Leading the News
Uber To Use Driverless Cars In Pittsburgh Within Weeks.
The Los Angeles Times (8/18, Mitchell, Lien) says a fleet of Fords and Volvos “is fully equipped and ready to hit the streets of Pittsburgh within weeks.” Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said in a blog post Thursday that “Uber is accelerating its plan to replace its 1 million human drivers with robots as quickly as possible.” U.S. News & World Report (8/18) also reports saying the company’s Pittsburgh fleet “will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat at first, and will be made up of modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles, according to Bloomberg.”
NYTimes To Lawmakers: Millions Of American Jobs At Stake.The New York Times (8/18, Allison, Subscription Publication) reports Uber is “steering its driverless vehicle technology toward a crash between robots and jobs.” The Times says putting robots instead of humans at the wheel “could save lives, but it would automate a task that employs millions of American workers.” The Times warns policy makers and politicians that “America’s safety net is ill-prepared for such a job-destroying juggernaut.”
Kalahari: Self-Driving Cars Will Double Number Of Human Drivers. Business Insider (8/18, Carson) says Kalanick predicts self-driving cars will increase jobs for human drivers. He expects that as the number of active cars increases, which he says could go from 30,000 to a million in some cities, you will have less workers per car but more workers overall. He says that when you increase the number of active cars “to a million cars, you’re still going to need a human-driven parallel…because there are just places that autonomous cars are just not going to be able to go or conditions they’re not going to be able to handle.” Kalanick says he “can imagine” a city with 30,000 active drivers increasing to “50,000 to 100,000 drivers, human drivers, alongside a million car network.”
Volvo, Uber To Jointly Develop Autonomous SUVs. According to the Wall Street Journal (8/18, Stoll, Subscription Publication), Volvo and Uber have entered a $300 million deal to develop autonomous SUVs to either use as self-driving taxis or sell to consumers. Volvo will use a preexisting platform for initial engineering, then both companies will use that technology to each develop a self-driving system. Reuters (8/18) characterizes the deal as the “latest move by traditional vehicle manufacturers to team up with Silicon Valley firms long seen as disruptive threats to their industry.” Reuters adds that the investment “will be roughly shared equally by the two companies” and will go towards “researching and developing both hardware, such as sensors used to detect traffic and obstacles, as well as software for the self driving cars.”
Coalition Of Groups Call On King To Track Student Debt Racial Disparities.
Inside Higher Ed (8/18) reports a coalition of advocacy groups led by the National Consumer Law Center has written to Education Secretary John King asking for ED “to track the relationship between student loan debt and racial inequality,” adding that the group has been trying to “obtain the release of data on how federal debt collection practices are affecting minority student borrowers in particular.” The groups say the data is required to ensure that ED’s new protections for student borrowers are benefiting members of all races.
The Street (8/18) reports on criticisms that ED “has failed to protect minority students adequately from bad outcomes when they enter college, that these students suffer disproportionately from student loan defaults and borrow more than their white counterparts.” The groups say that ED “has been sitting on data for years that would help ameliorate such difficulties and better identify potential defaults, thus leading to interventions and better resolutions.” The piece quotes Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, saying, “It is unacceptable that, for nearly a decade, the Department has known that student loan debt disproportionately harms borrowers of color, and despite this knowledge, has failed to even track this problem, let alone address the issue.” The Politico (8/18) “Morning Education” blog also covers this story.
Accreditor Punts ITT Decision To December.
The Indianapolis Star (8/18, Briggs) reports that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools has postponed its decision on whether to renew its accreditation for ITT Technical Institute “until December — when that body might no longer exist.” The piece explains that the accreditor “had been scheduled to rule on ITT’s accreditation this month,” but gave the chain four extra months to produce evidence justifying its existence. The Star points out, however, that “ACICS might not last long enough to decide ITT’s fate,” because ED “has recommended that ACICS lose its authority and could shut down the agency by September.”
Kentucky Supreme Court To Hear Arguments In Higher Education Funding Case.
The Politico (8/18) “Morning Education” blog reports that the Kentucky Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments “in a case potentially affecting $18 million for the state’s public colleges and universities.” The piece explains that the conflict between Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) was intensified when “a district court judge ruled in Bevin’s favor in a suit filed by Beshear challenging the governor’s mid-year budget cuts to the state university system.”
