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

Leading the News

NHTSA Investigating First Crash Of Tesla’s Model S While in Autopilot Mode.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Shepardson, Sage, Woodall) reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the first crash of a Tesla Motors Inc Model S, in which the driver, 40-year old Joshua Brown, collided with a truck and was killed while driving on Autopilot mode. The crash comes as Tesla and other automakers are set to offer Autopilot mode on a number of vehicle models, to be used “under certain conditions.” According to Reuters, Brown’s death is “add[ing] fuel to a debate within the auto industry and in legal circles over the safety of systems that take partial control of steering and braking from drivers.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Lowy, Seewer) adds that a complicating factor in the investigation and in the debate on the inclusion of Autopilot in cars, is the driver’s history of speeding. According to the AP, the crash occurred because Brown’s car camera “failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate the brakes,” as reported by both Tesla and investigators. Moreover, Brown himself did not take over the brake. Notre Dame professor, Timothy Carone has said that “Expecting ‘defect-free,’ self-driving cars is unreasonable.”

ABC World News Tonight (7/1, story 6, 2:05, Vega) reported that CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk said, “We’re going to be quite clear with customers that the responsibility remains with the driver.” According to Tesla, it tells drivers they must keep their hands on the steering wheel while in Autopilot mode in order to react quickly. ABC News indicates Brown had one prior “close call,” but that he noted Tesla’s instructions in a YouTube video, saying “Especially if you’re not on the interstate, which is where this is designed to be used, you’re going to want to be able to take control very, very quickly.” In a more than 1,200-word front-page article, the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, A1, Vlasic, Subscription Publication) adds that “with the revelation this week that a Model S driver in Florida was killed in May while operating his car in self-driving mode, Mr. Musk’s determination to push limits has hit its most formidable roadblock.”

In a front-page article, the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, A1, Spector, Nicas, Subscription Publication) reports, however, that depending on investigators’ findings, Tesla might be pressured to recall and change the software within 25,000 vehicles. Currently, investigators are leaving it up to Tesla and car owners to ensure proper use of the Autopilot feature. The Journal, however, indicates that this incident highlights the gap between the deployment of new technology and federal oversight, which it says points toward limitations in the NHTSA’s policing of new technologies designed to promote safety. The CBS Evening News (7/1, story 8, 2:05, Elliott) also reported that auto safety research Byron Bloch said of the accident, “we’re rushing very quickly, maybe much too quickly. There are no even basic minimum standards yet issued by NHTSA.”

WPost: Do Not Allow Tesla Accident To Upend Progress Towards Self-Driving Vehicles. In an editorial, theWashington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/4) urges the public not to dismiss “all car automation technologies” after news that a Tesla Model S with its “Autopilot” feature turned on crashed and killed the driver. The Post says the semi-autonomous vehicle “was not designed to be and should not have been considered to be fully self-driving,” adding that the feature “appears to have been misused” in the fatal accident. Once self-driving technology becomes fully autonomous, “it will change all sorts of things about the way people get around – for the better,” but that time may never come “if the public turns against autonomous car technology before it has really had a chance to prove itself.”

Higher Education

Los Angeles Mayor Calls For Colleges To Stop Asking Applicants About Criminal Histories.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Resmovits) reports that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti “has recruited 32 other mayors across the country to join him in urging college admissions companies to stop asking applicants about their criminal histories.” The mayors have penned a letter to the Common Application Association and Universal College Application urging them to remove such questions from applications. The piece explains that in May, Education Secretary John King announced that ED was “urging colleges to ‘attract a diverse and qualified student body without creating unnecessary barriers for prospective students who have been involved with the justice system.’”

NYTimes Analysis: New Jersey’s Student Loan Rules Can “Easily Lead To Financial Ruin.”

A New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/3, Waldman, Subscription Publication) analysis highlights the case of Marcia DeOliveira-Longinetti, who had co-signed her son’s student loans from New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, and was told after his murder that she would have to continue paying them back. Her case “is hardly an isolated one, an investigation by ProPublica, in collaboration with The New York Times, found.” New Jersey’s student loans “come with extraordinarily stringent rules that can easily lead to financial ruin” and they “come with a cudgel that even the most predatory for-profit players cannot wield: the power of the state” which can “garnish wages, rescind state income tax refunds, revoke professional licenses, even take away lottery winnings – all without having to get court approval.”

