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

Leading the News

Toyota Announces New Research Base Focused On Autonomous Cars Near University Of Michigan.

Bloomberg News  (4/7, Hull) reports that Toyota Motor Corp. announced it will collaborate with the University of Michigan to build a “research base” near the university’s campus in Ann Arbor to further research into autonomous vehicles that is scheduled to open in June. Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt said “co-opetition” among automakers will bring advances in the field of autonomous cars. Toyota is also creating research centers in Palo Alto, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to Reuters  (4/7, Sage), researchers at the Michigan site will focus on robotics, artificial intelligence, and materials science to facilitate the development of fully autonomous cars, while the center in Palo Alto deals with assisted driving technologies, and Cambridge researchers are exploring deep learning and simulation. The centers are part of Toyota’s $1 billion investment in AI R&D. MIT Technology Review  (4/7, Knight) reports on Toyota’s “guardian angel” system, in development in Palo Alto, that can “automatically take control of a vehicle, or subtly adjust a driver’s actions, in order to avert danger.”

The Wall Street Journal  (4/7, Ramsey, Subscription Publication) reports that Toyota has opted for hybrid hiring contracts with UM researchers Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson, allowing them to split their time between company and University, so as not to sap talent from the institution. Director of the Toyota Research Institute Gill Pratt said the company is “trying very much to have a synergistic relationship with academia.” Detroit (MI) Free Press  (4/7, Gardner), the Detroit (MI) News  (4/7, Martinez), and Fortune  (4/7, Korosec) offer additional coverage.

Higher Education

NSF Announces Scientific Study Of Sexism Faced By Female College Engineering Students.

The Huffington Post  (4/7, Blay) reports the National Science Foundation “is planning a study that will track the ways in which male students exercise sexist behavior against their female peers.” The study will be conducted at the University of Michigan by recording “the interactions between male and female engineering students over the course of three years.”

Ohio State Engineering Students Take Part In EcoCar 3 Competition.

The Columbus (OH) Dispatch  (4/7) reports that Al Oppenheiser, the chief engineer with GM’s Chevrolet Camaro, met last week with Ohio State University’s EcoCar 3 team, saying the “unusual meeting” took place “because Ohio State won the first leg of the intercollegiate contest last year.” The piece explains that the competition “has students developing ways to make existing vehicles run more efficiently.” Students “converted the car from a standard gasoline engine to a plug-in hybrid,” and are facing a two-week deadline to have it on the road.

ED Official Reminds Student Loan Holders That America Doesn’t Have Debtors’ Prisons Anymore.

The AP  (4/7, Kerr) reports ED’s communications director Matt Lehrich wrote in a blog that, “America hasn’t had debtors’ prisons for nearly two centuries, and you cannot be arrested simply for not paying your student loans.” The article mentions that ED has said it only refers about .25% of federal student loans to the Department of Justice for collection, which amounted to 1,300 loans during the 2015 fiscal year. The article notes that Lehrich’s blog post follows the arrest of Paul Aker earlier this year, who was initially reported as being arrested because he had not paid back his student loans but it was later learned that he was arrested “for failing to appear in court, and after many attempts to contact him.”

Report: Increase In Federal Financial Aid Offsets State Higher Education Cuts.

Inside Higher Ed  (4/7, Fain) reports that according to a new study from the think tank New America, the increases in federal financial aid from 1996 to 2012 offset the decreases in state funding for public higher education over the same period of time. The report’s author Jason Delisle, New America’s Federal Education Budget Project director, says, “There’s a perception that federal aid has not kept up with costs or prices, but that’s not the case. You’ve got a federal aid system that does a pretty good job of targeting low-income students.”

States Bypassing Congress With Different Laws On Eligibility Of Undocumented Immigrants For Financial Aid.

The Hechinger Report  (4/7, Gordon) highlights the patchwork of state laws that make undocumented immigrants in some parts of the country eligible for financial aid, while others are ineligible to enroll in state universities or are charged higher tuition comparable to what out-of-state or international students pay. The article contrasts the experience of an undocumented immigrant student in California who is eligible for state financial aid while attending UCLA because of state law with the experience of a similar student in Georgia who is ineligible to attend many of the state’s public universities under state law and is hoping to attend a private university that offers aid.

Washington State Lawsuit Gets Student Loan Debt Adjustors To Pay Back Students.

The AP  (4/7) reports the Washington Attorney General’s Office has said that several student loan debt adjustors in the state that had overcharged hundreds of students and collected illegal fees will pay back $162,000 to 346 students after a state lawsuit. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the firms “preyed on students who sought their help” to consolidate their student loans.

