Leading the News
Air Force Envisions Future With “Swarms” Of Autonomous Drones.
The Dayton (OH) Daily News (8/17, Barber) reports the Air Force seeks within the next 20 years to have “swarms of small autonomous drones that deploy on a plane anywhere in the world within 24 hours to project air power,” according to Col. Brandon Baker, chief of the Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Division in Washington, DC. Baker, who was speaking at the UAS Midwest conference Wednesday at the Dayton Convention Center in Ohio, added that the service also envisions “teaming future drones with manned aircraft to expand the reach of sensors and carry additional weapons.”
Air Force Places $371M For MQ-9 Reaper Drones. The Fiscal Times (8/17) reports the Air Force has given California-based General Atomics a $371 million contract to deliver 30 MQ-9 Reapers by the spring of 2019, according to the Air Force Times. The service describes the MQ-9 as a remotely piloted aircraft that “provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets.” According to the article, this means that “when American video warriors want to take out an ISIS commander hustling down the highway in his SUV, they send in a MQ-9 Reaper.”
Report Calls Texas Public Universities “Dropout Factories.”
The Houston Chronicle (8/17, Wermund) reports that according to research group Third Way, Texas public universities are “dropout factories,” and “students in Texas have just a 40 percent chance of graduating within six years.” The report states that Texas graduation rates fall “below the national average.”
University Of California Loses Chancellors At Two Campuses.
The Washington Post (8/17, Anderson) reports that on Tuesday, UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks resigned, “a week after Linda Katehi stepped down as UC-Davis chancellor. Both leaders had been embroiled in multiple controversies.” Dirks’ resignation was due to his handling of sexual harassment charges against faculty, and allegations of personal use of public funds. Katehi had been under investigation for “nepotism, retaliation and inappropriate travel expenses.” UC President Janet Napolitano stated that there would be “a global search for a new leader” at UC-Berkeley and Ralph J. Hexter would be the interim acting chancellor at UC-Davis.
Morehouse College Receives $2.5M STEM Grant.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (8/17, Davis) reports leaders of the Simons Foundation, Jim and Marilyn Simons, announced a $2.5 million grant to Morehouse College aimed at increasing “its efforts to diversify STEM fields.” The Journal-Constitution reports that according to data from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, “Morehouse was the top producer of black male undergraduate students in biological sciences, physics, math and statistics from 2004 to 2013”
Research and Development
New York Official Calls On Local College Students To Design Smarter Guns.
Technical.ly Brooklyn (NY) (8/17) reports Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams this week challenged area college students to design “smarter guns — a gun, for example, that could only be operated by one specific person.” Adams was announcing the Smart Gun Design Competition. The piece reports that City Tech and NYU Tandon School of Engineering have already signed on. TheBrooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle (8/16) reports that the winning team will get $1 million.
Computer Engineer Developing Virtual Reality Game To Help Young People With Autism Practice Real World Activities.
STAT (8/17, Wessel) reports that Nilanjan Sarkar, a computer and mechanical engineer at Vanderbilt University, is developing a virtual reality game “to help young people on the autism spectrum navigate job interviews and make friends.” Peter Gerhardt, executive director of the EPIC School for Autism in New Jersey, suggests that teaching “some of these more complex skills in…[a VR] environment” with repetition and adjustment is probably the right direction for the field.
UW Grad Students Developed Interscatter Communication To Recycle Radio Waves.
TechCrunch (8/17, Coldewey) reports three graduate students from UW’s electrical engineering program have developed a technique called interscatter communication that “eliminates the necessity to produce wireless signals at all,” allowing a device to “essentially harvest and re-deploy signals it receives.” Producing a strong wireless signal doesn’t require a many energy costs if there is “a big all-day battery you can recharge easily, like in a smartphone.” But for small devices, like pacemakers, “power is a much more serious consideration.” It’s for this reason the students developed interscatter communication. The process consists of a device transmitting “a special ‘single-tone’ signal carrying no data, in the Bluetooth frequency,” which is received by the interscatter device, allowing it “to bounce off its antenna — but not before it has manipulated it ever so slightly, re-encoding the blank signal as a Wi-Fi one.” One the design is completed, the technology can be used widespread, including in Apple Watches and Samsung Galaxy smartphones.
