Leading the News
Metro Looks To Address FTA’s Call For Immediate Repairs.
News outlets report that Metro is looking into how to incorporate the FTA’s request for immediate repairs into its SafeTrack plan. In a letter from FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers, Metro was requested to immediately repair three specified areas. The Washington Post (5/12, Duggan) reports that Metro Chairman Jack Evans explained that Metro believes the repairs specified by the FTA are not more important than other planned repairs. Evans said that Metro’s response is not “push back,” rather Metro is “trying to understand what [the FTA is] using to arrive at their decisions. And given that our information leads us to a different conclusion, I think we have to sit down and cooperatively discuss this.” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld agreed with Evans and said, “We’re going to look at all the suggestions we’ve gotten from everyone, then make a final decision.” The Post mentions that Evans also “said he and Wiedefeld are in the dark about how decisions are made by the FTA – which is part of the Department of Transportation – and by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who has threatened to shut down Metro because of safety concerns.”
The Washington Examiner (5/12, Giaritelli) reports that Metro will move up the shutdown of parts of the Blue, Orange and Silver lines following the FTA’s request for immediate repairs. Wiedefeld said, “I think the sooner we get out there, the sooner we get out of this game.” WTOP-FM Washington (5/12, Smith) adds that Wiedefeld also “said he was spurred to even quicker action after sitting through the National Transportation Safety Board meeting earlier this month where the board identified a long history of problems with Metro, including major failures of senior management.”
Politico (5/12, Powers) reports that Foxx “softened his tone when he spoke about Wiedefeld at a DOT town hall meeting held at the agency’s headquarters on Wednesday.” Foxx said, “I think Paul Wiedefeld, the new general manager – he has a heckuva job, ‘cause he’s trying to dig this system out of a deep hole. And we fully understand, appreciate, and respect the challenges of that.”
The Washington Informer (5/12, Ford) writes that Metro’s new chief safety officer Patrick Lavin “said he’s ready to begin putting the nation’s second-busiest transit system back up to code and instilling confidence in the 13,000-employee agency.” Lavin added, “It doesn’t give you any value to have a blame game. What you need to do is identify the resources you need, commit to getting those resources, implement effective programs and that’s how you turn the tide.” The WTTG-TV Washington (5/12) website adds that Lavin has 33 years of experience in transit safety and he “said Metro’s problems are not nearly as bad as what he saw in New York City in the 1980s.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA 11th District) spoke on WNC8-TV Washington (5/12, 8:19 a.m. EST) about the issues facing the metro.
Also reporting on the story are the Philadelphia Inquirer , the Daily Caller (5/12, Birr), the Railway Tracks & Structures (5/12), the WRC-TV Washington (5/12) website, and Progressive Rail Roading (5/12).
The story was covered on local television by WNC8-TV Washington (5/12, 8:04 a.m. EST), WUSA-TV Washington (5/12, 12:04 p.m. EST), WRC-TV Washington (5/12, 5:01 p.m. EST), WTTG-TV Washington (5/12, 5:03 p.m. EST), and WJLA-TV Washington (5/12, 6:02 p.m. EST).
Metro Says Sparks Seen At Reagan National Station Are “Normal.” The WTTG-TV Washington (5/12) website reports that Metro officials said that sparks witness under a train car at Reagan National Airport are “normal.” Metro officials explained that the sparks were produced when the train switched to the electrified third rail at Reagan National Airport.
Maryland Sees Increase In Dual Enrollment High School Students.
The Frederick (MD) News-Post (5/12) reports that a growing number of Maryland high school students are taking part in dual enrollment programs “in an effort to find greater academic challenges and tackle future student debt.” Some districts have over 25% of students taking part in such programs, numbering around 10,000 throughout the state.
Engineering Students Encouraged To Choose Discipline Early.
