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

Leading the News

FAA Unveils Commercial Drone Rules.

News outlets report that the FAA released new commercial drone rules on Tuesday. ABC News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) reports that the DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and the White House staff were on a press call about the new rules.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Kang, Subscription Publication) reports the new rules allow a wide array of businesses to use drones under 55 pounds, “but with several restrictions.” Drones can’t fly above 400 feet and must stay at least five miles away from airports. They must be operated by a pilot who is at least 16 years old, has passed a written test, and “must always have the machine within line of sight – a rule that, for now, makes delivering packages unfeasible.” Furthermore, while the FAA sent a letter to cities and states recommending everyone follow their lead, the new rules don’t “necessarily preclude a hodgepodge” of state and local drone regulations.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Halsey) notes that commercial operators must be vetted by the TSA “and required to pass an aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved test center.” The Post says the rules “have a narrow focus that will be criticized by those who hoped the Federal Aviation Administration would sketch out a futuristic grand plan, while drawing praise from others who worried that the agency would offer too much regulation too soon.” The rules “focus primarily on the burgeoning drone hobby market rather than the much more complex business of integrating the swarm of commercial drones expected in the skies in the next decade.” Huerta is quoted saying, “The FAA’s role is to set a framework for safety without unduly impeding innovation. … We recognize that we cannot solve these types of challenges alone. We need the expertise and collaboration of key industry stakeholders.” CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) adds that Huerta emphasized, “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Jansen) reports that Foxx called the rules a “major milestone,” and adding, “We wanted to make sure we’re striking the right balance between innovation and safety.” US News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Risen) adds that Foxx also said the rules ensure regulators are “keeping pace with this evolving technology.” Foxx added, “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief.” TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Rhodan) reports that like Huerta, Foxx also said there will be more regulation in the future. ConsumerAffairs Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Hood) reports that Foxx said, “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Levin) describes the rules as “the most comprehensive set…yet for the burgeoning use of sophisticated unmanned aircraft,” and allow “a far greater range of uses” compared with “current law.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Pasztor, Wells, Subscription Publication) reports that the response from lawmakers were largely positive. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said the rules provide greater safety and protect all those in the air and on the ground.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Yerak) reports that drone companies were also positive about the new rules. Co-founder of Windy City Drones Ryan Koverman said, “It will open up a lot of possibilities and give us more flexibility.” Koverman also “cited the ability to fly higher near a structure, as well as what appears to be more leeway to get closer to airports.” Troy Walsh of Drone Media Chicago also described the new rules as “exciting.”

Higher Education

ED Committee To Decide On ACICS This Week.

Kevin Carey writes at the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Carey, Subscription Publication) “The Upshot” blog that ED’s National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity this week will decide the fate of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the embattled accreditor which had allowed Corinthian Colleges to remain open amid widespread fraud charges. The decision, Carey writes, “will go a long way toward determining whether education companies will continue to have free rein to profit from government financial aid programs.” He notes that 12 state attorneys general and an internal ED committee have called for the accreditor to be shut down. Carey writes that if ACICS is shut down, it will be a step toward resolving a host of fraud investigations in the for-profit sector.

ED Websites Use Different Metrics To Measure Graduation Rates.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the Federal government’s College Scorecard, College Navigator, and the website on college accreditation all base a college’s graduation rates on “different calculations,” resulting in different results. Therefore, “any family researching colleges could find the dueling data points perplexing,” and “the data could prove detrimental to schools.” The piece quotes American Council on Education Senior Vice President Terry Hartle saying, “It doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose for the Department of Education to have three different numbers allegedly showing the same thing. The department is providing confusing information.”

NerdWallet Study: Taking Six Years To Graduate Can Raise Tab To $300,000.

NerdWallet Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) reports that according to a NerdWallet study, “taking six years to get a four-year college degree can cost students up to almost $300,000 in tuition, interest on loans, and forgone income and retirement savings.” The piece says that NCES data show that only 40% of students graduate on time, and that 60% graduate within six years. The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the consumer finance company “used a combination of government data and employment surveys to analyze the lifelong cost of spending a few additional semesters in school.” USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Helhoski) and CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) also cover this story.

Michigan Cyber Range Hub To Open At Wayne State University.

Crain’s Detroit Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Halcom) reports Wayne State University announced Tuesday that it will “host one of two new hubs of the Michigan Cyber Range, a set of specialized networking and computer infrastructure testing and training centers.” The hub will open in the fall. Associate Vice President for Educational Outreach and International Programs at WSU Ahmad Ezzeddine said, “This hub will allow us to expand our offerings in cybersecurity to students, as well as professional development training to clients and secure software testing for our corporate partners.”

