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

Leading the News

Race To Autonomy Accelerates: Uber, GM Confirm They’re Testing Self-Driving Cars.

The San Francisco Chronicle  (5/19) reports that Uber posted a picture of the hybrid Ford Fusion it’s using to test its self-driving technology. The car, which “can be found tooling around the byways of Pittsburgh,” features a number of “sensors and high-resolution cameras to gather mapping data.” The AP  (5/19) adds that “a trained driver remains behind the wheel” to take control of the vehicle if necessary. According to the Detroit (MI) News  (5/19, Martinez), Uber said in a blog post that “Real-world testing is critical to our efforts to develop self-driving technology,” which could potentially “save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world.” The company joined Ford, Google, Lyft, and Volvo earlier this year “to form a new coalition to urge lawmakers” to establish federal regulations for autonomous vehicles.

CNET News  (5/19, Hoyle, Krok) adds that Uber managed to get its car on the road “just in time to lay claim to being the first ride-sharing company to dabble in autonomy,” beating out rival Lyft – which plans to start testing autonomous cars Chevy Bolts “sometime within the next year” as a part of its partnership with GM. Outlets offering similar coverage include MarketWatch  (5/19, Huston), the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (5/19, Aupperlee), TIME  (5/19, Eadicicco), USA Today  (5/19), and The Verge  (5/19, Hawkins).

Relatedly, The Verge  (5/19, Ziegler) reports that GM and Cruise Automation have confirmed that they’re testing a Chevrolet Bolt EV equipped with autonomous driving technology in San Francisco, as part of the automaker’s efforts to use its “$500 million investment in Lyft combined with its acquisition of Cruise to put electric, self-driving ride-share vehicles on roadways.”

Higher Education

University Of Phoenix To Stop Using Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.

MarketWatch  (5/19, Berman) reports that University of Phoenix parent Apollo Education Group has announced “that it will stop including mandatory arbitration clauses in its enrollment agreements.” The piece notes that the clauses “make it extremely difficult for consumers who believe they’ve been wronged by a company to take their claims to court,” and says the move “comes amid a broader company turnaround.” MarketWatch says that ED is facing pressure from consumer groups to ban the clauses among schools that receive Federal funding.

University Agriculture Programs Increasing STEM Focus.

US News & World Report  (5/19) reports that a number of University agriculture programs “have addressed a changing landscape – in terms of students’ backgrounds and industry practices – by adjusting some of their offerings to include new minors, increased interdisciplinary approaches and courses that incorporate real-world experiences that serve as professional foundations.” The piece quotes USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Ann Bartuska saying, “I see students being given more communications training, and more ability to put their findings into clear language. I see [colleges and universities] changing the way teaching is done to create much more group and team learning. There’s a whole lot less of a scientist just working on a real problem all by themselves, in isolation, producing only on their own single-author publications because the questions have gotten so much more complex.”

Indiana University Reduces Student Borrowing By Sending Students Loan Debt Letters.

PBS NewsHour  (5/19) reports that in 2012, Indiana University began “sending students annual letters that estimate their total loan debt and future monthly payments.” After the letters started going out, undergraduate borrowing fell by 18%. State officials were inspired by the program to scale it up statewide, and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) “has proposed requiring the federal Department of Education to keep a list of financial literacy best practices, perhaps including student loan letters.”

New Graduates Find Better Job Market, But Face Big Student Debt.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  (5/19, Kennedy) reports that even though the job market is recovering, with employers expecting “to hire 5.2% more recent graduates this year than in 2015,” graduates “entering the job market are doing so with a record amount of debt,” averaging $28,950 per student.

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

Retention Strategies
Going the Distance” is a video showcasing effective retention strategies at six universities.

Research and Development

Northeastern, UMass-Lovell, MIT Studying NASA Robots.

The AP  (5/18, O’Brien) reports that NASA has loaned three of its Valkyrie robots to “universities in Massachusetts and Scotland so professors and students can tinker with the 6-foot-tall, 300-pound humanoids and make them more autonomous.” The piece says the robots “could be pioneers in the colonization of Mars, part of an advance construction team that sets up a habitat for more fragile human explorers.” One of the robots, nicknamed Val, is being studied by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Lovell and Northeastern University as part of a “two-year project to improve the robot’s software and test its ability to manipulate tools, climb a ladder and perform high-level tasks.” MIT and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are studying the other two Valkyrie robots.

