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

Leading the News

Tech Giants Back Apple As FBI Raids Home Of Saeed Farook’s Brother.

NBC Nightly News (2/18, story 6, 1:55, Holt) reported that several companies, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter are backing Apple as it battles a court order to help unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Saeed Farook. The AP  (2/18, Flaccus, Myers) reports FBI agents searched the home of Farook’s brother, who was not arrested and has not been named a suspect. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller “would not disclose any information other than to confirm a search was conducted at a home in the city of Corona in an ongoing investigation.”

ABC World News (2/18, story 5, 1:50, Muir) reported that the “industry giants” have voiced support for Apple, even as authorities “claim they need to be able to hack into phones to crack cases beyond terrorism.” Pierre Thomas said that experts claim designing a “backdoor” feature wouldn’t be difficult, but analysts say doing so would open a “Pandora’s Box for tens of millions of smartphone users.” Still, Thomas said to “expect the Justice Department to take additional steps in court to force Apple to open that phone immediately.”

Bloomberg News  (2/18, Dolmetsch) reports Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Apple “is playing sheriff in a dangerous game with law enforcement,” noting in a new conference, “This has become the Wild West in technology. … Apple and Google are their own sheriffs and there are no rules.” In an analysis, the Washington Post  (2/18, Wadhwa) says that by “picking this particular fight, Apple is doing the technology industry a big disservice.” Apple, the Post adds, “will very likely lose this case in the courts and suffer a public relations disaster,” which “will be a setback for privacy.” The fight “isn’t going to be portrayed as being about encryption and back doors; it is going to center on protection of data of murderous terrorists,” and “few will side with Apple on this.” A New York Times  (2/18, Apuzzo, Goldstein, Lichtblau, Subscription Publication) analysis takes a similar view, noting while “Apple had been on the side of privacy advocates and civil libertarians,” this case “put the company on the side of a terrorist.”

A separate New York Times  (2/18, Benner, Perlroth, Subscription Publication) analysis says Apple CEO Tim Cook’s “standoff with law enforcement officials is indicative of his personal evolution from a behind-the-scenes operator at Apple to one of the world’s most outspoken corporate executives.” While being at odds with the government “is risky for Apple and may draw a torrent of public criticism of the world’s most valuable company at a time when its growth rate has significantly decelerated.” Those who know Cook “said he did not believe he had a choice but to be vocal.”

Schiff Signals Openness To Encryption Legislation. Reuters  (2/18, Volz) reports in the wake of Apple’s vow to fight the court order, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has expressed willingness to back legislation to establish ground rules concerning when tech firms should give authorities access to their products. In a statement Wednesday, Schiff said he “complex issues” raised by the Apple case and the

Rogers: Encryption Allowed Paris Attackers To Hide. NSA Director Rogers said the Paris attackers were able to hide from authorities before carrying out their attack due to encryption, The Hill  (2/18, Bennett) reported. In an interview  with Yahoo News, Rogers said “‘some of their communications were encrypted,’ and as a result ‘we did not generate the insights ahead of time.’” Rogers added, “Clearly had we known, Paris would not had happened. … We did not know we were not aware of it. Unfortunately we all saw the events unfold.”

Higher Education

One Year After Corinthian “Debt Strike,” Debate Over Loan Relief Continues.

The Washington Post  (2/18, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that a year after “15 former students of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges refused to repay their federal student loans, alleging the for-profit giant defrauded them,” advocates for such students say changes proposed by ED “uphold a complicated system that will actually make it harder for victims of fraud to get help.” The Post reports that the movement inspired by the students “gained the support of dozens of state attorneys general and federal lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).” Meanwhile, ED “convened a panel of negotiators this week to create a new standard to judge appeals for debt relief.”

Spike In George Washington University Applications Tied To Going Test-Optional.

USA Today  (2/18) reports George Washington University say a “record-breaking 28% increase in applications this admissions cycle” which is being attributed to the school’s having joined “a long and rapidly growing list of schools that have dropped the testing requirement for its application process.” George Washington officials say the move was meant to “make it more accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds who don’t typically perform well on standardized tests.”

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

Article Discusses Risks, Opportunities Of Self-Driving Cars.

The Huffington Post  (2/18, Freeman) reports that while many have lauded the enhanced safety and convenience of self-driving cars, others have expressed concerns about the potential threat of hackers, as well as the possible economic impact on the human workforce. The article includes an interview with Dr. Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University and expert on artificial intelligence. In the interview, Vardi explains why he believes that AI and self-driving cars can be both an opportunity and a risk.

Researchers Develop More Efficient Micro Air Vehicle Inspired By Bat Flight.

