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

Leading the News

Hyperloop Company Demonstrates Future Of High-Speed Transit.

USA Today  (5/11, Cava) reports Hyperloop One announced Tuesday it had secured $80 million in funding to continue research and development testing for a hyperloop transit system that would run between LA and San Francisco in just 30 minutes. CEO Rob Lloyd said, “We think we can move cargo by 2019 and passengers by 2021, if we can replicate the kind of support we’ve gotten here from the county and city of North Las Vegas.” The announcement came before the company “successfully demonstrated” a “proof of concept” to journalists and investors Wednesday. Hyperloop showed a “bare-metal sled…elevated slightly by magnetic levitation technology” as it sped down a 100-yard track.

The CBS Evening News (5/11, story 13, 0:30, Pelley) reported that while the first test of the “revolutionary high-speed transit system” lasted only two seconds, the developer “the developer said it was enough to prove that the magnetic technology can work.” ABC World News Tonight (5/11, story 13, 0:25, Muir) reported the sled went from zero to “400 miles per hour in two seconds” in a demonstration outside Las Vegas of the “possible future of travel.” ABC adds the goal is for passenger pods to move at 750 miles per hour.

NBC Nightly News (5/11, story 9, 1:50, Holt) also reported on the demonstration, but added that skeptics of the technology “ask what about high costs, land rights, and is it safe in an earthquake zone.” In addition, civil Engineer Kristen Ray said Hyperloop One’s goal of being in action by 2021 “is laughable.”

Also reporting are the Los Angeles Times  (5/11, Dave), the AP  (5/11, Rindels), and Reuters  (5/11, Carroll).

Higher Education

Purdue Engineering Students Make Teen Baseball Player New Foot.

The AP  (5/11) profiles 13-year-old Alex Morgan of Lafayette, Indiana, whose foot was amputated at birth due to a congenital defect. Despite this disability, Morgan is an avid baseball player. The AP reports that a group of mechanical engineering students at Purdue University “spent their school year trying to help Alex and others like him run and move more easily.” The students “presented Alex Morgan with a new ankle and foot design that offers greater range of motion and durability — and at a fraction of the cost of similar prosthetics already on the market.”

Report: College Increasingly Becoming Unaffordable.

PBS NewsHour  (5/11) reports that according to a new report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education, “the converging trends of falling state investment, rising tuition, and stagnant incomes has finally pushed higher education out of the grasp of low- and middle-income Americans, even at community colleges.”

Nonprofit Chief: Boost College Attendance By Promoting “College Going Culture” In Disadvantaged Schools.

In commentary for The Hill  (5/11) “Congress Blog,” Keith Frome, CEO of the nonprofit College Summit, writes about the angst that many aspiring college students feel during the admissions process, and says that lower-income students are especially daunted by the difficulties associated with applying for college. Frome says that while there is a cultural expectation within more affluent families that children will attend college, this assumption is largely absent in families in “disadvantaged neighborhoods.” He writes, therefore, that fostering such a “college going culture” in schools in such areas would remove an obstacle to college attendance.

Warren Blasts Navient Over Lobbying, Failing To Repay Government.

The Hill  (5/11, Lane) reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), in a letter Wednesday to ED Office of Federal Student Aid COO James Runcie, criticized Navient “for spending millions on lobbying Congress while failing to pay back to the federal government millions in overcharged loan subsidies.” Warren and other Federal and state officials have criticized “what they consider unethical and irresponsible ways the company assists borrowers.”

Student Debt Problems At Community Colleges Growing.

USA Today  (5/11) reports that despite community colleges’ manifold benefits, including relative affordability, “many community college students drop out. And a growing number of students are taking on debt they cannot repay.” Though states usually focus their college affordability efforts at the four-year college level, “some states are tackling community college costs by creating scholarships that eliminate tuition.”

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

Nvidia Car Learns How To Drive Watching Videos Of Human Drivers.

Information Week  (5/11, Claburn) reports that researchers at Nvidia “have created a convolutional neural network” that has “learned” how to drive “by observing video from cars operated by human drivers” – dubbed DAVE2 as part of “an effort to expand on DARPA Autonomous Vehicle (DAVE) research.”

Carter Promotes DIUx Changes, Artificial Intelligence.