“RoboBee” Able To Perch On Glass, Wood, Leaf.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/19, Hernandez, Subscription Publication) reports scientists at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a micro aerial vehicle capable of using electroadhesives to land and attach to glass, wood, and the underside of a leaf. The system creates an electric field that creates an opposing charge system on the landing surface, allowing the unit to perch. The researchers are looking to make the robots wireless, though commercial versions are at least five to 10 years away. Similar robots could be “invaluable” for reconnaissance or communication in disasters, according to The Guardian (UK)  (5/19, Davis). Development team member Moritz Alexander Graule said current micro aerial vehicles “run out of energy quickly” and can “stay in the air for about 10 to 30 minutes.”

The Guardian (UK)  (5/19) showed the “RoboBee” in action in an online video, while NPR  (5/19) featured an article alongside its video.

The Daily Mail  (5/19, Beall) reported similarly on the story.

IBM Initiative Seeks To Reduce Human Fear Of Robots.

The Globe and Mail (CAN)  (5/19, KRASHINSKY) reports IBM planning director Dan Ng spoke on an initiative to reduce human fear of robots at the FutureFlash ad industry conference on Thursday. Ng asked,”How do we get people not to be afraid of this cognitive ability that’s going to be built into everything?” and referenced Watson ads broadcast during the Academy Awards, the message of which was “Watson isn’t here to dominate us, Watson is here to work with us.”

Industry News

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Worries Some, Excites Others.

In a lengthy piece for the New York Times  (5/19, Subscription Publication), Stephen Williams explores Audi’s virtual cockpit – a high-resolution screen where the gauges would normally be that can be programed to display “speed, engine revolutions, outside temperature and the gas level” as well as “navigation, a cellphone, radio and media, Google Earth 3-D graphics, and traffic data.” The computer processor powering the display is made by Nvidia, which “said that precision and safety were two important goals of the virtual cockpit.” However, some analysts worry that the display will distract drivers and pose a safety issue. GM has included in its Cadillac CT6 a “‘full display mirror,’ which transforms the inside rearview mirror into a high-resolution digital display” connected to “a backward-facing camera mounted atop the car.”

Google Patents “Human Flypaper” For Autonomous Cars.

The Christian Science Monitor  (5/19) reports that Google has acquired a patent “safeguarding the invention of a new safety feature for driverless cars: human flypaper. The sticky coating, hidden beneath something of an ‘egg-shell’ layer on the hood, would adhere to any pedestrians unfortunate enough to collide with the car, thereby fixing them in place and avoiding secondary injuries.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Senators Want Study Of Additional Great Lakes Lock Expedited.

The Detroit Free Press  (5/19) reports, “Michigan’s U.S. senators on Thursday urged the head of the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite a study into the benefits of building a second, super-size navigation lock in the Upper Peninsula, citing concerns that a major shutdown could plunge the nation into a recession.” A letter from Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy “relies heavily on a previous study done by the Department of Homeland Security…indicating that a failure at the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie…could have vast consequences to the American economy,” as “there is neither enough rail nor truck capacity, or infrastructure, to make up for the loss of the Poe lock.”

Energy Department Awards Additional Money To Lake Erie Wind Turbine Project.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer  (5/19, Funk) reports the Energy Department “is advancing another $3.7 million to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. to continue engineering work on a proposed wind turbine project in Lake Erie” northwest of Cleveland. In a memo to Ohio’s congressional delegation, DOE wrote, “This additional funding will support LEEDCo’s offshore wind research and development progress and work associated with permitting, … [and with an interconnection] agreement, installation and operations and a maintenance plan.” This is the third DOE grant the agency “has awarded to LEEDCo, bringing the total federal funding to $10.7 million.”

Mississippi Clean Coal Plant Facing SEC Investigation.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/14, Smith, Subscription Publication) reported Southern Co. is facing a series of financial woes stemming from its construction of the Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi, a carbon-capture clean coal plant. Partially financed through government subsidies, construction costs have risen, which has led to an investigation from the SEC over financial controls and misinformation to the public about construction timelines, as well as a lawsuit from local businesses worried they will be forced to shoulder the cost of the building of the plant. Southern Co.’s credit rating was also downgraded by Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investor Services, in part due to it’s Kemper Plant problems.

