance software last year.

RT  (2/16) features DARPA’s conceptual video for the ACTUV program. The Sea Hunter “is part of DARPA’s continuous trend toward more drone technology and simpler military systems overall.”

Block Engineering, Leidos Developing Lightweight Chemical Detection System.

Military & Aerospace Electronics  (2/15, Keller) reports that the US Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base announced a $9.4 million contract to Block Engineering for the Standoff Illuminator for Measuring Absorbance and Reflectance Infrared Light Signatures (SILMARILS) project. The report points out that Block Engineering joins Leidos Inc. on the program and that “Leidos received a $17.9 million contract to develop the system on 2 Feb. 2016.” The contracts are being awarded on behalf of the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency. The report explains that “the contract calls for Block Engineering experts to develop a portable system for real-time standoff detection and identification of trace chemical residues on surfaces using active infrared spectroscopy at a 30-meter range.” Meanwhile, the overarching objective of the program is the development of “a system that can identify target chemicals in the field with real-world clutter and background.”

Industry News

Professor: More Than Half Of Workers Will Be Unemployed In 30 Years As Robotics Advance.

The Independent (UK)  (2/13, Connor) reported that Moshe Vardi, professor of computational engineering at Rice University, has predicted that the “majority of humans” will be unemployed within 30 years as a result of technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. He said, “We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task. I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us.” AFP  (2/14) and the Financial Times  (2/14, Cookson, Subscription Publication) offer similar coverage of Vardi’s assertions.

Engineering and Public Policy

Scalise: President Obama “Waging War” On American Energy.

The Hill  (2/13, Richardson) reports House Majority Whip Steve Scalise used the GOP weekly address to criticize President Obama’s clean energy policies. Scalise argued Obama’s efforts “will increase costs and hurt middle-class families.” Scalise also claimed the President is waging a “war on coal” with the Clean Power Plan. When discussing the proposed oil tax, Scalise said, “You’ll hear them call this a tax on oil, but even the White House admits that this new tax would be passed directly onto hard-working families.”

Environmentalists Concerned About SCOTUS Halting Implementation Of Clean Power Plan. The Hill  (2/13, Cama) reports environmentalists are “wonder[ing] whether they need a backup plan” after the Supreme Court this week halted the implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The Hill says the court’s “unexpected move” has “caused a jolt among environmentalists, reminding them that…the Supreme Court might interpret the law differently than they do.”

AP Analysis: Ruling May Be Providing Coal Country With “False Hope.” In a 1,243-word article, the AP  (2/13, Raby, Brown) says the court’s decision has provided coal country with “hope,” but “these hopes have been tempered by another, grimmer thought – that this development might be too little, too late. That it’s false hope.” According to the AP, while blaming President Obama has “been the easy answer to why the coal jobs are going away,” the “reality is more complicated.” The AP adds that “pointing out that free-market forces – higher mining costs, decreasing demand and cheaper natural gas – are dragging production down doesn’t pack as much of a punch as roasting the White House’s environmental initiatives.”

NYTimes Praises New Aircraft Emissions Caps. In an editorial, the New York Times  (2/13, Subscription Publication) lauds the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization for imposing the first binding limits on aircraft carbon dioxide emissions, describing it as “a welcome development, even if it has left many environmental groups disappointed.” The Times says critics lament “the agency set the bar far too low,” but “what is important is” the industry “will finally join other major sources of greenhouse gas pollution that are subject to international emissions controls.” The Times concludes that if President Obama manages to “set the standards” in the US before the end of his term, “it will be no mean feat.”

NYTimes: US Must Invest In Fixing Water Systems.

The New York Times  (2/13, Subscription Publication) editorializes that “America’s water systems are failing” because the US “invested far too little in its public works, as governments at all levels have become obsessed with cutting spending.” The Times urges the EPA to “require local water utilities to do a census of how many homes are still connected with lead service lines” and then replace those pipes. According to the Times, this endeavor “should give preference to Flint, Sebring and other cities where lead contamination is a major, continuing problem.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Minnetonka West Middle School Team Wins Spot In National Science Bowl.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (2/15, Walsh) reported a team of Minnetonka West Middle School students “has earned its way to the federally sponsored National Science Bowl this spring near Washington, D.C.” The team beat “Eden Prairie Central Middle School Team 1 on Saturday to claim the regional title at the University of St. Thomas’ School of Engineering in St. Paul.” The team will participate in the national competition, which is sponsored by the Energy Department.

Arizona Legislature In Stalemate Over Technical Education Funding.

The East Valley (AZ) Tribune  (2/15, Fischer) reports that the Arizona legislature has reached a stalemate over whether to ratify $28 million for the Joint Technical Education Districts (JTED) which the program says it needs to continue operating over the next school year. The article contends election politics are at play over who gets “bragging rights” to the passage of the legislation. JTED lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs says, “Who gets the credit for signing on (the bill) I really think is irrelevant at this point because it has become clear that the entire Legislature wants this.”

Schools In Central Florida Create Programs To Teach Skills Wanted By High-Tech Manufacturers.

The Orlando (FL) Sentinel  (2/15) reports that central Florida schools have developed programs to train students in the advanced manufacturing skills that tech manufacturer giants like Lockheed and Siemens want to keep the industries from moving their businesses out of the region. The article details training programs which combine technical and production skills at Valencia and Mid Florida Tech.

Florida High School Takes Places Well At Statewide Math Competition.

The Fort Myers (FL) News-Press  (2/15, Staik) reports that Southwest Florida LaBelle High School “took high honors” with the a team of four students placing fourth overall in the team division and another student placing 13th in the individual competition. The competition “attracted 1,048 students from 57 schools in Florida,” the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Scientists Confirm Discovery Of Gravitational Waves.
Mt. Saint Mary’s Professor Fired For Opposition To Policy To Encourage Dropouts.
Johns Hopkins Professor Using “Holistic” Approach To Engineer To Improve Disaster Resilience.
Boeing To Cut Jobs In Commercial Airplane Unit.
Baer, Ramirez To Discuss Wave Of Major Mergers With Lawmakers Next Month.
Obama Nominates King To Become Tenth Secretary Of Education.
Parents Argue Online About Solvability Of Fourth-Grade Common Core Math Problem.

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