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

Leading the News

FBI-Apple Dispute Reaches Congress.

Coverage of the ongoing dispute between the FBI and Apple over San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone was especially heavy on Tuesday, with stories appearing on all three network news broadcasts as well as in several major dailies. Much of the coverage centered on the continuation of the legal dispute between Apple and the FBI in Congress, with representatives from both entities testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Additional coverage surrounds comments by Attorney General Lynch calling for increased dialogue between the government and the tech industry. In seemingly exclusive coverage, Politico  (3/2, Gerstein) adds that just before 11 p.m. on Tuesday, Apple filed a formal appeal to a magistrate’s order that Apple assist the FBI in breaking into Farook’s phone. “The move would ordinarily escalate the dispute to a Senate-confirmed, life-tenure U.S. District Court judge. In its filing, the company said it was taking the new step out of ‘an abundance of caution,’” Politico says.

The New York Times  (3/1, Kang, Subscription Publication) reports “each side show[ed] no sign of compromise” during a House Judiciary Committee meeting. FBI Director Comey “emphasized the importance of law enforcement’s ability to get access to data for criminal investigations.” Comey said, “If we cannot access this evidence, it will have ongoing, significant impacts on our ability to identify, stop and prosecute these offenders.” Apple General Council Bruce Sewell, meanwhile, said in written testimony that the FBI’s demand for the company to break into an iPhone “would set a dangerous precedent for government intrusion on the privacy and safety of its citizens.” ABC News  (3/1) reports on its website that Comey took issue with claims that the FBI wants Apple to install a “backdoor” on its iPhones. Instead, Comey argued that Farook’s iPhone already has a door that is currently inaccessible to investigators. The CBS Evening News (3/1, story 7, 2:00, Pelley) showed Comey saying, “Essentially, we’re asking Apple take the vicious guard dog away. Let us try to pick the lock.”

The Christian Science Monitor  (3/1, Detsch) reports that Comey said the FBI needs Apple’s assistance to crack the San Bernardino iPhone as it has run out of options within the government. “We have engaged all parts of the US government to see if anybody has a way – short of asking Apple to do it,” Comey said.

Reuters  (3/1, Williams) and the Washington Times  (3/1, Noble) reports Comey acknowledged that if the bureau wins this case, it could use it as precedent in future efforts to gain access to cell phones. In another piece, Reuters  (3/1, Harte, Edwards) adds that Comey’s admission that a favorable ruling for the FBI in the San Bernardino case would be “potentially precedential” for other cases, marked a change in position from his previous contention that the case was “unlikely to be a trailblazer.” NPR  (3/1, Shahani) reports that Comey was “cornered into admitting it’s not just about this one case” by Rep. John Conyers, who eventually posed a yes-or-no question to Comey after a back-and-forth on the issue between the two. USA Today  (3/1, Kelly) reports Comey “said the government is not trying to expand its surveillance power,” but also warned about “‘warrant-proof spaces’ where critical information cannot be obtained by law enforcement.” Comey said, “We are asking to ensure that we can continue to obtain electronic information and evidence pursuant to the legal authority that Congress has provided us to keep America safe.”

Panel Members Appear Divided On Encryption. The Los Angeles Times  (3/1, Bennett) reports “lawmakers appear deeply divided on the issue.” The Times quotes Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte said, “We must find a way for physical security not to be at odds with information security,” adding, “Law enforcement must be able to fight crime and keep us safe, and this country’s innovative companies must at the same time have the opportunity to offer secure services to keep our customers safe.” However, Rep. John Conyers said, “I would be deeply disappointed if it turns out that the government is found to be exploiting a national tragedy to pursue a change in the law,” adding, “This case appears to be little more than an end run around this committee.”

Lynch Calls For Dialogue Between Law Enforcement, Tech Industry. The AP  (3/1, Bailey, Tucker) reports from San Francisco that Attorney General Lynch “called for dialogue with the tech industry, but also turned up the heat on Apple for refusing to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone used by an extremist mass killer in San Bernardino. ‘One risk is making this all about Apple when in reality it’s about all of us,’” Lynch told an audience at a major cybersecurity industry conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, adding, “We have to decide. Do we let one company, no matter how great a company, no matter now beautiful their devices – do we let one company decide this issue for all of us? Do we let one company say this is how investigations are going to be conducted?”