College Grads Must Stay Ahead Of Tech With Soft Skills To Succeed In Future Work World.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Selingo) reports that a “seismic shift” in recruiting on college campuses, technological advances, and globalization are making it “extremely difficult for college graduates” to determine how to prepare for the workforce. Two recent reports from Burning Glass, which “mines and analyzes online job ads,” offer some insight into selecting college paths. The reports found that “general liberal-arts degrees are useful” if they’re paired with a skill “like graphic design, basic statistics, or social media,” and that “soft skills” like communication and teamwork “are just as important” to employers as technical skills. The Post adds that STEM graduates will struggle “without solid grounding in the liberal arts” and soft skills built in “experiences outside the classroom.” To be successful in “the future work world,” grads must “stay one step ahead of technology” and cultivate the skills that “computers can’t yet do well: show creativity, have judgment, play well with others, and navigate ambiguity.”

From ASEE
NEW REPORT on the Future of Making
ASEE convened leaders from the Maker Movement in November to discuss the current state and future of Making. Read the report.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.

Research and Development

Google And Collaborators Address AI System Threats.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/22, Clark) reports “researchers at Alphabet Inc. unit Google, along with collaborators at Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Open AI” have published a report describing their thinking about potential threats by AI systems. The report says, “With the realistic possibility of machine learning-based systems controlling industrial processes, health-related systems, and other mission-critical technology, small-scale accidents seem like a very concrete threat, and are critical to prevent both intrinsically and because such accidents could cause a justified loss of trust in automated systems.”

Virginia Tech Research Scientist Will Compete On BattleBots.

The Roanoke (VA) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/20, Williams) reports a senior research scientist with Virginia Tech’s Center for Vehicle Systems and Safety, Andrew Peterson, has created a robot to compete in “BattleBots” which will premiere Thursday 8 p.m. on ABC. WSET-TV Share to FacebookShare to TwitterLynchburg, VA (6/20, Ann) adds 32 teams will compete in “a single elimination tournament until there is one champion.”

Grid-scale Batteries Gaining Ground As Costs Decline.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Osborne) reports that as large-scale battery projects increase around the country and research matures, “a commercially viable means of storing the large volumes of electricity demanded by the power grid now appears to be in sight.” As places such as Austin and California “force utilities to install energy storage systems, more projects are getting built, technology is advancing, and costs are coming down.” John Chillemi, executive vice president for national business development at NRG Energy, said, “It’s still relatively small, but the economics are getting lower and more competitive.”

One Way To Solve Fracking’s Water Problem: Don’t Use Water.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Roston) reports on the use of water in fracking and researchers’ work which suggests “there may be a better way.” Their idea would “reduce or eliminate drilling’s water footprint, make wells more productive, and trap carbon dioxide underground” by swapping high-pressure CO2 for water. But the scientists emphasize that the research is very preliminary, and requires experiments on laboratory scales before anyone ever tries it out on an actual shale deposit. One of the study’s authors, Benoit Coasne, said, “Fracking with CO2 is technically possible, although it probably leads to other issues.” Stanford Professor Rob Jackson draws the connection between availability and economics, saying, “You have to have a local source of CO2 or propane, and you need to recover the extra cost quickly. Water is abundant and cheap.”

DOE To Award USU Researchers $5.8M For Nuclear Energy Research.

The Deseret (UT) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) reports Department of Energy officials have awarded more than $35 million to 48 university-led nuclear research and development projects around the country. Utah State University’s Heng Ban and Barton Smith will receive a combined $5.8 million to research “accident-tolerant nuclear fuels” and improved computer models “that predict how reactor cooling systems behave in an accident scenario.”

Industry News

Startup Founded By Ex-Apple Employees Announces First Product.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Webb) reports a startup founded by ex-Apple employees, Pearl Automation Inc., plans to ship its first product in September. AppleInsider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Silverberg) says the iPhone-connected backup camera called RearVision will be priced at $499.99 and key features include “ease of installation” and “software updates.” 9 to 5 Mac Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Kahn) adds the co-founder and CEO Bryson Gardner said, “Rather than wait for the promise of the autonomous vehicle, we are further developing many of those underlying technologies to help the human driver today.” Ars Technica Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Gitlin) reports “the target market is the two-care household where a newer vehicle has a rearview camera and an older vehicle lacks one.”

Tesla Offers To Buy SolarCity, Shares Fall 13 Percent.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Patnaik, Lienert, Groom) reports Tesla Motors on Tuesday made an offer to buy SolarCity in a stock deal worth as much as $2.8 billion. Elon Musk who is the chairman of SolarCity, CEO of Tesla and the largest shareholder of both companies, described the deal as a “no brainer” in a call with reporters, saying the company could sell customers an electric car, a home battery and a solar system all at once. Tesla investors “punished the company’s shares, however,” as shares fell 13 percent, “amounting to a loss in value of about $4.3 billion, or more than the value of the offer for the other company.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Ramsey, Cook, Spector, Subscription Publication) reports Tesla said the deal is subject to approval by a majority of disinterested stockholders of both companies. The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, De La Merced, Eavis, Subscription Publication) reports that Tesla shares have fallen 16 percent over the last 12 months to $32.7 billion. If investors balk at the deal, the company would have to rely on its cash reserves which were a combined $1.8 in Q1. “That would soon get used up if a Tesla-SolarCity were still consuming nearly $5 billion of cash annually.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/22, Martin) quotes Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Hugh Bromley saying the challenge is that “they both need cash injections to fuel their growth.” Bromley said that “with these two cash-strapped businesses, how do you fund growth for the future? I don’t have an answer for that, because neither have done very well.”