Two Pittsburgh Firms Awarded DOE Grants To Advance Fuel Efficiency Research.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (8/17) reports Alcoa Inc. and PPG Industries Inc. will receive grants for research projects that “could increase the use of plastic composites and aluminum in cars and trucks and a silica material in tires, the Department of Energy said Wednesday.” The two companies were among four recipients of a total of $7.3 million in DOE research funding in Pennsylvania. Nationwide, DOE announced $137 million for fuel-efficiency research projects “as the government pushes auto companies to lower greenhouse gas emissions and meet tougher mileage standards.”
Autonomous Cars Predicted To Use Data Amount Equivalent To 3,000 Humans.
Mashable (8/17, Beres) reports according to Intel CEO Brian Krznach, by 2020 people will “use 1.5 gigabytes of data daily,” and autonomous vehicles “will use about 4,000.” At a presentation in San Francisco, Krznach quoted estimates from an article on Dataflog that predict a driverless car “will generate .75 gigabytes per second,” as Google’s autonomous vehicle is rumored to produce. With so much data being generated, connections will need to get faster also. This is part of the many reasons carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are developing 5G networks capable of managing so much information. The first 5G network, however, isn’t set to launch until the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Tech Companies Plan Layoffs As Technologies Shift.
Reuters (8/17, Nayak, Todd) reports analysts and recruiters believe Cisco Systems’ planned layoff of 5,500 employees “is unlikely to be the last round of Silicon Valley pink slips,” as hardware “struggle to keep up with rapid technology shifts.” Reuters reports Intel announced in April that it would lay off 12,000 works, and in January Dell announced it had cut 10,000 and expects to make further cuts. Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said, “The hi-tech industry is going through a serious deconstruction. …There is more pain to come.” According to analysts, IBM Corp, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co, Oracle Corp and Dell Inc “could be the next to shed workers.”
The AP (8/17) reports Hewlett-Packard announced plans to cut more than 80,000 jobs “along the way to breaking up its business into two companies last year, HP Inc. and HP Enterprise,” and has since announced plans to sell a 100,000 business-services division. Intel is cutting 12,000, equivalent to 11 percent of its workforce, while Microsoft has “has disclosed about 12,000 layoffs since last year.”
Michigan Launches Campaign To Keep Auto Companies From Relocating To California.
Bloomberg News (8/17, Welch) reports Ford has announced it is doubling the size of its Silicon Valley office and “investing in four companies that are key to building self-driving cars.” The company, which plans to release fully autonomous vehicles into the market by 2021, is making the changes to compete with Google’s self-driving car project. Although the engineering of vehicles will stay in the Midwest, companies realize it is necessary to invest in “the nation’s technology center to find the software expertise needed to make the autos of tomorrow.” According to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder however, the auto state “isn’t giving up on talent.” He highlighted Google’s May announcement that it will “open a self-driving car research center in suburban Detroit.” The challenge, according to Snyder, is alerting auto companies the state holds “great resources for technology companies,” like the University of Michigan’s software and technology development program. In June, Snyder revealed advertising and marketing campaign, Planet M, to promote the state’s “education and industrial base to be home to new automotive technology research and startups.”
Commentary: Trump Presidency Would Not Bode Well For Tesla.
In a commentary for the Wall Street Journal (8/17, Subscription Publication), James Freeman opines that a Donald Trump presidency would not bode well for Tesla, which he says is among firms that rely heavily on government subsidies.
NYTimes Analysis: Appalachia Working To Develop New Industries As Coal Mines Close.
