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

Leading the News

Google, Fiat Chrysler Partner For Autonomous Vehicles’ Development.

NBC News  (5/3, Eisenstein) reports Google and Fiat Chrysler “are teaming up” to form “a first-stage alliance that could help bring autonomous vehicles to market by the end of the decade.” Google will use 100 specially modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans in its autonomous driving test program. FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said, “Working with Google provides an opportunity for FCA to partner with one of the world’s leading technology companies to accelerate the pace of innovation in the automotive industry.” He added, “The experience both companies gain will be fundamental to delivering automotive technology solutions that ultimately have far-reaching consumer benefits.” The New York Times  (5/3, Boudette, Subscription Publication) reports Google’s self-driving car project CEO John Krafcik said working with FCA “will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive.” NPR  (5/3, Wagner) reports that Krafcik also said, “FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google’s self-driving technology” and the opportunity for Google “to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive.” Google plans to begin testing the first autonomous minivan on the road by the end of 2016, according to the Wall Street Journal  (5/3, Nicas, Bennett, Subscription Publication), but the company declined to share a more detailed timeline. The AP  (5/3) reports that the companies declined to discuss the financial terms of the deal, but “both companies are free to work with others.” Google will own the vehicles and will not license its autonomous car technology to FCA.

According to the Washington (DC) Post  (5/3, McFarland), FCA “will lead on the design and engineering” for the Pacificas, which will be “built specifically for Google’s technology,” while the tech giant’s “engineers will join the automaker’s engineers at a Michigan facility to collaborate on” the design to ease integration of the self-driving sensors. The Post mentions that Google is portraying the decision to use the minivan “as a way to test a larger vehicle that will be easier for passengers to enter and exit,” but points out that having a larger vehicle equipped with autonomous tech “would offer flexibility if Google wants to launch a taxi service.”

USA Today  (5/3, della Cava) adds the partnership “represents the first time Google’s team will be sharing” its well-guarded autonomous car technology with a major automaker. The company’s “existing fleet consists of a few dozen Lexus SUVs” modified aftermarket by Google staffers and “a few two-person prototypes built in-house.” Krafcik praised Fiat Chrysler’s engineering team, which he said are “totally aligned with what we need to do at this stage, which is build more vehicles and get more testing miles under our belt.” Bloomberg News  (5/3), CNET News  (5/3, Krok), the Detroit (MI) Free Press  (5/3, della Cava, Snavely), the Financial Times  (5/3, Badkar, Subscription Publication), Fortune  (5/3, Korosec), Mashable  (5/3, Jaynes), and Reuters  (5/3, Shepardson, Woodall) offer additional coverage.

Higher Education

Villanova University Engineering Professor Dr. Amin Receives Prestigious Humboldt Prize.

In a press release  (4/27) from Villanova University reports Moeness Amin, PhD, Director of Villanova University’s Center for Advanced Communications, and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering “has been awarded Germany’s prestigious Humboldt Prize.” The “international honor” was bestowed on him “in recognition of his groundbreaking signal processing research projects that advance assisted living safety with radar, improve the quality of wireless services in communications, provide accurate and robust positioning in satellite navigations, enable search and discoveries of extraterrestrial intelligence in radio telescopes, streamline postal services and parcel tracking in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and that achieve effective structure health monitoring in ultrasound.”

Minnesota AG Seeks Loan Forgiveness For Students Of Failed For-Profit College.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (5/3) reports that Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is calling on ED to forgive the Federal student loans of students of the bankrupt Anthem College in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Former students at the for-profit college “say they were misled about the value of a degree” from the school. Since the school’s assets are not in play, Swanson called on ED “for a process for loan forgiveness.”

The St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press  (5/3) reports that the move fits in with Swanson’s practice of increasing regulation and litigation against bad actors in the for-profit college sector in the state. The piece points out that AGs in “two-dozen other states” have investigated abuses in the for-profit sector. The article compares this case to that of Corinthian Colleges, and reports that ED spokeswoman Kelly S. Leon “said any student who believes a school committed fraud or violated laws related to their loans may be eligible for debt relief.” The piece quotes Leon saying, “The Department remains committed to supporting student loan borrowers, especially in the unforeseen event of school closures. We appreciate the good work that state attorneys general do to protect consumers and work closely with them on a number of issues.” KSTP-TV  Minneapolis-St.Paul, MN (5/3) reports that Swanson “says students were sold ‘questionable degrees with overblown promises.’” The piece notes that since 1995, ED has had the authority to “forgive the loans of students whose colleges misled them in violation of state law.”

Ex-New York Schools Chancellor Promotes College Income Diversity.

