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

Leading the News

Samsung Developing Bendable Smartphone.

Samsung executive Gregory Lee’s comment last week that Samsung’s bendable smartphones are “relatively right around the corner” continued to draw media attention over the weekend. In reporting the story, several media publications framed their narratives around rival Lenovo’s demo Thursday at Tech World of its own bendable device, known as the C-Plus for smartphone and the Folio for tablet.

For example, BGR  (6/10) reported that Lenovo “isn’t the only company considering cool foldable form factors.” Samsung “is also rumored have a couple of bendable handsets planned for release next year,” and indeed Lee “said on Thursday at Rutberg’s Future: Mobile conference in California that bendable phone screens are ‘relatively right around the corner.’”

CNET News  (6/10) reports the story under the headline “Samsung Says Its Wraparound Phones Are ‘Around The Corner’ (Take That, Lenovo).” It observes, however, that “the fact that Lenovo beat Samsung with a public concept design for a bendable, flexible phone that wraps around the wrist has got to sting.”

Jay McGregor of Forbes  (6/11) observed that Lee’s comments are “perhaps, unsurprising considering how many leaks have surfaced about Samsung’s foldable tech,” the company’s openness “about its plans,” and “the very real threat from new competitors who could beat them to market, including Lenovo, LG and Chinese startup Moxi Group.” Lenovo’s introduction of concept devices on Thursday “will be of particular concern to Samsung. … this is clearly the Chinese manufacturer flexing its muscles and announcing its place in the upcoming foldable-phone war.”

Tyler Lee of UberGizmo  (6/10, Lee) observes that Samsung “definitely needs to step up their game,” as Lenovo recently “took the wraps off a foldable tablet and a bendable smartphone” and Oppo “has also shown off bendable prototypes.”

SlashGear  (6/12) reports that the “war over bendable, foldable smartphones has just been reignited” on the heels of Lee’s comments. Still, it observes, the phrase “around the corner” doesn’t “clue us in when Samsung plans on releasing its own version” of the device. Based on leaks, an early 2017 release is likely.

Higher Education

University Of Oklahoma Team Wins NASA Rover Design Competition.

The Oklahoman  (6/5) reports, “The University of Oklahoma’s Sooner Rover Team took top honors in NASA’s 2016 collegiate rover design competition, besting seven other universities and an engineering team from NASA.” The teams were tasked with building “a remotely-operated planetary rover prototype” and “competed with their rovers May 24-26 at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.”

Oklahoma Daily  (6/8) reports that “Rovie McRoverface” is “a rugged machine of aluminum, bolts and wires and OU’s first and only Mars rover.” The “innovative rover took first place at the NASA-sponsored Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage Exploration Robo-Ops competition, better known as RASC-AL.” Engineering  (6/6) also covers this story.

Warren Urges ED To Take Action Against College Accrediting Agency.

The Washington Post  (6/10, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a report Friday on the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ “history of letting for-profit schools under investigation for fraud or plagued by abysmal graduation rates receive taxpayer dollars in the form of federal loans and grants for students.” In a letter to Education Secretary John King and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, Warren wrote, “The findings…detail an appalling record of failure on the part of ACICS to serve as an effective guarantor of institutional quality and gatekeeper for billions of dollars in federal student aid funding. … I urge the department to…to take strong, aggressive action to hold ACICS accountable for its dismal record of failure.”

The AP  (6/11, Binkley) reports “Federal education officials are deciding whether to shut down” the accreditor, which is “being accused of employing lax standards and failing to stop schools from preying on students.” The AP notes that the council has given accreditation to such troubled firms as Corinthian Colleges Inc. and ITT Technical Institute. Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress has said that state or Federal authorities have investigated “at least 17 colleges certified by the council,” and reports that critics want ED to “strip the council of its authority to accredit schools.” ED officials are set to “decide the group’s fate after an advisory committee issues a recommendation this month.” The AP quotes Mitchell saying in a statement, “Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable. Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.”

The Politico  (6/12) “Morning Education” blog reports that Warren “is pulling no punches” with her report, which “calls out” ACICS and ED’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which “will review ACICS’ renewal of recognition during its three-day meeting that starts June 22 and then make a recommendation to the Education Department.” Warren’s report “says NACIQI has a ‘problematic track record, regularly identifying issues with the accreditors it oversees, but rarely using its own authority to hold those accreditors accountable for their failures.’” This piece reports that Mitchell “has said the department has been working to strengthen the accreditation system, including taking steps to increase transparency around accreditors’ reviews of institutions and resulting actions.”

White House Asks Colleges To Reconsider Use Of Criminal History In Application Process.

The Wall Street Journal  (6/10, A2, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports the Administration on Friday launched the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge urging US colleges and universities to reconsider their use of criminal records of prospective students in the admissions process.