The New York Times (8/17, Stolberg, Subscription Publication) reports in a 1,492-word analysis that elected officials, business leaders, environmentalists, and community advocates in central Appalachia are working to develop new industries to re-build the economic health of the region as the coal mines there continue to close. With employment in the coal industry is at its lowest level since 1898, former coal miners are turning to agriculture, technology start-ups, and renewable energy companies to find new work. Many people in eastern Kentucky are taking advantage of a 2014 statute allowing them to grow hemp and the surfaces of reclaimed coal mines have in many cases been turned into farmland.
Besides Tesla, Other Automakers Advancing Semi-autonomous Driving Technologies.
In an analysis, the AP (8/17, Durbin, Krisher, Writers) reports that besides Tesla, other automakers developing self-driving vehicles. The story highlights inroads by Honda, GM, and Mercedes-Benz and reports that “automakers are feeling pressure to make sure tech companies like Google and Apple don’t leapfrog them with driverless cars of their own.” Automakers are exercising caution, however, and Tesla critics have accused the company of “moving too far too fast” following a crash in Florida that killed a Model S driver.
Engineering and Public Policy
Caltrain Electrification Project Receives $20 Million CalSTA Grant.
The San Bruno (CA) Patch (8/17) reports that the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) announced Wednesday that it will give Caltrain $20 million in state Cap and Trade funds for its electrification project. Palo Alto (CA) Online (8/17) reports that this announcement follows news from Caltrain’s congressional delegation that the project “was one of two projects accepted into the engineering phase of the Federal Transit Administration Core Capacity Program, which is expected to provide $643 million toward the project.” The Mountain View (CA) Voice (8/17) republished Palo Alto Online’s article covering the news.
Washington Governor Announces Clean Energy Fund Grid Modernization Grants.
KNDU-TV Yakima, WA (8/17, Hinger) reports that earlier this week Gov. Jay Inslee announced “$12.6 million in Clean Energy Fund grants” to five utilities for projects in the state. The grants will be matched by “utilities and their partners…at a minimum ratio of 1 to 1.” Inslee said, “With these awards, our leading utilities will demonstrate how to integrate battery storage with solar energy and stand-alone energy systems, train the workforce to build and maintain these systems, and lead the industry into the clean energy future.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “Gov. Inslee and the state of Washington continue to champion clean energy innovation. Driving innovation is at the core of how our country maintains its leadership in developing clean, low-carbon energy technologies. … I was pleased to join the governor to highlight innovation, as the Department of Energy is an active partner with Washington and many other states to enhance the U.S. energy security, climate resilience and economic leadership.”
Energy Department Selects 12 Projects For Cybersecurity Funds.
The Hill (8/17, Uchill) reports the Energy Department is waiting for congressional approval of $34 million in funding for “cybersecurity grants to 12 projects as part of its Cybersecurity of Energy Delivery Systems (CEDS) program.” In a fact sheet the agency wrote, “The twelve projects will enhance the reliability and resilience of the nation’s energy critical infrastructure through innovative, scalable, and cost-effective research, development and demonstration of cybersecurity solutions.” The 12 projects are a part of five different initiatives, “including detecting adversaries, integrating alternative energy sources into the national grid, reducing the opportunities for attacks, shoring up supply chains and a fifth catch-all category.”
Offshore Wind Development Off California Coast May Happen Soon.
The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico (8/17, Whieldon) reported Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the Interior Department yesterday “took a significant step toward issuing a lease for wind power development off the California coast.” BOEM “is moving to gauge industry interest in a lease area — 67,963 acres of federal land some 33 nautical miles northwest of Morro Bay — for which Trident Winds LLC has proposed a 765-megawatt floating wind energy project.” The state and BOEM “determined Trident qualifies for an outer continental shelf lease, so BOEM’s Request for Interest represents its effort to determine whether the lease should go to Trident or be awarded on a competitive basis.”