US News & World Report (5/12) reports that engineering education experts “say there’s a benefit for students who know in the beginning of their college application process what type of engineering they want to study, as opposed to trying to switch majors during the latter half of undergrad.” The article focuses on Villanova University, where “prospective students must indicate what type of engineering they’d like to study in their applications but can freely switch between disciplines throughout freshman year.” Engineering Dean Randy Weinstein says that “by sophomore year, if students are still wavering, they’ll risk not graduating in four years.”
Need For Remedial Courses Can Raise College Costs.
US News & World Report (5/12) reports that college students who need to take remedial courses “end up spending nearly $1.5 billion in extra college costs.” The article reports that roughly 25% of college freshmen need some remedial courses.
Florida For-Profit Founder Gets Eight Years For Fraud.
NPR (5/12) reports in its “NPR Ed” blog that Alejandro Amor, founder of Florida’s FastTrain for-profit college firm, “was sentenced last week to eight years in federal prison for fraud.” Court papers say the firm “engaged in deceptive advertising and pressure tactics, such as hiring former strippers to recruit for the school.” The article reports that while prison time for an official of a for-profit is rare, the types of transgressions the firm committed are common.
University Of Southern California Readily Accepts Transfers, Unlike Other Elite Schools.
The Washington Post (5/12, Anderson) reports that while many elite universities have only a handful of transfer students every year, the University of Southern California is notable among leading universities for having “established major pipelines for these students.”
Research and Development
MIT Researchers Create Origami Robot To Retrieve Swallowed Batteries.
Boston (5/12) reports that MIT researchers have “created a tiny origami robot to retrieve” accidentally swallowed button batteries. The devices can “unfold…from a swallowed capsule of ice…steer itself by external magnetic fields and crawl across the stomach wall to remove a swallowed button battery, patch a wound, or deliver medicine to a specific location.”
IBM’s Watson To Be Trained For Cybersecurity.
In continuing coverage, The Christian Science Monitor (5/12, Vijayan) analyzes IBM’s artificial intelligence system Watson’s use for cybersecurity and the potential challenges. IBM VP of Security Caleb Barlow says Watson will be taught the language of cybersecurity over the next several months through data input. Barlow says “we have to teach it what an attack is, who an attacker is and what an indicator of compromise looks like,” according to the Monitor. The Monitor says IBM will “now need to train it to look at documents and data and extract security intelligence from it.”
Hackers In Pentagon Program Uncover 90 Vulnerabilities.
The CBS Evening News (5/12, story 10, 2:40, Pelley) reported the Pentagon’s experiment of inviting hackers to “assault its cybersecurity system” ended Thursday. During the six-week program, in which a staff of 12 worked out of a new office called the Defense Digital Service, hackers “uncovered 90 vulnerabilities in the software, flaws which could be exploited to tamper with the sites.” Chris Lynch, a software engineer, is heading up the new office.
Stanford University Researchers Developing Wall-Landing UAV.
The Verge (5/12) reports that Stanford University researchers are looking to provide UAVs with the insect-like ability “to land on vertical walls, and even upside down,” and have thus far made substantial progress. According to one of the researchers, the UAV’s system has a rigid tail, and a pair of “microspines.” The article explains that the tail allows the UAV “to correctly position itself while landing,” as the two microspines “are then dragged along the wall, where they catch on microscopic grooves in the surface.” Researcher Morgan Pope writes, “While it’s still not as foolproof as landing on a level surface, we are closer than ever to making perching accessible outside of a research environment.”
Lunar Ice Drill Unveiled.
Gizmodo (5/12, Dvorsky) reports Finmeccanica developed “an ice drill designed to penetrate three to six feet into the frigid lunar surface,” and the European Space Agency plans to send it to the Moon’s south polar region in 2020 aboard Russia’s Luna-27 lander. The drill will “autonomously deliver samples to a chemical laboratory, which is currently under development by engineers at the UK’s Open University.”
NASA Pressure-Proofs Orion Spacecraft.