In a more than 1,750-word article, The Atlantic  (6/10, Lantigua-Williams) explains the White House and Department of Education made the announcement “following a meeting with presidents, deans, provosts and other representatives from institutions who have already taken the Fair Chance Education Pledge, as the initiative is called.” Education Secretary King explained, “This is about persuading institutions to do the right thing with respect to how they admit their students.” He added, “This effort is about removing arbitrary obstacles.” According to Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, “Our goal here is to ensure that when people are released they have an opportunity to live a law-abiding life, that they have all the tools they need in order to thrive once they are released.” The Washington Examiner  (6/13) also covers this story.

40% Of US Colleges Enroll Fewer Than 1,000.

The Washington Post  (6/10, Selingo) reported that “about 40 percent of American colleges enroll 1,000 or fewer students” and an additional “40 percent enroll fewer than 5,000 students,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. Further, institutions with fewer than 1,000 students “have been shedding the most enrollment” since 2010, with a “decline of 5 percent compared to the institutions with more than 10,000 students, which have grown slightly, on average.” According to the Post, “the problem now is that there are too many colleges chasing too few students” as high school graduation rates begin declining in the Northeast and the Midwest – which “have a larger concentration of colleges than the South and West.” Moody’s Investors Services predicted in a report last year that college closures would triple to about 15 per year in coming years, while a forthcoming analysis by Parthenon-EY indicates that “some 800 colleges face critical challenges because of their inefficiencies or small size.”

Maryland Universities Using Data To Identify At-Risk Students.

The Baltimore Sun  (6/11) reports that the University System of Maryland is analyzing data about students’ “grades, financial aid information, demographics, even how often they swipe their ID cards at the library or the dining hall” to identify at-risk students for supportive intervention. However, the practice is raising concerns among privacy advocates and some students who are calling for caution and transparency.

EDITOR NEEDED: Journal of Engineering Education
ASEE members recognize JEE as the world’s premier journal on the scholarship of engineering and engineering technology education. Read more if you’d like to be considered as the next editor.

Summer Prism Now Online
ASEE members can access the new Prism magazine online. Topics include research opportunities opening up with a thaw in US-Cuba relations and proposed changes to ABET criteria, among much more.

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

ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra.

Research and Development

Autonomous Vehicle Research At University Of Michigan Highlighted.

The Detroit Free Press  (6/11, Gardner) reports on the work being done at the University of Michigan on autonomous vehicles, profiling professors Ryan Eustice and Ed Olson’s work on autonomous vehicles at various institutions since 2007. Eustice’s and Olson’s work focuses on how LIDAR can be improved to “see” in weather conditions more germane to Michigan winters than sunny California.

NASA Inflatable Space Room Closed For Two Months To Test Durability.

Ars Technica  (6/9) reports that after crew members at the International Space Station first entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the first time earlier this week, astronauts “will not reenter the 13-foot-long module now until August,” when they will perform additional equipment inspections. The article explains that the intermittent period between visits to the habitable pod is important to demonstrate “its durability over the two-year experiment.” Engineers from Bigelow Aerospace, which developed the space habitat, have previously “said the [module’s] kevlar-like weave should be at least as protective as the station’s aluminum hull when it comes to tiny orbital debris.”


EPA Partners With University Of Texas-Arlington To Foster Environmental Engineering Workforce.

The Fort Worth (TX) Business Press  (6/8, Ingraham) reports on a new partnership between the University of Texas at Arlington and the Environmental Protection Agency to address “a growing need for environmental engineering workers.” The collaboration “sees UTA continue to support EPA education and outreach programs through the university’s Environmental Training Institute and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration Education Center, while introducing new opportunities for student mentorship and internships.”

Traditional Automakers Battling Startups For Talent.

The Wall Street Journal  (6/12, Rogers, Subscription Publication) reports on automakers’ struggles to recruit and retain talent in their race to develop autonomous vehicles, profiling Bibhrajit Halderleft – formerly of Caterpillar Inc and Ford Motor Co, who now works as a software engineer for Faraday Future Inc. According to Ford product development chief Raj Nair, “Across the auto-engineering spectrum right now, there is a bit of war for talent.” Carmakers have responded to the rampant talent-poaching by expanding relationships with universities, building offices in Silicon Valley, and by buying startups.

Industry News

GM To Add 700 Jobs In Canada In Autonomous Car Push.

Reuters  (6/10, Martell) reported that General Motors announced Friday that it will hire about 700 engineers in Ontario, Canada and invest $10 million in its cold-weather facility in Kapuskasing, Ontario, as part of its push to develop its autonomous car technology. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and head of the Canadian auto workers union Unifor National praised the investment in Canada, where auto production has been on the decline due to lower costs in the US and Mexico. Bloomberg News  (6/10, Wingrove) added that GM Executive Vice President Mark Reuss said in a statement, “We selected Canada for this expansion because of its clear capacity for innovation, proven talent and strong ecosystem of great universities, startups and innovative suppliers.” The company will also “open a new Automotive Software Development Center in Markham” as part of the expansion, Bloomberg reported. The new engineers will “focus on autonomous-vehicle software and controls development, safety technology, infotainment and connected vehicle technology.”