From ASEE
Engineering Informing Liberal Arts Education
ASEE and education expert Sheila Tobias have launched a series of case studies on engineering habits-of-mind enhancing a liberal arts education.  Funding came from the Teagle Foundation.

Research and Development

University Of Washington Researchers Working On “Passive Wi-Fi” With Lower Power Usage.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (4/7, Day) reports a team of researchers at the University of Washington “may have found a way” to dramatically reduce “the amount of power needed to emit a Wi-Fi signal.” The researchers’ “passive Wi-Fi” may allow “devices to communicate using 10,000 times less power than traditional Wi-Fi transmissions.” The researchers believe the new technology may help the development of the so-called Internet of Things, by allowing such devices to operate for much longer before their batteries must be either recharged or replaced.

Dominion Aims To Cut Costs To Offshore Wind Research Project.

The AP  (4/7) reports Dominion Virginia Power said Thursday that it is working to bring down costs for a proposed offshore wind research project off the coast of Virginia. The article says that plans to have the two research turbines installed by 2017 “were dashed when bids came in at nearly double Dominion’s estimate.”

Workforce

Demand For H-1B Visas Outstrips Supply.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/7, Jordan, Subscription Publication) reports for the fourth consecutive year, demand for foreign-skilled worker visas outpaced supply in less than a week. According to USCIS, since the process opened on April 1, the number of request it received has exceeded the 85,000 H-1Bs which are available, although it did not disclose the total number of applications it received. The government will now award the visas through a lottery. The Washington Times  (4/7, Dinan) says the volume of applications signals that “companies’ voracious appetites for cheap foreign workers remains unabated despite intense criticism on the presidential campaign trail.”

Industry News

Tesla Celebrates Unprecedented 325K Model 3 Reservations.

The New York Times  (4/7, Vlasic, Subscription Publication) reports that the forthcoming Tesla Model 3 has gotten more than 325,000 $1,000 deposits, the company said in a blog post Thursday, which will translate to about $14 billion in future sales on a car that “will not even be built until late next year.” The Times adds that “industry analysts and executives have been stunned” by the public interest in the new Model 3, which according to Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas is unprecedented. Jonas wrote in a research note that, “despite its many accomplishments, Tesla had not yet truly disrupted the auto industry,” but the interest in the Model 3 may indicate “that this may be starting to change.” The Huffington Post  (4/7, Grenoble) reports that the company said the numbers make the launch “the single biggest one-week launch of any product ever” and represent “a huge step towards a better future by accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation.”

According to Bloomberg News  (4/7, Hull), the success is “raising questions about how the company, which delivered just 50,658 vehicles in 2015, can” ramp up manufacturing “to produce cars in much higher volumes.”

Tesla’s shares were down 2.5% to $258.67 during afternoon trading Thursday, Reuters  (4/7, Ajmera) reports, but analysts say that the decline is probably due to profit-taking and not a result of disappointment with the company’s numbers.

ABC News  (4/7, Newcomb), MarketWatch  (4/7, Assis), and the New York Post  (4/7, Covert) offer additional coverage.

Auto Industry Increasingly Using Advanced Materials.

In a piece for LiveScience  (4/5), Nikhil Gupta, an associate professor, and Steven Zeltmann, a student researcher, in the Composite Materials and Mechanics Laboratory of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, write about a number of “new and advanced materials used in modern cars that make them lightweight and provide the desired speed and fuel economy.” In addition to the commonly discussed carbon-composite parts that maker cars lighter and give them “improved styling,” there are “less-talked-about materials, such as natural fiber and recycled materials” which “are great for reducing the carbon footprint of cars and making use of renewable natural materials or recycling waste.”

Uber Steals Ford’s Engineer For Its Self-Driving Program.

The Verge  (4/7, Hawkins) reports that Uber has “pillaged” Ford “in its quest to excel in the hyper-competitive world of self-driving cars” by hiring away Ford’s director of global electronics and engineering Sherif Marakby to serve as vice president of global vehicle programs at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. According to the Detroit (MI) News  (4/7, Martinez), Marakby served in “a number of different roles” at Ford, “including chief engineer of the Escape, chief engineer of hybrid core technology and director of powertrain engineering for Ford of Europe.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Chief Touts Methane Regulations As Part Of Climate Leadership.

The Hill  (4/7, Henry) reports that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke alongside Canadian officials on Thursday about the importance of regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Said McCarthy, “Moving on [methane] will reaffirm our leadership on climate. It also will happen to make sure that our ability to continue to rely on fossil fuel will be done in a way that is sustainable, as well.”