UNM, Navajo Tech Students Win Awards At Solar Competition.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/4, Robinson-Avila) reports, “Engineering students at the University of New Mexico and Navajo Technical University at Crownpoint won awards in June for innovation in solar-powered technology at two separate national competitions in Ohio and Washington, D.C.” The UNM team “built its boat for well under $10,000, far less than other teams in the competition. Funding came from a range of sponsors, including a $5,000 grant from Sandia National Laboratories.”

Caltech Extends Sexual Harassment Suspension Of Astrophysics Professor.

The Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Kingkade) reports that California Institute of Technology officials say that though “Christian Ott was scheduled to return to his job as a professor of theoretical astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology on Friday,” he won’t return until August of next year. The school suspended Ott last September after finding “him guilty of violating its sexual harassment policy.”

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Research and Development

UT Austin Team Working On Very Precise GPS For Autonomous Cars.

KXAN-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Austin, TX (6/30) reports a team at the University of Texas at Austin has taken “a monumental step in making autonomous vehicles a part of everyday life,” explaining that professor Todd Humphreys “and his team have installed their first car with precise vehicle positioning, which is 100 times more accurate than your standard GPS.”

Cybersecurity Industry Seeking To Exploit Machine Learning.

Ben Dickson, a software engineer, writes at TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1) that the solution to analyzing increasingly large sets of data might lie in machine learning. Dickson says that Simon Crosby, CTO at Bromium, “calls machine learning the pipe dream of cybersecurity.” But “others, like Mike Paquette, VP of Products at Prelert, argue that machine learning is cybersecurity’s answer to detecting advanced breaches, and it will shine in securing IT environments as they ‘grow increasingly complex’ and ‘more data is being produced than the human brain has the capacity to monitor’ and it becomes nearly impossible ‘to gauge whether activity is normal or malicious.’” Dickson goes on to explore a number of technologies that are in the works. He concludes that “for the moment, humans and robots have no other choice than to unite against the ever-increasing threats that lurk in cyberspace.”


Auto Industry Courting Female Workers.

The Boston Globe Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Johnston) reports that despite an uptick in the numbers of women taking automotive courses in New England, “the share of them working as mechanics and in auto parts sales has declined in recent years — reflecting a drop in females in many male-dominated industries.” However, “the automotive industry is doing more to attract women to the field — and keep them there.” The article describes work being done by manufacturers and industry groups to address gender disparities in the sector’s workforce.

Industry News

LG Implements Restructuring Plan For Mobile Division.

Several news outlets report that LG on Friday announced a new restructuring effort that will affect the company’s mobile division.

9 to 5 Google Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Hall) reports that among the specific personnel changes cited in Friday’s Korea Times report, Mobiles chief Cho Juno, former research lab head Oh Hyung-hoon and mobile division Vice President Ha Jeong-wook will work together to oversee the company’s product development, manufacturing, marketing and sales division. LG SVP Kim Hyung-jeong will head the firm’s mobile research lab.

Along with these leadership changes, and the establishment of a new “program management office,” Phandroid Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Myrick) reports that LG “sent a few hundred employees from the mobile division to the company’s vehicle component division.”

Additionally, Android Police Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Whitwam) says LG already “replaced some executives.”

Most coverage centered around what UberGizmo Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/2, Lee) calls a “lukewarm reception” to the company’s latest G5 flagship smartphone, Android Authority Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Benson) reporting that one LG spokesperson said, “Friday’s announcement is because LG Electronics’ latest flagship G5 smartphone failed to generate sales.”

The Korea Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Young-won) adds, according to another LG official quoted in MoneyToday, “The latest decision to relocate the production facilities is aimed at improving efficiency in management and production and swiftly responding to changing demand in the European region.”

Engineering and Public Policy

New Jersey Gov. Christie Suspends State-Funded Infrastructure Projects.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Russ) reports New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order Thursday that “ordered a halt to non-essential road, bridge and mass transit projects…after lawmakers failed to reauthorize the state fund that pays for them.”

California Experiments With Mileage Tax In Effort To Maintain State’s Transportation Infrastructure.