Popular Science (5/12) reports that in order to ensure that Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft will be safe for humans when it lifts off on 2018 NASA’s “Journey To Mars” mission, engineers are “putting pressure on the capsule,” filling it with air “to expose any weak points.” The article explains that the spacecraft is intended “to withstand a pressure of about 15 psi,” and that a recent test “pumped it up to almost 19 psi.” Noting that the Apollo spacecraft was designed solely “to get people to the moon and back,” Jules Schneider, Orion operations manager at Lockheed Martin, explained that Orion “is designed to do many things, including missions we don’t even know yet,” adding that “our capabilities and tolerance for problems are much more strict than what the Apollo folks were dealing with.”
Amazon, Alphabet In Drone Delivery “Race.”
Business Insider (5/12, Oreskovic) reports Alphabet is locked in “a race against rival Amazon” to offer drone deliveries, and a recent job posting said Alphabet is looking for an engineer that has “an interest in airspace management practices and think[s] that flying airplanes is cooler than crashing airplanes.”
AirMap Signs Up 75 Airports For Its Drone Air Traffic Control System. Ars Technica (5/12, Gallagher) reports Amazon Prime Air VP Gur Kimchi recently outlined his ideas for drone air traffic control at the Xponential conference in New Orleans, and Santa Monica, California-based software developer AirMap already is lying “the groundwork for such a system.” With its iOS app, drone pilots can create a profile, which includes their contact and aircraft information, and “the app collects geolocation data, gives a color-coded message about flight restrictions, and offers the drone pilot the ability to notify airports within five miles of flight plans simply through a tap on the screen.” Airports can tap into the system through a “dashboard” app that lets them view “all of the notifications within their operating area.” So far, 75 airports have started using the AirMap system, including Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Los Angeles International, and Denver International.
Former Employee Claims uBeam’s Cordless Charger A “Sham.”
CNBC (5/12) reports that a former employee of wireless charging startup uBeam has accused the firm of “having a sham product.” Noting that the company “says it has created a device that can wirelessly charge nearby devices, like mobile phones and laptops, using ultrasound waves,” the article reports that a former vice president of engineering has “published a series of posts casting doubts on the company’s product.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Michigan Governor Announces Free Water For Flint Residents During May.
The Detroit Free Press (5/12, Dolan) reports Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver held a joint press conference at Flint City Hall on Thursday during which both leaders encouraged city residents to flush their taps for 10 minutes everyday for two weeks to help remove lead particles from the city’s water system. The Detroit News (5/12, Carah) reports that during the press conference, Gov. Snyder announced that Flint residents would not be charged for their water or sewer usage during the month of May with the hope that the free service would persuade more residents to flush their taps. The article mentions that HHS Region 5 Director Kathleen Falk and EPA supervisory engineer Mark Durno were also present at the press conference. Reuters (5/12, Klayman) reports Gov. Snyder said the state would pay the city’s water bill for the month.
Emails Show EPA Was “Anxious” About Lead Levels In Flint.
The Detroit Free Press (5/12, Spangler) reports on emails released Thursday by the EPA which show that although “some officials as early as February 2015 wanted top administrators made aware of high lead levels in Flint, months later those regulators most concerned about what would become a public health crisis were unsure of its scope or how to address it.” In the “more than 5,000 pages of internal e-mails and documents related to Flint,” the EPA “clearly appears anxious over how to respond to the initial reports of high lead levels in Flint and how it could be addressed with its [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] partners without, as one e-mail from [EPA program manager Jennifer] Crooks put it last July, ‘rubbing their noses in the fact that we’re right and they’re wrong.’”
Dakota Access Pipeline Secures All Permissions From Landowners In Dakotas.