Hydropower Groups Pressure Lawmakers On Project Development, Licensing.
The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico (8/17, Whieldon) reported the National Hydropower Association, and several other trade groups, are continuing pressure on legislators “conferencing the House and Senate energy bills to make sure the final measures ‘include a strong hydropower title that improves the licensing and regulatory approval process for new hydropower development and relicensing of existing projects.’” In a letter on Monday to lawmakers, the groups made the case that “the licensing process will block the industry from reaching its growth potential, which a recent Energy Department report pegged at 50 gigawatts of new capacity by 2050.” The groups wrote, “The current licensing process must be modernized to add accountability and transparency, eliminate inefficiencies and redundancies, and unlock innovation and advancements in technology and operations.”
Fleischer: STEM Toys For Girls Will Help Societal Barriers Girls Face In STEM Fields.
In an op-ed for U.S. News & World Report (8/17, Fleischer), Amy Fleischer, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Villanova University, expresses her excitement that Lego Ideas’ proposed “Women of NASA” is gaining support in social media, suggesting the lack of STEM-related toys geared towards girls is among the societal barriers that “girls face in choosing STEM fields and that women face in STEM workplaces.” Fleischer states that “by normalizing STEM interest at a young age…girls can find the communities of peers and role models” that were “rare” when she was young, and help them “keep their interest going through the crucial middle school and high school years.”
NSF Awards Tech Start-Up Grant For Educational Minecraft Coding Software.
Education Week (8/17, Davis) reports the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s)Small Business Innovation Research program has awarded San Diego-based ThoughtSTEM a $750,000 grant to develop “software to help students learn computer coding principles through Minecraft,” an online game that “allows users to create, build and explore virtual worlds using 3-D building blocks.” ThoughtSTEM’s software would allow “students to create new creatures, tools and mini-games within Minecraft using a drag-and-drop programming interface and coding language,” according to ThoughtSTEM co-founder Lindsey Handley.
Humble High School Earns STEM Academy Designation.
The Houston Chronicle (8/17, Kirk) reports the Texas Education Agency has designated Humble High School as a STEM academy for the 2016-17 school year, bringing the total number of schools under the designation to 121 statewide. According to the Chronicle, “STEM academies are secondary schools focusing on improving instruction and academic performance in science and mathematics-related subjects, with a goal of increasing the number of students who study and enter STEM careers.”
New Mexico Workshop Helps High School Students Learn Coding.
The AP (8/17) highlights a Shiprock coding workshop that is providing “web development training” to local high school students that is “designed to encourage them to pursue a career in the field.” The AP details the workshop Albuquerque-based Cultivating Coders which originally “started teaching free web development workshops in rural areas and on Native American reservations” to help undeserved areas.
New IB School To Bring Science Lessons To Life.
The Mooresville (NC) Tribune (8/17) reports that as part of its transition from a traditional elementary school to an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme model, Coddle Creek Elementary School is partnering with Discovery Place to bring ScienceReach to its K-5 classrooms. The program is designed to bring a unique learning experience to the school in its science lab, said Principal Susan Fail. All lessons are STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) and integrate the IB PYP model. Said Fail, “We’ll also utilize the science lab more and be a fully STEM-based environment. We’ve worked hard to do it and embrace it.” The ScienceReach program will continue as students advance through grade levels, building upon each theme and lesson they learn.
Wednesday’s Lead Stories
• ED Announces Pilot Allowing Financial Aid To Innovative Coursework Partnerships.
• Report: For-Profit Colleges Have Similar Problems, Few Benefits.
• Expedia Introduces Expedia Labs To Showcase New Technology.
• Column: Workers Shouldn’t Fear Robotics.
• Apple To Open R&D Facility, Increase Investment In China.
• Ford Announces Plans For Fully-Autonomous Cars By 2021.
• Administration Releases New Fuel-Efficiency Rules For Heavy-Duty Vehicles.