According to the Detroit (MI) Free Press  (6/10, Snavely), GM’s Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant is among Unifor’s top concerns. Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in a statement that the added jobs are “an important boost to Canada’s auto industry…however the spin-off benefits of R&D positions are far smaller than an investment in the Oshawa assembly operation, which is very much in jeopardy with no production scheduled beyond 2017.”

More broadly, the Wall Street Journal  (6/10, Nagesh, Subscription Publication) reported, GM expects to hire roughly 27,000 salaried workers within the next five years and is investing $1 billion in its Warren, MI technical hub as it races to keep up with auto industry and tech rivals. Autoblog  (6/12, King) offers similar coverage.

Engineering and Public Policy

House Subpoenas State Department Over Keystone Documents.

The Hill  (6/10, Henry) reports the House Oversight Committee has subpoenaed Secretary of State Kerry for failing to cooperate in their investigation by providing documentation into the decision to reject the Keystone Pipeline. Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said, “Producing mostly publicly available documents to the committee and calling it responsive is pitiful … It demonstrates a contempt of Congress’ constitutional right to conduct oversight. We will use every tool available to obtain the information we need to properly and fully investigate this matter.”

End To Ban On Supersonic Commercial Aircraft Urged.

Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond, the director and a master’s student at the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, respectively, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal  (6/12, Subscription Publication), call for lifting the ban on supersonic commercial aircraft and for the FAA to issue a noise standard for such aircraft. Dourado and Hammond argue the original ban was partly based on disproven claims and that today’s supersonic designs are more advanced. They argue that no company will put forth a design for approval, however, until the FAA indicates the noise standard that must be met.

FAA Engineers Complained Of Pressure From Boeing To Approve 787 Dreamliner.

An investigative unit at Al Jazeera English  (6/12) found that FAA engineers said that they faced verbal abuse “an atmosphere of undue pressure” and “verbal abuse and verbal ridicule” from senior Boeing managers to approve designs and parts for the “long-delayed” 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The engineers told the FAA that other Boeing engineers viewed them as “impediments and bottlenecks.” One engineer said that a Boeing manager even introduced him as “The Bottleneck” to colleagues, while another said a manager threatened to remove him from the fuel systems team if kept making regulatory demands. Former Boeing Engineers Union President Cynthia Cole suggested that the relationship between Boeing and the FAA “may have become a bit too cozy.” Cole added, “If the FAA was acting truly independently, I would have expected the Investigation and Cause Summary to have netted some recommendations for required further actions. ‘Good enough’ does not work for commercial aircraft safety.”

In a separate report, Al Jazeera English  (6/12, Jordan) reports that it took the FAA over two years to reply to the media outlet’s freedom of information requests for its Boeing 787 investigation. Journalist Sheila Kaplan, who worked on an investigative piece with Dan Rather on the 787 in 2007, said, “The FAA’s reluctance to answer questions about its oversight problems with Boeing is well-known.” On the show, whistleblowers Vince Weldon raised question about the FAA and Boeing’s “safety to solutions to the carbon composite conundrum.”

Dallas Officials Consider TxDOT Recommendations To Fix Highways Without Destroying Urban Fabric.

The Dallas Morning News  (6/11, Formby) reports on how Dallas officials will react to “a massive Texas Department of Transportation report that calls for a striking shift in how highways are planned and built.” This CityMAP study from TxDOT submits various “options and suggestions for updating the aging highways that surround and connect downtown” Dallas without dividing urban neighborhoods or increasing traffic. The state’s recommendations stress “thoughtful policy decision that will affect residents’ job prospects, housing options and transportation choices for decades.” According to the story, the City Council is somewhat divided politically on the state recommendations.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Home Built By High School Kids For Sale For $935,000.

The Washington Post  (6/12, Balingit, George) reports that Fairfax County high school students helped build a home in Springfield, VA alongside professional builders “as part of a building trades class” that “is on the market for $935,000,” which will be “used to finance the construction of the next home.” The students learned a number of skills, including “how to cut and install crown moulding, to frame homes, and to install tile and appliances.” The program, and other career and technology education courses like it, “help prepare students for careers upon graduation,” but “Fairfax County construction teacher Marcial Rubio said there are not enough students interested in the industry” – many are discouraged by parents who “don’t want their kid to be in a blue-collar job,” he said.

Denver High School Students Build Underwater Robot For Zoo Frog Study.

The Denver Post  (6/11, Robles) reported that Denver Zoo scientists who have been assisting officials from South America with studying frogs found in Lake Riticaca that are famous for their push-ups asked Longmont’s Skyline High School students in the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics Academy for help in building a robot that can go 12,500 feet under water to study the frogs. Ten students participated in building the robot.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Joint US-European Project Turns Power Plant Carbon Emission Into Stone.
Senate Panel Scheduled To Vote On Year-Round Pell Language.
3-D Food Printing Profiled.
Industry Leaders Call For New NRC Approval Framework For Advanced Reactors.
Kentucky DOE At Odds With ED Over Science Testing, Accountability.

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