Missouri Regulators Take Different Approach To Two Transmission Line Projects.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch  (4/7, Barker) reports that two similar transmission line projects are expected to receive “very different treatment from Missouri regulators.” Ameren Corp., “a traditional utility company…went through the traditional process” to push forward its proposed Mark Twain transmission line. As a result, if the project is approved, “ratepayers across the region will reimburse Ameren for the costs of the Northeast Missouri line.” On the other hand, Clean Line Energy Partners’ “isn’t a traditional utility,” and instead will “assume the risk of building the line and sign up customers and generators independently.”

KCP&L Purchases 500MW Of New Wind Power From Missouri Facilities.

The Kansas City (MO) Star  (4/7, Rosen) reports that Kansas City Power & Light announced Thursday it had purchased “an additional 500 megawatts of power from two new wind facilities in the company’s service region.” KCP&L president and CEO Terry Bassham said the transaction, which will provide enough wind energy to power up to 170,000 homes, is a “significant investment in renewable energy that will benefit our customers and the region.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Boston High School Robotics Team Earns Spirit Award.

The North Andover (MA) Eagle Tribune  (4/8, Kashinsky) reports that Lawrence High School’s Gearheadz robotics team emerged from the New England district competition for FIRST Robotics with an award for their “extraordinary enthusiasm and spirit.” The team’s lead mentor said that students were “very proud” of the award after seven weeks of work on the medieval-themed competition bot. The spirit award recognized both the students’ enthusiasm and their efforts in “expanding other facets of FIRST competitions” through mentoring elementary and middle school students in Lego leagues, according to the Eagle Tribune.

Hillsborough Students Prepare Experiment For Second Space Launch.

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times  (4/8, Solomon) reports that three Fishhawk Creek Elementary students will get a second chance at launching a seed cultivation experience into space with help from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. According to the students, their research could aid future manned Mars missions with crop cultivation. The three girls hope to avoid another “catastrophic failure” like their last attempt, in which the load-bearing rocket “exploded less than three minutes after launch.” Hillsborough County is one of 25 communities participating in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a STEM initiative providing students access to space for their experiments.

Study: Career And Technical Education Increases Students’ Chances To Graduate.

US News & World Report  (4/7, Camera) reports that a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows that students with “greater exposure to career and technical education,” and those who “concentrate” on it are 21 percentage points more likely to graduate high school than students who don’t. The report also found that workforce preparedness particularly affects boys and low-income students. This bodes well for states like Arkansas, where an increased emphasis on technical and career education resulted in 89 percent of high school students taking at least one course with a “career focus.” Separately, in its “High School and Beyond” blog, Education Week  (4/7, Gewertz) comments that the study also found “no evidence of disproportionate participation” in such programs by disadvantaged students, except a “slight” over-representation in students who took seven or more courses. This “contradicts” the traditional wisdom that career and technical programs will become “a dead-end pathway” for students with “little chance of succeeding at college,” but claims that “middle and high achievers are not shying away” from the programs, according to Education Week.

New ELL Science Curriculum Shows Promise In Tests.

Education Week  (4/7, Mitchell) reports that New York University researchers released a promising study showing the success of a new fifth-grade science program for English language learners called Promoting Science Among English Language Learners (P-SELL). According to the paper’s authors, the study was designed to “promote scientific inquiry” integrated with language development strategies such as translations for key words, including multiple learning strategies, and recognizing preexisting, culture-specific science knowledge. The test scores of Florida students using the new program were compared to students using district programs and results showed that both native English speakers and ELL students had superior scores with the P-SELL curriculum.

High School Robotics Team Builds Toy Cars For Special-Needs Kids.

The AP  (4/7) reports that a robotics program at Metamora Township High School has developed “customized vehicles for children with special needs” for the last four years. The program’s most recent effort was a ride-on car for a girl with a developmental disorder that delayed her ability to walk and talk, but the high school students used touch capacitators to ensure that the girl could still use her new toy. The car will also scale to help the girl develop standing and walking skills. The robotics team creates the cars in the off-season when they are not preparing for FIRST robotics competitions.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Rogers Warns China, Russia Can Launch Crippling Cyberattacks.
Over 40% Of Federal Student Loan Consumers’ Accounts In Arrears.
Georgia Tech Hosts ACC InVenture Entrepreneur Competition.
GE Set To Open $39M 3-D Printing Facility.
ODOT Has New Plan For Bridge Inspections Following Earthquakes.
Ex-Lockheed CEO: New Science Standards Necessary To Prepare Children For STEM Roles.

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