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Mitchell, Penn) reports Robert McCullough of McCullough Research questioned Musk’s offer, saying it appeared that Musk was doubling down on solar at a time when the economics of solar installations has been called into question. “Solar, he said, has become so cheap that it’s becoming difficult to make money, as the industry learned with SunEdison,” which went bankrupt in April.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Woodyard, Krantz), the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) and Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21) also cover this story.

More Older Drivers Pursue High-Tech Safety Features For Extra Driving Years.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Mittelman) reports that 76 percent of Americans over 50 will “actively seek out high-tech safety features” while shopping for a car in the next two years, per research from MIT’s AgeLab and the Hartford. Experts from the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence say that this population associates “advanced technologies with enhanced safety,” which older drivers think will “extend the amount of time they’ll be able to drive,” according to Bloomberg. Over half of survey participants are open to self-driving cars if they are similarly safe to their own driving, while just under half said they would consider the same if prevented from driving by health issues.

Engineering and Public Policy

Federal Engineer Testifies Against PG&E Stance On Gas-line-safety Rules.

The San Francisco Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Egelko) reports that Steven Nanney, an engineer with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified Tuesday at Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s trial on pipeline-safety charges, “contradicting PG&E’s argument that the rules are vague and self-defeating.” One rule exempts pre-1970 pipelines from the numerical pipeline gas pressure limits, “and instead sets their limits as the maximum pressure they had safely managed in the previous five years,” a rule PG&E contends is loosely worded. The rule also requires utilities to give top priority to testing and repairing those lines if pressure exceeds the federal limit by any amount, Nanney told the jury. One of the charges against PG&E “is that it tried to hide a longtime policy of testing its lines only when they exceeded federally allowed levels by more than 10 percent.”

Federal Judge Strikes Down Administration’s Fracking Rules.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Morton) reports that “in the latest rebuke of the Obama administration’s expansive view of executive power,” US District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Wyoming “has struck down the Interior Department’s effort to regulate fracking for oil and natural gas.” Judge Skavdahl “already had put a hold on the regulations last year, and in a decision released late Tuesday, he ruled that Congress did not give Interior the power to regulate hydraulic fracturing, indeed it had expressly withheld that power with some narrow exceptions. ‘Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing,’ Judge Skavdahl wrote in deciding a lawsuit brought by industry groups and a number of Western states.” He wrote that the “effort to do so through the Fracking Rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law.”

Proposal Would Shutter California’s Last Nuclear Power Plant.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports a proposal announced Tuesday would move Pacific Gas and Electric to shutter the Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s two nuclear reactors in 2024 and 2025, which would end California’s last operating nuclear facility. The proposal, “part of an agreement with environmental and labor groups,” would need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission. As part of the proposal’s intent to “help meet California’s aggressive clean energy goals,” Pacific Gas and Electric would “compensate for the lost output with technologies that do not emit greenhouse gases, including renewable energy.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Wyoming Schools Test New Science Education Standards.

PBS NewsHour Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Tulenko) reports that some Wyoming schools are beginning to voluntarily incorporate new standards for teaching science in elementary and middle schools. The curriculum places a greater emphasis on how “science is done and teaching students to be able to go out and ask their own questions, collect the evidence, and know how to engage in a scientific argument” rather than just memorize. Research shows that experiential learning is more beneficial for science than other areas of study which is part of reason the head of the National Association of Science Teachers applauds the standards.

New Robot Teaches Kids Coding.

Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Schouten) reports that a spherical robot called SPRK is emerging as a new tool to teach young children how to code. Instructors can demonstrate the robot’s capabilities and then “students program a robot, observe the results, change the program, and observe the changes” as a practical exercise to understand coding rather than just writing lines of code. Christian Science Monitor writes that SPRK is just one example of the tech industry’s latest efforts to create more coding related technology to help schools incorporate coding into their curriculum more easily.

Tampa STEM Educators Fear Spending Bill Undermines New US Law.

Science Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/21, Shastri) reports that a new law that shifts funding allocation for STEM activities may jeopardize a federal grant that has helped Tampa, Florida teachers learn new ways of teaching science. The No Child Left Behind Act was replaced with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), under which programs geared toward training for Tampa teachers must compete for funding.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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