Carter Says Strong Encryption A “Good Thing.” The Wall Street Journal  (3/1, Zakrzewski, Subscription Publication) reports that in a speech to a civic group in San Francisco on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that strong encryption is a “good thing” and called on Silicon Valley to work with policy makers to sort out the “complex challenges” that encryption presents to law enforcement. Carter said, “As we together engineer approaches to overall human security in the information age, I know enough to recognize that there will not be some simple, overall technical solution—a so-called ‘back door’ that does it all.”

Higher Education

Education Experts Address Closing The STEM Diversity Gap.

Diverse Education  (3/1, Morris) reports Department of Education undersecretary Ted Mitchell said Monday during a roundtable conversation at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that the US has a “moral responsibility” to close the gaps in STEM degree achievement among minorities. According to the Education Department, historically black colleges and universities make up only 3 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, yet produce 27 percent of African-Americans with bachelor’s degrees in the STEM fields. Dr. Ivory Toldson, executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, said that they have “similar outcomes” to highly regarded research universities despite lacking the “type of research equipment, and the type of high salaries and type of facilities that it takes to run a research institution.” A report by the Association of American Medical Colleges also warns that the amount of black men applying to medical school has declined between 1978 and 2014, while enrollment by black women, Hispanics, Latinos, and Asians has increased.

OIG Report Says ED Misled Public About Student Loan Servicers.

The Washington Post  (3/1, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED’s inspector general has released a report saying the department “conducted a deeply flawed review of its student loan servicers…and knowingly misled the public about the findings.” The report is about “an audit administered after the Justice Department fined student loan servicer Navient Solutions $60 million in 2014 for unlawfully charging active-duty service members high interest rates on student loans.” Then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan vowed to review all servicers “and later said there was little evidence of any wrongdoing.” However, the new report “rebuts those claims and paints the department’s investigation as shortsighted and inaccurate.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called the “report ‘a stunning indictment of the Department of Education’s oversight of student loan servicers, exposing the extraordinary lengths to which the Department will go to protect these companies when they break the law.’” ED spokeswoman Dorie Nolt “said in an email that the department takes the issues raised in the inspector general’s report ‘very seriously’ and plans to ‘review the findings more carefully and take any appropriate steps to ensure the Department’s reviews of financial institutions meet the highest standards.’”

The AP  (3/1, Kerr) says the report says ED “had a faulty sampling design that meant it tested too few borrowers for the interest rate cap, as well as other errors in how the review was conducted.” This piece explains that Warren, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) requested the report because “they were concerned about the methodology of the department’s review and whether it adequately identified military personnel who had been overcharged.” The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/1) also covers this story.

College Programs In Prison Are Gaining More Funding.

The AP  (3/1, Blankinship) reports that college education in American prisons is growing again, more than two decades since the federal government blocked funding for college programs in jail. The resurgence comes as “everyone from President Barack Obama to state policymakers are looking for ways to get better results from the $80 billion the US spends annually on incarceration.” In the years since, private money has helped maintain some prison education programs. Some studies have shown that these programs “cut crime and prisons costs by helping inmates go home and stay there instead of returning.” According to a Rand Corporation study, inmates who participate in “any kind of educational program” in prison are 43 percent less likely to reoffend. More dollars coming now due to a recent decision by the US Department of Education to again experiment with federal Pell Grants for inmate students. To date, 47 states have applied to participate in the program.

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

Army Researchers Tell House Panel Laser Weapons To Deploy In 2023.

The Washington Times  (3/1, Howell) reports that Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology Mary J. Miller, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, said the Army is “set to issue advanced laser weapons to troops as early as 2023,” a senior military official told a congressional committee Monday. Miller “stressed that the programs would be extensively tested so the Army understands the weapons’ full capabilities” before deployment.