In the “Congress Blog” at The Hill  (5/3), former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, now executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, writes that if the Supreme Court “places new limits on race-conscious affirmative action in admissions, the best way to preserve racial and ethnic diversity would be for the schools to launch aggressive programs to increase their income diversity. Since African-Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately low-income, they would benefit most from such a move.” According to census data, while the white poverty rate in 2013 was 10%, “the Hispanic poverty rate was 24 percent and the African-American rate was 26 percent.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Online Workshop
Applying Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in Computing Education will show how such practices can be effectively used when teaching graduate and undergraduate students. The workshop will be held June 1 and lasts for 3 hours. Registration is $50.

Research and Development

Bloomberg View Article Addresses Technical Hurdles To Interstellar Travel.

In a piece for Bloomberg View  (5/3), Faye Flam writes about “internet billionaires Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg’s” push for “sending a mission to another solar system,” writing that though it is currently impossible, “space scientists and aerospace engineers” say “it can’t be done without technological advances, but it’s not a crackpot idea.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Moves Forward On A Tighter Budget Than Curiosity.

Christian Science Monitor  (5/3, Fedde) reports NASA’s 2020 Mars rover will have $1 billion less to accomplish its mission of “finding traces of previous life” that is predecessor, Curiosity, had for its mission. Regardless “NASA intends to improve various aspects of the new rover, including its robotic arms and landing mechanisms.” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace further details the different features that the new rover will have as well as the involvement of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems, which “announced Monday it had been awarded a contract to build” the new rovers parts.

Digital Farming Could Shake Up Agrichemicals.

Reuters  (5/4, Burger) reports that agrichemical companies may need to remake business models as technology helps to revolutionize the agricultural sector and lessen the need for chemical treatments. Bayer CropScience head Liam Condon said that trouble would come if companies maintain the goal of selling as much volume as possible, and that services would need to play a larger part in business strategy. Monsanto expressed a similar position and bought weather analysis from Climate Corporation for $1 billion in 2013.

Report: Internet Of Things Could Increase Ag Productivity 70%. Engineering News (ZAF)  (5/3) reports that a recent study  from Deloitte found that “agricultural productivity in Africa has the potential to increase by 70%, through technological innovation leveraged by the Internet of Things [IoT]” between now and 2050. Deloitte Consulting agriculture sector leader Carlton Jones said that “technological innovation in the agricultural sector could have helped ensure that farmers were better prepared in dealing with the current drought by informing them of what to plant and where to plant it, given the El Niño effect on the region.” Potential technologies that can be leveraged in the sector include satellite geomapping, advanced sensors, and targeted veterinary care.

BMW CEO: Staff Defections Haven’t Slowed EV R&D.

Reuters  (5/3, Taylor) reports that BMW CEO Harald Krueger said during an earnings call that the recent defections of four employees will not have a significant effect on the company’s “Project i” EV program. He said, “R&D development of iNext will start now. And we have the people on board to do so.” Recently, Vice President Engineering Carsten Breitfeld, manager of the “i” powertrain group Dirk Abendroth, and Vice President Product Management at BMW “i” Henrik Wenders left the company to join Tencent Holdings-backed Chinese startup Future Mobility Corp.


Automotive Engineer Reenters Workforce After Two Decades By Emphasizing Homeschool Teaching.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/3, Shellenbarger, Subscription Publication) profiles Wendy MacLennan, an automotive engineer who left the workforce for 24 years to raise her children. By the time MacLennan decided to go back to work, “vehicles had evolved from gasoline-powered models you could repair in your garage to complicated hybrids powered by hundreds of microprocessors.” To punch up her résumé, MacLennan framed “her home-schooling experience in a professional way.” MacLennan stressed how she “had taught chemistry and physics in a home-schooling co-op and helped run an annual robotics competition.”

Industry News

Google, Fiat Chrysler Team Up For Self-Driving Minivans.

NPR  (5/3, Wagner) reports Google “announced it is partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to expand its self-driving car project,” teaming up for the first time with an automaker “to integrate its self-driving technology into a passenger vehicle.” Testing will involve close to 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. Self-driving car project CEO John Krafcik said, “FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google’s self-driving technology.” He added, “The opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive.” US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in February said, “In a world where the vehicle is doing more of the driving task, we are also asking questions of ourselves how we train people to drive in cars like that.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Virgin Islands AG Subpoenas Exxon Climate Change Communications.

The Washington Times  (5/3, Richardson) reports Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker, in a March 15 subpoena, demanded that communications between Exxon Mobil and more than 100 universities, academics, and think-tanks as part of his investigation into whether Exxon “committed fraud by challenging the catastrophic climate-change narrative.” The subpoena seeks communications “with a veritable who’s who of conservative and free-market organizations,” including the Manhattan Institute and the Heritage Foundation. It also lists “pro-business groups” like the US Oil and Gas Association. Exxon tried to dismiss the subpoena in a brief filed last month, arguing that it represents a violation of free-speech rights “and an infringement on its right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizures,” according to the Times.