The CBS Evening News (7/1, story 10, 2:25, Elliott) reported that California is running “nine-month experiment to see if taxing divers by the mile can replace the state’s gasoline tax.” California Secretary of Transportation Brian Kelly said that they are running this experiment in order to find a new way to fund the states transportation infrastructure because “projections on what” the state will “get out of the gas tax are down, going forward.” According to the CBS Evening News, the state “needs eight billion dollars a year to maintain its transportation infrastructure, but it only raises $2.3 billion from its 27.8 cent-a-gallon gas excise tax.”

Strong Economy, Construction Surge Leads To Worse Traffic In Downtown LA. The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/1, Nelson) reports that, thanks to growth in commercial and residential life, a strong economy, and a surge in construction, traffic in downtown Los Angeles has gotten worse. Aside from vehicular traffic, the Times reports that public transportation has also gotten worse. According to Metro data, the “rate of buses arriving within five minutes of their scheduled times in downtown has dropped by more than 3 percentage points over a year, from 76.7 [percent] in May of 2015 to 73.6 [percent] this year.”

Brown, Portman Battle McConnell Over Coal Industry Bill.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/3, Shesgreen) reports Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman “are among those pushing for a legislative fix that supporters say would protect…coal miners’ hard-earned benefits, without costing taxpayers anything,” but they have “at least one powerful foe in Congress: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.” According to Robert Steurer, a spokesman for the majority leader, McConnell “has been and remains committed to helping ensure the retirement security of our nation’s retirees, including coal miners. He appreciates the importance of this issue to many affected coal communities in Kentucky and around the country and continues to believe this issue deserves an open, transparent debate through regular order.”

Activists, Industry Gearing Up For Fight Over Arctic Drilling.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/3, Henry) reported that with the Interior Department “set to finalize a five-year offshore drilling plan later this year,” environmentalists are pushing the “to follow through on his recent climate work and prevent new drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” while the oil industry officials, who want “the option to explore for drilling sites in the future,” argue that “blocking drilling would hurt the local economy and could curb American energy production down the road.” Noting the high stakes “ecologically, economically and for Obama’s legacy,” The Hill says the President’s decision “is especially important because it is the only chance to schedule lease sales for the next half-decade: if he blocks Arctic leases now, his successor cannot revive them before writing a new five-year plan.”

Meyers: Removing Snake River Dams Hurts Washington’s Economy And Salmon Efforts.

In an op-ed for the Seattle Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/2), Center for the Environment at Washington Policy Center Director Todd Meyers argued against the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams that currently “generate about 8.3 million megawatt hours of electricity” annually, equal to eight percent of Washington state’s energy. Meyers states that doing so would eliminate the “steady and reliable” energy source used to balance intermittent power produced by solar and wind and would require $200 million in funds to replace the energy lost, which in turn would eliminate funds from other projects, such as the funding for the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Waddell: Dams Must Be Removed From Snake River. In an opposing op-ed also carried by the Seattle Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/2, Waddell), former US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) civil engineer Jim Waddell alleged the USACE produced an environmental-impact statement (EIS) on the four Lower Snake River dams that “failed on several accounts,” particularly by overstating the economic harm dam removal would cause. Waddell argues there “is the only biological choice to recover salmon runs from extinction” – to remove the dams. Waddell claimed the “insidious actions of the regional leadership of the Corps, BPA and NOAA Fisheries, and their allies in Congress and industry” has lead to 25 years of dam management failures and “a critical mass of concerned citizens” to change the minds of politician. Waddell stated “Dam removal will work, create jobs and must start this year.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Study Points To Gender Inequities In CTE.

Matthew Lynch writes at the Education Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/4) “Education Futures” blog about new research from Cornell University that points to gender disparities in CTE programs. The study found that male students are more likely to be enrolled in CTE programs and have better employment rates after completion. Moreover, “among 25 to 28-year-old high school graduates in such positions, women made 78 cents for every dollar men made.”

Virginia District Opens New STEAM Academy.

The Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/3) reports, “Founders of the new Star Pointe Academy in North Suffolk believe in a critical departure from traditional models to educate children.” The article describes the school’s “intense STEAM curriculum that requires students to use and demonstrate skills while learning them.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

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