The AP (5/12) reports that Energy Transfer Partners says it has secured all of the permissions from landowners it needs in the Dakotas for its proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. The 1,130-mile oil pipeline has all necessary state approvals but it still needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cross the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Pipeline Opponents Urge Iowa Regulators To Block Construction Before Federal Approvals. The Dallas Morning News (5/12) reports that opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline pressed Iowa regulators Thursday to bar construction of the line before all federal permits are approved. Dakota Access told the Iowa Utilities Board last week it must begin laying pipe by Tuesday to finish before winter and avoid disturbing farmland for a second growing season. The company “has notified regulators in North Dakota that construction would start Sunday and on Monday in South Dakota, and a company spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that construction is set to begin next week in Illinois.”
EPA Unveils Finalized Methane Rule.
In “the next step in President Obama’s aggressive effort to combat climate change,” the New York Times (5/12, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports the Administration on Thursday unveiled regulations aimed at controlling emissions of methane gas “that could leach from new oil and gas wells.” The rule, which is the final version of a draft regulation proposed by the EPA last year, “would require oil and gas companies to plug and capture leaks of methane from new and modified drilling wells and storage tanks, not older, existing wells.” Bloomberg News (5/12, Dlouhy) says the rule will require companies “to upgrade pumps and compressors, while expanding the use of so-called ‘green completion’ technology meant to capture the surge of gas that can spring out of newly fracked wells.” According to the EPA, the regulations “will add an estimated $530 million in additional costs per year by 2025,” which is “at least 25 percent higher than the preliminary version released in August.” The Administration says those costs “will be offset by savings from averting severe storms, floods and other consequences of climate change.” A separate Bloomberg News (5/12, Roston) analysis says the rules “also set up what could be the next phase of fossil fuel regulation,” but that next phase “may or may not happen” depending on the outcome of the presidential election. A Clinton or Sanders Administration “would likely try to protect Obama’s climate-and-energy legacy, including these new rules.” Noting that finalized rules are more difficult for a new president to undo, Bloomberg says a Trump Administration “would need to initiate a regulatory process to undo Obama’s finalized regulations,” while “proposals that are still in the pipeline…can be frozen and dropped.”
The Washington Times (5/12, Richardson) says the tougher methane standard “rocked the energy sector,” adding that “critics described the rule as an unscientific, punitive gesture intended to mollify the climate-change movement even though industry that has shown significant progress is in voluntarily reducing methane emissions.” House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said that the rule is “the latest regulatory hit to the private sector as President Obama nears the end of his second term, following the Waters of the United States, the Clean Power Plan, and the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.”
Virginia Governor Signs Bill Increasing High Schools’ CTE Focus.
The Washington Post (5/12, Balingit) reports that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a bill “that will lead to an overhaul of the state’s high school graduation requirements, aiming to making high school more relevant to the working world and giving students who want to start a career after high school more alternatives to fulfill requirements.” The state BOE will be required to “rewrite requirements that will apply to students entering high school in fall 2018.” Another new law sill “allow industry professionals to earn temporary teaching credentials with less-onerous requirements than traditionally required; the state hopes to get more career and technical teachers into schools.”
Fresno Board Members Call For Better CTE Programs.
The Fresno (CA) Bee (5/11) reports that some members of the Board of Trustees say the Fresno Unified School District “is falling behind on its promise to provide more career technical programs.” District CTE officials called on the board to “approve more than $600,000 to enhance programs next year, aiming to graduate students with trade skills that can land them well-paying jobs.”
Student Starts Robotics Club At Low-Income Georgia High School.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (5/12) profiles Quan Usher’s, “a STEM robotics student leader with a determination” who launched a robotics program at the low-income Columbia High School in Decatur, Georgia. Quan, a junior at the school, said, “We are a part of the VEX Robotics Competition. It’s robotics on a smaller scale.”
Hawaii Hosts Annual STEM Conference.
Maui (HI) Now (5/12) reports on the Hawaii STEM Conference, which was held from May 6 to May 7, the theme of which was “download knowledge, upload service,” and which emphasized “the role the conference played in promoting and developing the skills of students to become innovative thinkers.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Hyperloop Company Demonstrates Future Of High-Speed Transit.