The New York Times  (5/11, Markoff, Subscription Publication) reports on the Defense Department’s “intense interest” in “Silicon Valley’s hottest technology – artificial intelligence.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Wednesday visited Silicon Valley for the fourth time, and spoke at the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) facility. Carter sees this as the third time the US has relied on a technological edge “to compensate for a smaller military,” the other times being in the 1950s, when the US turned to nuclear weapons, and the 1980s, when “improved technology in conventional weapons” offered an advantage. Carter said DIUx “will now report directly to him.” Carter also announced that another DIUx “office would be opened in the Boston area, another hotbed of A.I. research centered on Harvard and M.I.T.”

The Wall Street Journal  (5/11, Lubold, Cameron, Subscription Publication) reports Carter announced that DIUx will have a new leadership team, with executives from top tech firms such as Google and Apple. The Journal says the new leadership team will focus on building trust between private industry and the government to accelerate development of new technologies.

Trend Micro Research Finds Cyberattacks On German Political Party.

Reuters  (5/11, Auchard) reports the security firm Trend Micro released research that found a hacking group called Pawn Storm is responsible for a series of cyberattacks on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. Reuters cites Trend Micro saying the hackers attempted to steal personal and corporate data through phishing attacks.

Global Developments

China Quietly Reforming Oil And Gas Sector.

Reuters  (5/11, Aizhu, Meng) reports China is implementing moderate pilot-based changes in reforming the state-owned enterprises in its oil sector, rather than pushing more complicated reforms or mega-mergers like last year’s merger between top train makers China CNR Corp Ltd and China CSR Corp Ltd. China is instead moving to increase the sector’s efficiency through smaller measures like granting oil licenses to private refiners, pushing spin-offs, encouraging a first private-led mega-refinery, and overhauling how state-run assets are managed. Two senior CNPC officials said that the firm is looking to restructure its services division, which employs nearly one million people, over the next two to three years by setting up separate companies to cover oilfield drilling, refinery engineering, and financial services, with hopes of listing them on the stock market around 2018.

Engineering and Public Policy

FTA Orders Metro To Make Immediate Repairs On Red, Orange, Blue, Silver Lines.

The Washington Post  (5/11, Aratani, Duggan) reports that on Wednesday, the FTA ordered Metro to immediately begin repairs on parts of the Red, Orange, Blue, and Silver lines. The Post mentions that two of the three sections specified by the FTA are already part of Metro’s SafeTrack program. However, FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers “said the required fixes are so significant that they cannot wait to be completed under the tentative schedule set for Metro’s year-long ‘SafeTrack’ maintenance blitz.” According to the FTA, the specified sections are at risk of a fire. Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel said, “It is important for riders to know that Metro GM Wiedefeld is not waiting on safety items.” Stessel “said Wiedefeld already has directed that all porcelain insulators be removed from all underground stations over the next month.” Stessel “added that, as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, sealing sleeves will be installed on all underground power cables by the end of May.” DCist  (5/11, Sturdivant) adds that under the FTA orders, the repairs must be completed within 30 days. This will mean the repairs will begin before Metro was scheduled to begin its SafeTrack plan.

The Hill  (5/11, Zanona) reports the three sections that FTA has specified are Medical Center to Van Ness on the Red Line, Potomac Avenue to the D&G junction on the Blue/Orange/Silver Lines, and Ballston-MU to East Falls Church on the Orange/Silver Lines. The article adds that the FTA wants Metro to complete various maintenance measures on these sections, including efforts to “clean drains, remove debris, inspect power cables and replace insulators in the first two areas, while focusing on the power electrification system in the third.”

The Washington City Paper  (5/11, Giambrone) notes in its “CityDesk” blog that the FTA’s orders come just a day after DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx “said he had considered ordering Metro to stop service last week a dangerous track explosion.” Politico  (5/11, Scholtes) adds that Foxx also stated, “I will have no hesitation to shut down the system. … All the tools that we have available to us are on the table – all of them. What we’re trying to get out of WMATA is compliance with our inspection team and compliance on basic levels of safety as measured in large part against their own standards. Last Thursday did not inspire confidence.” The Daily Caller  (5/11, Birr) and Engineering News-Record  (5/11, Parsons, Ichniowski) also similarly report on Foxx’s comments.