Christian Science Monitor  (2/18) reports that researchers with the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council have announced the development of “a new type of micro air vehicle (MAV) that could fly longer distances” and be more economical than prior MAVs because it has wings “designed to act like the wings on a bat. They don’t flap, but membrane wings change shape based on the forces acting against them.”

University Of Washington Researchers Build Detailed Anthropomorphic Robot Hand.

IEEE Spectrum  (2/19) reports that when engineers design robot hands, they often have to sacrifice a realistic appearance for functionality. However, “Zhe Xu and Emanuel Todorov from the University of Washington, in Seattle, have gone crazy and built the most detailed and kinematically accurate biomimetic anthropomorphic robotic hand that we’ve ever seen.” The article explains the logic behind such a design and some of the process involved.

Villanova Gets NSF Energy Efficiency Technology Research Grant.

Metering  (2/19) reports the National Science Foundation is giving Villanova University’s Energy Smart Electronic Systems a $1.1 million grant “for research and development of energy efficiency technologies.” The funding “will be directed towards the implementation of a collaborative energy efficiency R&D project aimed at reducing energy consumption in data centers and other electronic systems.”


Study: Women Higher Rated As Coders While Gender Is Masked.

US News & World Report  (2/18) reports that a group of researchers analyzed data from an open source software community called GitHub, and found that “women are considered better computer coders than men, but only when they hide their gender.” The study found that code submitted by female coders was accepted by their peers at a greater rate than men when gender was not evident, but that rate fell precipitously when the submitter’s user name indicated that they were female.

Industry News

Sites Review Nextbit Robin Smartphone.

Numerous technology and major media outlets review the recently released Nextbit Robin smartphone, with most outlets offering mixed to positive assessments. In a lengthy review for BGR  (2/18) Zach Epstein discusses the development of the Nextbit Robin in detail, which was founded by several mobile industry veterans “on a mission” to succeed in the smartphone business by offering devices that address “specific pain points shared by a growing number of consumers.” The Nextbit was primary designed to address user concerns about limited storage, and the phone’s unique selling point will be that it “never runs out of space” by utilizing “physical flash memory with an intelligent cloud storage solution cloud storage” that expands the device’s built-in 32GB of storage to 132GB of “usable storage.” The article concludes that the $399 phone is “truly a tremendous value” and praises the device’s “Smart Storage” capability, saying that “I filled the Robin to the brim and not once during my testing did I ever encounter an iPhone-esque error message telling me that I couldn’t capture a new video or snap a new photo.”

Writing for USA Today  (2/18) Michael Desjardin offers a generally positive review of the Robin, noting that the phone had its genesis in a successful $1.3 million Kickstarter campaign and concluding that the phone is a “beautifully designed Android phone” that “handles day-to-day tasks effortlessly and its cloud storage feature has loads of promise.” Desjardin tempers his praise by saying that the Robin’s “two-toned plastic build might stray too far into Fisher Price territory,” noting that the phone’s camera “isn’t great,” and discussing the delays involved in the cloud storage process.

In a review for The Wall Street Journal  (2/18) Digits blog, Nathan Olivarez-Giles praise’s the Robin’s matte plastic design and square-ish shape as being distinctive in a smartphone market dominated by metal and glass devices. The review also praises the Android device’s OS skin that makes the device look and function more like an iPhone, but concludes that the phone’s camera is merely adequate. The review also discusses the phone’s specifications, saying that the Robin will run on the Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system, feature a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD, Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM, 13MP rear camera, 5MP front camera, fingerprint sensor, and 2680 mAh battery. The phone will be available in navy blue and mint green and white color options. Darren Orf of Gizmodo  (2/18) also praises the Robin’s design, saying that the mint colored variant of the phone looks like “Google architecture packed into a 5-inch rectangle” or a “1950s smartphone sitting on the dashboard of a ‘57 Chevy.” Orf also comments that the phone’s design is likely to be polarizing, saying that the device’s “strangeness—chunky bezels, quirky circle speakers, and cloud-shaped back tattoo—seems to be both appealing and appalling.”

In a video posted to its website, CNET News  (2/18) gives the Robin a rating of 3.5 stars out of 5, and concludes that the phone is “a decent midrange” Android handset but that its “novel cloud storage concept isn’t seamless enough for the masses.” The video’s presenter also discusses the phone’s cloud storage concept in more detail.