New Jersey Leg Lawmakers Announce Reforms To State Student Loan Program.
ProPublica (8/18, Waldman) reports New Jersey legislators announced measures to the state’s “controversial” student loan program, including capping payments at “10 percent of a borrower’s income after taxes,” reducing payments “to nothing if a borrower’s earnings approach the poverty line,” and forgiving outstanding debt after 20 years. The announcement comes a month after an investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times last month found New Jersey’s student loan program came “with onerous terms that can easily lead borrowers to financial ruin.” The new measures “could also indirectly address whether cosigners should be responsible for student loans if borrowers die.”
Research and Development
NSF Gives University Of Colorado Grant For Repairing Brain Connections With Miniature Microscope.
The Denver Post (8/18) reports that the National Science Foundation has given a team of engineers and neuroscientists at the University of Colorado School of Medicine an $800,000 grant “to experiment with reconnecting parts of the brain using a miniature, lightweight microscope.” Researchers will test a device that “uses an electrowetting lens — a liquid lens that can change shape when voltage is applied — ‘mounted on the head of a mouse and with its high-powered, fiber-optic light can actually view and control neural activity as it happens.’”
ONR Sponsors Research Into Turning Soil Bacteria Into Simulated Electrical Wires.
Science Daily (8/16) reports that University of Massachusetts-Amherst researchers sponsored by the Office of Naval Research “have genetically modified a common soil bacteria to create electrical wires that not only conduct electricity, but are thousands of times thinner than a human hair.” The piece says “there is growing appetite for technology that is smaller, faster and more mobile and powerful than ever before.”
LLNL Scientists Create “Second Skin” Technology.
Engineering 360 (8/18, Simpson) reports scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a “second skin” material, which “is highly breathable yet protects against biological agents.” LLNL postdoctoral research fellow Ngoc Bui said, “We demonstrated that these membranes provide rates of water vapor transport that surpass those of commercial breathable fabrics like GoreTex, even though the aligned carbon nanotube pores are only a few nanometers wide.” LLNL’s Biosecurity and Biosciences Group leader Kuang Jen Wu added, “The material will be like a smart second skin that responds to the environment…In this way, the fabric will be able to block chemical agents such as sulfur mustard (blister agent), GD and VX nerve agents, toxins such as staphylococcal enterotoxin and biological spores such as anthrax.” The article reports the material will be used as a component in “smart” military uniforms.
University Of Pittsburgh Receives $350,000 Grant For 3D Printing Research.
3D Printing Industry (8/18) reports the University of Pittsburgh has received a $350,000 grant to advance additive manufacturing processes, bringing the university’s Swanson School of Engineering’s total funding for additive manufacturing research to $7.2 million since 2014. The article lists Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories among organizations and businesses worldwide which are working to optimize metal 3D printing techniques. Specifically, the article reports LLNL is “working on a multi-physics high fidelity modeling approach that draws upon the labs background in complex computation.”
World’s Largest Aircraft Completes First Flight in England.
In continuing coverage, the Washington Post (8/18, Guarino) reports that the world’s largest aircraft, the Airlander 10, took off for its maiden flight on Wednesday at Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, England. According to the article, the 302-foot-long and eight-story-tall airship is an “impressive bit of aeronautical engineering,” incorporating “the best parts of an airplane, a helicopter and a dirigible into one machine.” However, while the Airlander 10 marks a technological accomplishment, it may not necessarily be an economic success. Chris Pocock, defense editor at aviation magazine AIN, told the AP, “Airships and hybrids have still got a credibility gap to cover.” Still, if the Airlander 10 proves successful, an airship that is five times larger, the Airlander 50, could be launched in 2020s.
The CBS Overnight News (8/19) reported in its broadcast that the Airlander 10 “is not what you’d call conventional,” and can land in the desert, ice, and the ocean. The ship’s top speed is low, maxing out at 73 miles per hour. Spokesman Chris Daniels added that the ship’s helium is under a low pressure, and therefore can withstand bullets.