Hughes: Climate Change Effects Already Visible In Alaskan Town. USA Today  (5/3, Hughes) correspondent Trevor Hughes discusses his time in Wales, Alaska, where he is observing how Inupiat residents are adapting to climate change. Experts, according to Hughes, say places like Wales “are among the most susceptible to long-term changes in weather because they’re most connected with natural cycles.” Sea ice that normally fronts Wales for half the year is now “melting earlier and earlier.” Hughes says this has notably affected polar bears in the area. Villagers are working with the World Wildlife Fund to help protect the bears. Instead of shooting them if they enter the village, villages are using air horns and other noisemakers to scare them away, because “with so few polar bears left alive, literally every bear matters.”

States Suing Over Clean Power Plan Still Cutting Coal Use.

Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis write for the Washington Post  (5/3) that “virtually every state suing to block the Clean Power Plan has itself shifted toward burning less coal to generate the electricity its residents need since the year 2007,” according to EIA data, “in some cases by very large amounts.” Nathan Richardson at the University of South Carolina School of Law said, “It’s a magnification of a trend that’s been going on for several years. Quite simply, coal is dying.” Richardson, however, said that legal opposition to the Clean Power Plan is rooted in part on principle. “Utilities and the states might not mind so much if market forces cause them to change, but they don’t want the EPA to tell them to do it,” Richardson said.

DOE To Delay New Efficiency Rules For Commercial Package Boilers.

The Hill  (5/3, Devaney) reports the Energy Department “is delaying new efficiency rules for commercial package boilers.” The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE “proposed new energy conservation standards for these appliances in March but is now extending the comment period to give the public more time to consider the changes.” The public will have a chance to comment until June 22.

Study: Wind Power Could Reduce Costs Of Offshore Oil Production.

The Houston Chronicle  (5/3, Blum) reports Norwegian consulting company DNV GL released a new study on Tuesday that found “wind power was not only environmentally sound, but” may also cut offshore oil production costs “by about $3 a barrel.” During their presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference, DNV executives “said at they believe the technology is transferable to the Gulf of Mexico and even to onshore Texas oil fields that have nearby wind farms.” DNV Group President and CEO Remi Eriksen also “acknowledged the irony of renewable technologies helping produce more oil, but he said the focus is on creating projects that benefit both the wind and oil and gas sectors.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

White House Says 30,000 STEM Teachers Have Been Trained Since 2011.

The Christian Science Monitor  (5/3, Suhay) reports that in marking Teachers’ Day on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that 30,000 STEM teachers have been trained since 2011 as part of the administration’s “100Kin10” initiative, “which set the ambitious goal of training 100,000 new STEM educators by 2021.” So far, “some 280 national partners, across all 50 states, have collectively pledged more than $90 million to support the development and ongoing support of 100,000 new STEM teachers.” The initiative looks to “address a potentially dire shortage of STEM teachers in the United States in the coming decades.”

Doshi STEM Institute To Close At End Of School Year Due To Low Enrollment, Budget Gap.

Newsday (NY)  (5/3, Ferrette, Dowdy) reports Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon announced on Monday that the Doshi STEM Instiute, “Long Island’s first science-focused high school,” will close at the end of this academic year. Officials cited “a $1 million budget gap and stagnant enrollment” as the reasons behind the closure, with Dillon noting the current 46 students enrolled was “less than one-quarter of those needed to sustain the school’s operating budget, he said.” A special meeting and vote of the Nassau BOCES board of trustees will be held on Thursday to confirm the school’s closure.

The AP  (5/3) also reports on the school’s closure.

Georgia Gov. Signs Bill Rewarding Students For Taking STEM Classes.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle  (5/3, Williams, Subscription Publication) reports that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday approved legislation that “will give students enrolled in the so-called STEM courses…extra credit toward qualifying for a HOPE scholarship.” The bill “will add a half point to the grade of any student receiving a B, C or D in a STEM course.”

Michigan High Schools Enter Teams In Robotics World Championship.

The Grand Haven (MI) Tribune  (5/3, Wagner) reports that Grand Haven and Fruitport High Schools in Michigan both had teams compete at the F.I.R.S.T. Robotics world championship in St. Louis, Missouri. Neither team made it past the first playoff round.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Texas A&M Building New Research Campus.
USC Hosts Virtual Reality Festival.
Scientists Looking To Recycle CO2 Waste.
Michigan Governor’s Office Releases Key Engineering Report On Flint Water Treatment Plant That Was Previously Said To Be Lost.
Florida Third Graders Learn About Robotics, Programming.

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