In a review for SlashGear  (2/18) Chris Burns gives the Robin top marks, calling the phone’s hardware design “gorgeous” and saying that it “It looks like the sort of hardware you’d find in a museum” under “historic groundbreakers in industrial design.” Burns further praises the phone’s design by saying that it is “is like every single component was given attention…Not just for functionality and placement, but for aesthetic quality.” The review also praises the Robin’s display, which Burns calls “very bright, perfectly fine in direct sunlight outdoors.” The article also discusses the team involved in the Robin’s development, including Scott Croyle, HTC’s former SVP of Design, Google software engineer Mike Chan, and Tom Moss, former Head of Business Development and Partnerships for Android.

Ben Woods of The Next Web  (2/18) gives the Robin a mixed review, saying that while “in many ways, [the Robin] a very ordinary phone” the handset’s unique cloud storage capability provides a “glimpse of the future” and is able to “differentiate itself from pretty much any other phone on the market.”

Writing for Android Central  (2/18) Jerry Hildenbrand also offers a mixed assessment, saying that while the Robin’s Smart Storage feature “isn’t something that’s going to work for everyone” the affordable phone is nevertheless “the best we’ve seen in this space so far.”

In a review for The Verge  (2/18) Dan Seifert offers a mixed assessment, praising the Robin’s design and the Smart Storage concept but concluding that it “still needs some work before you can truly forget about storage and just use your phone as much as you’d like.”

In a long piece for Engadget  (2/18) Chris Velazco praises the phone’s design and cloud storage concept, but criticizes the device’s “unremarkable” camera and “disappointing” battery life. Velazco concludes on a positive note, saying that the phone’s smooth functioning is “a testament to the care its designers lavished on it” but also cautions that the Robin is a “far from perfect” device that has yet to prove its cloud storage concept in the marketplace.

Samuel Gibbs of The Guardian (UK)  (2/18) gives the Robin four stars out of five, concluding that the phone is a “thin, capable” handset that “has a decent camera and excellent fingerprint scanner.” Gibbs also praises the phone’s “refreshing” design, saying that the Robin is “unlike almost anything you’ll likely see on the street today.”

Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica  (2/18) offers a more critical view of the Robin’s “absurd” cloud storage solution, saying that the Smart Storage feature is unnecessary given the existence of microSD cards. Amadeo adds that the phone’s design is likely to be “divisive” with some warming to its “pleasingly minimalist” exterior while others will believe that the phone looks like “unfinished development hardware.”

Engineering and Public Policy

FAA Collaborates On UAS Detection Research.

The Federal Aviation Administration  (2/19) reports that pilot sightings of UAS near airports or aircraft have “become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” Officials are working on being able to “detect and identify these ‘rogue drones’ and their operators.” FAA is partnering with DHS and CACI International “to explore how the company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports.”

California Gas Leak Capped But Neighbors Remain Nervous.

The New York Times  (2/18, Lovett, Subscription Publication) reports while California state officials “announced on Thursday that the leaking natural gas well near the Porter Ranch neighborhood…had finally been capped permanently,” some “stark realities emerged” as residents “say they are still getting sick” and “many have vowed not to move back home soon despite assurances from public health officials.” According to state officials, testing showed that “air quality had returned to normal,” but “for some angry residents…nothing short of the gas field’s closing will be enough.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Egg Harbor Township Libraries Implementing Makerspaces to Increase Utilization.

Shore News Today (NJ)  (2/18, Stetser) reports on how libraries in Egg Harbor Township are implementing makerspaces to increase utilization in the wake of being underutilized due to people using Internet research in place of visiting the library and conducting traditional research. The idea behind makerspaces is to offer open ended projects where students of any ability can work together and contribute to a project. For example, students can work collaboratively on interactive projects in areas ranging from electronics to puzzles in order to solve problems associated with the projects.

President’s Budget Proposes 4 Billion To Offer Computer Science Classes To Students in K-12.

In its “Congress Blog” The Hill  (2/18, Hyman) reports that in an effort to increase the percentage of students that have access to computer science training from 25% at the K-12 level, the President’s budget sets aside 4 billion dollars to help school districts offer computer science classes. The White House is pointing to the shortage in tech workers nationally in fields such as coding, which drives many high profile tech companies, as well as non-coding roles, which offer good paying jobs related to computer technology, as justification for the expenditure.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Clean Power Plan Could Survive Judicial Review.
NYU Tandon Offers Novel Mechatronics And Robotics Master’s Degree.
ExxonMobil Partnering With Wisconsin Researchers On Renewable Jet Fuel.
Canadian Military Develops Greener, Cheaper Ammo.
Sikorsky, Boeing To Complete SB-1 Design Review.
Southern California Gas Leak Being Compared To BP Spill.
Maryland Teacher Uses 3D Printers In PLTW Course.

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