R&D Magazine  (3/1) reports Miller said, “Lasers have been promised for a long time, but they’ve never held up and delivered what was asked for, so the operators are rightfully skeptical.” The article reports that lasers “have been proposed as an alternative to the extant Indirect Fire Protection Capability program, which aims to protect ground assets from attacks via Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), cruise missiles, rockets, artillery, and mortars.”

Georgia Tech Engineers Find People Blindly Trust Robot Rescuers.

The Christian Science Monitor  (3/1) reports that Georgia Tech researchers found in a recent experiment that “people blindly trusted a robot to lead them out of a burning building, even if that robot led them in circles or broke down just a few minutes before the emergency.” Research engineer Paul Robinette said, “We thought that some people would probably trust the robot as a guide, but we didn’t expect 100 percent of people would.” The findings, the Monitor reports, raise “important questions about how much trust people should bestow on computers, especially critical at a time when self-driving cars and autonomous weapons systems are coming closer to reality.”

Self-Driving Cars Could Become A Reality In Lincoln.

KOLN-TV  Lincoln, NE (3/1, Griffin) reports as Lincoln, Nebraska, competes with more than 70 other cities nationwide for the DOT’s “Smart City Challenge,” self-driving cars could soon become a reality there. Cities are competing with plans on how to more efficiently transport people and goods and the winner will receive up to $40 million in Federal funding. Lincoln Traffic Engineering Division Manager Lonnie Burklund said, “We started talking about the future of transportation in Lincoln and things that we could do to address goals.” She added, “We came up with a four pronged approach… geared toward looking at autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, and electric vehicles.” Burklund said an application would allow smart device users to request a ride from a fully automated, driver-less vehicle operating in a similar fashion to Uber and Lyft. He added, “… If we were to get lucky enough to receive that money, a big component would be the transit system.” Five finalists will be picked on March 12.

KLKN-TV  Lincoln, NE (3/1, Thornton) reports that should Lincoln win the Smart City Challenge, regulating self-driving vehicles would require city officials to speak to Nebraska lawmakers. Burklund said, “If we were lucky enough to get shortlisted, we would definitely have to start discuss what that would like for the city of Lincoln.” Should Lincoln win, self-driving cars could appear in Lincoln in 2016.

NASA Looking To Revive Supersonic Travel.

CNBC  (3/1, Reid) reports in continuing coverage NASA is looking “to build a quieter supersonic passenger jet, following Concorde” and “has awarded a $20 million contract to California-based Lockheed Martin for the design of what it calls a ‘low boom’ flight demonstration aircraft.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Monday said, “NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently.” He added, “We’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.”

CBS News  (3/1, Boccagno) reports NASA during a press conference at Reagan National Airport on Monday discussed its X-planes with Bolden saying, “It’s worth noting that it’s been almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 as part of our predecessor agency’s high speed research. Now we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.” He explained the $20 million “investment will allow us to make giant new leaps.” CBS reports the advances could be “saving the commercial airline industry $255 billion over the next 25 years by reducing aircraft fuel consumption to half of what it is today.”

Also reporting is Fortune  (3/1, Hackett) and The Verge  (3/2).

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA: Recent Tests Show Flint Water Improving.

The Detroit Free Press  (3/1, Shamus) reports in Flint, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that the most recent tests of tap water in Flint “show that NSF-certified filters are working, even at high lead levels,” adding that the agency is “extremely confident in the ability … to reduce the lead to safe levels.” McCarthy also “acknowledged much work has yet to be done” and announced the agency has awarded an $80,000 grant to environmental scientists at Virginia Tech led by Marc Edwards to continue collecting and testing water samples “from the 271 Flint residences that were first sampled in August 2015.”

The Detroit News  (3/1) adds that McCarthy also said that pipes are re-coating with a phosphate bio-film that prevents lead from seeping into drinking water. However, she was “adamant more sampling needs to be done” before Flint can move on to containment and removal of the lead lines. Meanwhile, Mark Durno, supervisory engineer for the EPA, said Tuesday the agency will “be making a proposal to the city about a possible flushing program where they do some flushing to get chemicals, like chlorine and orthophosphate, to treat the pipes better distributed throughout the system.”