Local television coverage on Foxx’s comments included WJZ-TV Baltimore (5/11, 5:05 p.m. EST), WNC8-TV Washington (5/11, 4:24 p.m. EST), 12-TV Bronx, NY (5/11, 3:18 p.m. EST) reports, WBAL-TV Baltimore (5/11, 12:13 p.m. EST), Bloomberg News (5/11, 11:07 a.m. EST), and WTMJ-TV Milwaukee (5/11, 7:34 a.m. EST).

Meanwhile, the WTTG-TV  Washington (5/11) website reports that on Wednesday, Metro Board chairman Jack Evans said, “If Secretary Foxx believes that it is unsafe, I’m in agreement with him.” Evans added, “As you saw before, [Metro GM] Paul [Wiedefeld], myself and the board have no reservation about shutting down the system if it’s not safe. We are not sending trains out there and putting people in danger. So if the secretary believes it’s unsafe, we have communications with him and are able to verify that – no problem.”

Reuters  (5/11, Simpson) writes that over the weekend, the FTA also issued a series of safety directives. Reuters adds that according to the FTA, it has investigated 15 Metro safety breaches since April 23. Nine of the 15 investigations related to smoke or fire incidents.

Republicans Criticize White House Budget’s Funding Cuts For DOE Clean Coal Research.

The Houston Chronicle  (5/11) reports proposed cuts to research into clean-burning coal at the Department of Energy “drew sharp criticism” from Republicans on Wednesday. Under the White House budget, funding would decrease three percent to $368 million. “It is clear fossil energy is not the priority of the Obama administration,” Rep. Randy Weber said at a hearing in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

IBM Research Promotes Quantum Computing Solution.

eWeek  (5/11, Taft) hosts a slideshow on its website explaining how IBM Research is “making quantum computing available to members of the public who can access and run experiments on the company’s quantum processor.” IBM said quantum computing can “perform new operations on data or operations outside the standard models of computation.”

Senators Urge EPA To Tackle Air Pollution At Ports, Railyards.

The AP  (5/11) reports that Democratic senators on Wednesday in a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy urged the agency to reduce emissions at ports and freight railyards. The lawmakers said many of the ports and railyards are located near lower-income neighborhoods, disproportionately exposing those residents to high levels of air pollution.

EIA Sees Largest Growth For Renewables, Nuclear.

The Hill  (5/11, Cama) reports that according to the EIA Wednesday, energy consumption from renewables will grow an average of 2.6 percent a year through 2040. Nuclear power is expected to see 2.3 percent annual increase. EIA head Adam Sieminski said, “Even with this growth in renewables and nuclear, fossil fuels will continue to be the dominant provider of energy in 2040 in our reference case, supplying something like three quarters of the world’s energy use.”

Salt Lake City Aims To Ramp Up Use Of Solar Power.

The AP  (5/11) reports Jackie Biskupski, mayor of Salt Lake City, “wants to double the government’s use of solar power from 6 percent to 12 percent by the end of the year.” On Tuesday, Biskupski made the announcement “with Rocky Mountain Power CEO Cindy Crane, whose company’s new solar program is powering the switch.” The mayor “says the city’s subscription to Rocky Mountain Power’s program will provide more than double [the] renewable energy output…of the 4,000 solar panels the city has installed on its own.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Girls Inc. CEO Encourages Young Women To Embrace STEM Careers.

US News & World Report  (5/11, Camera) features a profile of Girls Inc. CEO Judy Vredenburgh, in which she expresses her desire to encourage more young women to embrace careers in the STEM disciplines. Vredenburgh says that the mission to move young women towards STEM careers is “very personal” for her, and adds that she has “huge passion for economic independence, career achievement and … for not having other girls go through the limitation and messaging that prevented me from doing what I was naturally good at.”

Award-Winning Teacher Describes Creating STEM Lessons Based On Students’ Interests.

US News & World Report  (5/11, Golod) profiles Julie Harp, a Maryland middle school science teacher who “was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science by President Barack Obama in 2015.” In an interview, Harp discussed “new STEM teaching practices, and creating science lessons that speak to students’ interests.” Harp discusses differences in students’ interests at the high school and middle school levels.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

FAA Signs UAS Detection Tech Research Agreements.
Darryl Butt Names New Dean For The College Of Mines And Earth Sciences.
Hyperloop One Attracts Funding, Backers.
GM Reiterates EV Priority, Adds To Lineup Of 40-MPG Cars.
Madison, Wisconsin Replaces All 8,000 Lead Pipes.
Organizations Release “Call To Action” On Career Technical Education.

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