Impact Of Proposed Cuts To Clean Coal Research Funding Explored. The Houston Chronicle  (5/18) discusses the impact of proposed cuts to Federal funding for clean-coal research, reporting the technology “is falling into greater uncertainty, as the Obama administration slices funding for technologies once considered critical in fighting climate change.” However, according to the article, Department of Energy assistance secretary Chris Smith recently affirmed the Administration’s commitment to clean coal “while admitting its economic prospects were limited without a carbon tax or other mechanism” to incentivize emission reductions. Meanwhile, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity vice president Laura Sheehan claims the Administration has attempted to block the development of clean-coal technology “at every instance,” and argued that “this is first-generation technology, and you’ll never get to second or third generation without commitment to furthering it.” The article mentions that Southern Company’s clean-coal project in Mississippi has faced delays and cost increases, though DOE says the project is expected to come online within the next nine months.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Obama Honors Scientists And Innovators, Launches Youth Science Advisory Campaign.

The AP  (5/19, Superville) reports President Obama honored “17 leading scientists and innovators” at the White House Thursday, and said “honoring the individuals also shows young people that it’s not just the Super Bowl or NCAA tournament winner who deserves to be celebrated.” The President “announced a new advisory board to solicit suggestions from youngsters on how the government can support budding scientists and innovators.” USA Today  (5/19, Asrar) reports that the “kids’ science advisory campaign…invites children to submit ideas about what they think can shape the future of science, discovery and exploration in the country.” Obama said, “Science is very important for the progress of our nation. Science, math, engineering is what is going to carry America’s spirit of innovation through the 21st century and beyond.”

Several regional newspapers highlight the honors for those from their areas. The Seattle Times  (5/19, Aleccia) reports University of Washington geneticist Mary-Claire King, “who discovered the BRCA1 gene linked to increased breast-cancer risk,” was honored; the Puget Sound (WA) Business Journal  (5/19, Garnick, Subscription Publication) also reports on the honor for King. The Indianapolis Star  (5/19, Groppe) reports Purdue University chemical engineer Nancy Ho was honored, and the Eugene (OR) Register-Guard  (5/19) reports University of Oregon chemist Geri Richmond was among the honorees as well.

Utah BOE Gives 19 Schools Official STEM Designation.

The Deseret (UT) News  (5/19) reports the Utah Board of Education has “approved 19 public schools throughout the state for the Utah STEM School Designation.” The BOE and the Utah STEM Action Center “developed the designation program to better define the elements necessary to create a comprehensive learning environment for students in science, technology, engineering and math.” Schools in the program can “engage in STEM-related discussions with faculty and community partners to develop strong instruction for students and prepare them for college and careers.”

Iowa High School Chemistry Students Market Root Beer.

The AP  (5/19) reports that as part of a two-year STEM project, a group of chemistry students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa has “brewed and branded a root beer recipe,” with branding created by “student entrepreneurs and artists.” The Des Moines (IA) Register  (5/18) reports the beverage “features the culmination of more than two years of recipe experiment and development from the students.” The school’s STEM program focuses on “relevant, real-world situations” according to the faculty coordinator.

ED Official Calls For More Focus On STEM In Pre-K.

US News & World Report  (5/19, Camera) reports that despite the Administration’s successful push for a greater focus on pre-K education, it’s not clear whether an expanding number of programs are incorporating STEM concepts, “and for the ones that do, it’s unclear how effective the STEM curriculum is.” The article reports that Russell Shilling, “executive director for STEM at the Department of Education,” took part in the US News STEM Solutions Conference on Thursday, saying, “What we’re not doing in government and private research is following up on what works and why. We’ve got to change that.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

EPA Proposes Modest Increase In Biofuels Plan.
Analysis: Increased Access To Higher Education Saddling Low-Income Students With Debt.
Moniz Discusses Potential R&D Partnerships With University Of Delaware.
China’s Largest Wind Turbine Producers Buys Texas Wind Project.
California Suspends Urban Water Restrictions.
Experts Talk About Integrating Coding And Computational Thought In K-12.

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