Moniz Says Energy Efficiency Rules Will Last.

The Hill  (3/1, Cama) reports Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said yesterday at the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy summit that the energy efficiency rules put in place by the Obama Administration will continue to exist in future administrations. Moniz “said that it would be very difficult for a president who disagrees with the rules, such as a Republican, to reverse course.” The Energy Department “under Obama’s leadership has put out regulations meant to save energy in water heaters, air conditioners, ceiling fans, dishwashers, and a wide swath of other appliances and equipment.” DOE “came out with 13 such rules just last year,” and it is “planning another 13 this year, Moniz said.” Moniz was also hopeful “that Obama’s energy agenda — particularly his push for clean energy research and development — would survive future presidents and Congresses of either party.” He stated, “I think the innovation agenda really has very substantial bipartisan support.”

ARPA-E Aims To Expand Mandate Into Late-stage Energy Technologies. Fortune  (3/1) reports that for the first time since the program was created in 2010, ARPA-E is “now looking to expand significantly beyond its original mandate to support moonshots,” hoping to create a new ARPA-E fund focused on “supporting and growing later-stage energy technologies.” It could be “particularly hard to get new ideas approved in Congress” ahead of a presidential election or buy into funding for clean energy given the controversy over the Clean Power Plan.

Government Can Back Transition To Alternative Fuel Vehicles.

Government Technology  (3/1, Miller) reports on ways the government can boost interest in alternative fuel vehicles to help offset the negatives of using gasoline-fueled cars. Currently, electric cars and hydrogen-powered vehicles are gaining ground, but the exact development of the two technologies remains unclear. California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development zero emission vehicle infrastructure head Tyson Eckerle said, “In my dream world, hydrogen and electricity are both thriving for their own reasons.” The article suggests the government can help achieve that goal by supporting research and development, building the right infrastructure, engaging in partnerships and information sharing, as well as offering consumer incentives.

EPA, NHTSA Seek Comments On Proposal To Limit Greenhouse Gas Limits For Trucks.

Transport Topics  (3/1) reports that the EPA and the NHTSA will publish a notice “seeking comment on their proposal to tighten greenhouse-gas emissions for trucks.” The article elaborates that the proposal seeking comment includes “the greenhouse-gas emissions model (GEM) P2v2.1, default gasoline engine fuel map for use in GEM, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Powertrain data, the Southwest Research Institute program update on cycle average mapping data and the Final Southwest Research Institute report to NHTSA.” The article adds that comments can be submitted up to 30 days after the notice is published.

Elementary/Secondary Education

White House Launches Program To Get Kids Into Labs.

Liana Heitin writes at the Education Week  (3/1) “Curriculum Matters” blog that the Obama Administration has “launched a new effort to expose K-12 students to what happens in the nation’s federal science labs, in the hopes of sparking more interest in science, technology, engineering, and math careers.” Over 50 national labs “will invite local youth to meet scientists and participate in hands-on activities and demonstrations.” The initiative is being coordinated by the White House Council on Women and Girls and the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force.

Y-12 Hosts Women In Engineering Event.

In recognition of women in engineering, the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (3/1, Munger) profiles Teresa Robbins, deputy manager of the NNSA’s Production Office, who was “among dozens of women engineers who shared stories and interacted with about 150 girls from local schools” at a Introduce a Girl to Engineering event at Y-12 on Tuesday. Facility safety engineer Syretta Vaughn and Y-12 senior technical adviser Susan Kozemko also participated.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

EPA Letters Vow Stricter Oversight For Lead Water.
Illinois Governor Blames House Speaker For University Funding Crisis.
Opinion: Zika Provides Opportunity To Promote Genetic Engineering.
Industry Study Shows About Half Of Internet Traffic Is Encrypted.
DOT Issues Notice For Applicants For New FAST Act Freight Grants.
UT Austin Hosts “Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.”
Americans Increasingly Interested In Alternative Transit.

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