The Guardian (UK) (8/18) features a video showing portions of the flight.
Engineering and Public Policy
Greens Groups Sue US Army Corps Of Engineers To Stop Sabal Trail Pipeline Project.
The AP (8/18) reports environmental groups including the Sierra Club have filed a federal lawsuit with the in the 11th US Circuit Appeals Court on Wednesday to stop Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light’s $3.2-billion Sabal Trail project that would carry natural gas from Alabama, through Georgia, into Florida. The suit against the US Army Corps of Engineers “comes less than a week after the Sabal Trail project received final federal approvals, including permits to discharge dredge materials into wetlands and other water bodies.” The suit “says the project poses a threat to drinking water sources in the region.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (8/18, Chapman) also covers the story.
Harley-Davidson Settles Emissions Claims With US For $15 Million.
USA Today (8/18, Bomey) reports that Harley-Davidson “has agreed to pay a multimillion-dollar fine and fund environmental remediation efforts after allegedly selling aftermarket devices that allowed motorcyclists to cheat U.S. emissions standards.” The company, based in Milwaukee, “will pay a $12 million civil penalty and $3 million toward environmental efforts in a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency after the agency accused the company of selling about 340,000 ‘super tuners’ that bolstered power but also raised harmful emissions.” The company “agreed to offer to buy back all of the devices, cease selling the tuners and destroy them. ‘Given Harley-Davidson’s prominence in the industry, this is a very significant step toward our goal of stopping the sale of illegal aftermarket defeat devices that cause harmful pollution on our roads and in our communities,’ said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement.”
The Hill (8/18, Cama) reports that “in a statement, the company maintained its innocence, saying that it believes the relevant regulations permit sales of the devices for off-road and closed-course use only. ‘Concern for our U.S. customers and dealers weighed heavily in reaching this compromise with the EPA,’ Ed Moreland, head of government affairs at Harley-Davidson, said in the statement. ‘By settling this matter, we can focus our future attention and resources on product innovation rather than a prolonged legal battle with the EPA.’”
The Wall Street Journal (8/18, Viswanatha, Tita, Subscription Publication), Reuters (8/18, Carey), Slate (8/18, Piner), Ars Technica (8/18), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (8/18, Barrett) and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (8/18, Eaton) provide additional coverage.
North Texas School Designs Building To Inspire STEM Learning.
KTVT-TV Dallas (8/18) reports that a North Texas school district pushing for more student interest in STEM has designed “the entire school building…to support STEM instruction.” Grand Prairie ISD’s STEM Director Nancy McGee said, “We’ve got lots of open spaces. We race cars in the hallways, we can fire rockets. This really helps us with being able to get kids involved in their own education.” According to KTVT-TV, “staff worked with engineers from nearby Lockheed Martin on experiments that turned water bottles in rockets, and old DVDs into race cars. And supporters say the building’s creative, collaborative spaces support the STEM style of engaged teaching and learning.”
Report: Many High School Graduates Are Not Ready For College.
The Hechinger Report (8/18, Marcus) reports that according to Education Reform Now, “a surprisingly number of high school graduates” are unprepared “to take college courses in math or English.” Executive vice chancellor and university provost for the City University of New York Alexandra Logue said, “You have to have everyone agreeing on what the standards are. And there are timing issues. When do you find out the student needs this, and how does that connect with when you provide the support?” According to the Hechinger Report, the State University of New York System “is experimenting with a test of college readiness, for 10th- and 11th-graders, with the intention of catching those who aren’t on track for college and intervening to make sure they are.” Project manager at the Colorado Community College System Casey Sacks said, “I absolutely think everyone should be doing this.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Air Force Envisions Future With “Swarms” Of Autonomous Drones.
• Report Calls Texas Public Universities “Dropout Factories.”
• New York Official Calls On Local College Students To Design Smarter Guns.
• Tech Companies Plan Layoffs As Technologies Shift.
• Michigan Launches Campaign To Keep Auto Companies From Relocating To California.
• Caltrain Electrification Project Receives $20 Million CalSTA Grant.
• Fleischer: STEM Toys For Girls Will Help Societal Barriers Girls Face In STEM Fields.