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

Leading the News

Tech Giants Join Forces To Promote Ethical AI.

Fortune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Parloff) reports the formation by Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft of The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society. “We’re in a golden age of machine learning and AI,” said Ralf Herbrich, the director of machine learning at Amazon, in a prepared statement. “This partnership will ensure we’re including the best and the brightest in this space in the conversation to improve customer trust and benefit society.”

The Motley Fool Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Kline) observes that the consortium “is an example of a group of leading technology companies putting business aside in order to work toward the public’s benefit.” The partnership will set parameters for Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Alphabet, IBM, and others to conduct business in this space, but it “does seem to have the greater good as its primary goal.” “AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation,” the group has said. “Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, the founding members of the Partnership on AI hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible.”

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Della Cava) observes that “[n]oticeably absent as founding members are companies such as Apple and Tesla” and that AI “has moved quickly from being the name of a 2001 sci-fi film by Steven Spielberg to an increasingly commonplace technology that consumers interact with when they use voice recognition systems such as Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana or music services such as Pandora and Spotify.”

Mashable Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Ulanoff) notes that the partnership intends to work with other third party AI organizations, including the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Lunden) notes that a day after the Partnership’s formation was announced, Microsoft announced the creation of the Microsoft AI and Research Group, led by Microsoft Research EVP Harry Shum, “who will oversee 5,000 computer scientists, engineers and others who will all be focused on the company’s AI product efforts.” Shum said in a statement that the move “signifies Microsoft’s commitment to deploying intelligent technology and democratizing AI in a way that changes our lives and the world around us for the better. We will significantly expand our efforts to empower people and organizations to achieve more with our tools, our software and services, and our powerful, global-scale cloud computing capabilities.”

Higher Education

Warren Blasts ED Over Corinthian Debt Collections.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has written to Education Secretary John King criticizing ED for seeking pursuing debt collection against former students of Corinthian Colleges Inc. instead of moving to forgive their debt. Several major media outlets are covering the story, painting ED in a generally dim light over the issue. The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Warren’s office says some 80,000 former Corinthian students “are facing some form of debt collection, even though the U.S. Department of Education unearthed enough evidence of fraud to forgive their student loans.” The Post describes how Corinthian collapsed last years under the weight of ED sanctions and allegations of fraud, and reports that Warren’s letter calls on King “to provide the immediate debt relief that Corinthian students are entitled to under federal law.” Speaking at the White House on Thursday, King “took issue with the assumption that all of the Corinthian students Warren highlighted in the letter are even eligible for loan forgiveness,” saying, “Within the 80,000 borrowers that Senator Warren refers to, folks are in different situations. Some are eligible if they seek to apply for closed-school discharge or borrower defense, others would not be. It’s worth pointing out that some of those students attended programs where there were findings of fraud, others did not.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Kerr) reports that Warren’s “blistering critique” says ED is “is pursuing debt collection – rather than debt relief” for the students. Warren describes ED’s approach to debt relief as “backward and anemic,” the Post reports. The AP reports the letter reads, “It is unconscionable that instead of helping these borrowers, vast numbers of Corinthian victims are currently being hounded by the department’s debt collectors.” King responded to the letter by saying ED “would keep making sure that Corinthian borrowers know what their options are for student loan forgiveness.” Warren’s investigation found that “about 30,000 Corinthian borrowers are having their tax refunds, tax credits or other government benefits like Social Security seized in order to pay off their debts.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Nasiripour) reports Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Thursday that Education Department debt collectors “may be violating the law by collecting on defaulted federal student loan debt that’s likely invalid yet owed by ‘vast numbers’ of defrauded for-profit college students.” Warren says the department is “making borrowers apply for debt cancellations, rather than giving it to them outright and not acting aggressively enough to get the word out to them.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) reports that Warren’s letter drew attention to a lawsuit being pursued by a former Corinthian student calling for ED to “halt the certification of all Corinthian-related debts.” Warren’s letter says that ED is “collecting on loans owed by former students of the for-profit educator despite having promised to forgive those debts.”

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Camera) reports that Warren sent the “searing letter…after her staff received new data provided by the department itself.” Warren contends that “despite the department’s boasting about helping former Corinthian students…only about 4,000 students actually have received…relief under the federal borrower defense program.” MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(9/29) and Politico Morning Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) also cover this story.

Over 11,000 Apply For Udacity Autonomous Car Engineering Degree.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) reports over 11,000 prospective students have submitted applications for online education platform Udacity’s “so-called nanodegree in self-driving car engineering,” even though there are only 250 seats available in the course. The piece says this powerful interest “underscores the pressing need for talent by technology leaders such as Alphabet’s Google and Apple, traditional car companies and automotive start-ups, as they race to develop production-ready autonomous-driving vehicles within the next decade.”

Engineering Student Builds Prosthetic To Enable Girl To Play Violin.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/30) reports on Northern Illinois University engineering student Oleseun Taiwo’s work to create a light-weight nylon/plastic prosthetic to enable a 12-year-old born without a right hand to play violin more easily. The story notes that Oleseun’s father is Temitope Taiwo, deputy director of nuclear engineering at Argonne National Laboratory. The Aurora (IL) Beacon-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) also covers this story.

ED Announces College STEM Grants.

A number of media outlets are covering grants ED is making to colleges to support needy students in STEM programs. Examples include the San Diego Union-Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Warth), the San Antonio Express-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29), the Yakima (WA) Herald-Republic Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29), and New Jersey Local News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/28).

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Research and Development

NSF Awards About $700,000 To Engineer To Continue Development Of Device For Navigating Blood System.

The Reading (PA) Eagle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Templeton) reports that a team headed by the University of Pittsburgh’s mechanical engineering department associate professor Sung Kwon Cho have developed “an ‘acoustic bubble-power micro-swimmer,’” a “drone-like device” that in the future, can be used to navigate through “the blood system to the body’s remotest regions to deliver drugs, do biological sensing and even perform surgery.” The National Science Foundation has awarded Cho a three-year, $724,691 grant “to advance his work.”

Global Developments

First 4-Seater Fuel Cell Plane Tested In Germany.

AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) reports that German aircraft engineers have “successfully tested the world’s first four-seater plane that uses emission-free hybrid fuel cells to fly,” in a 20-minute test flight from Stuttgart Airport. The aircraft, called HY4, was developed by “aircraft maker Pipistrel, fuel cell specialist Hydrogenics, the University of Ulm and the German Aerospace Center DLR,” and uses hydrogen to generate electricity while in flight, enabling cruising speeds of 102.5 miles per hour.

Industry News

Lockheed Martin Engineers Use Augmented Reality To Increase Accuracy, Efficiency In Manufacturing.

In an IndustryWeek Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) piece, Wipro CTO K.R. Sanjiv writes on the use of augmented technology in manufacturing, and says Lockheed Martin engineers use the technology when assembling F-35 aircraft to see “renderings of cables, bolts, parts, part numbers, and instructions on how to assemble a particular component.” Augmented reality glasses use “cameras, depth sensors, and motion sensors” to overlay images onto a working environment, and has increased accuracy “to 96%, while working 30% faster” at Lockheed.

Volvo Plans Consumer-Focused, Autonomous Car By 2020.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Naughton) reports Volvo Car Group announced a plan to offer a self-driving car within five years, “with the autopilot features adding about $10,000 to the vehicles cost.” Bloomberg notes the feature will be optional, but will “let occupants completely disengage from driving.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) reports the car will come with a steering wheel, but feature a “full autopilot system.” The AP notes Volvo plans to begin testing on Swedish roads next year “and in London and China in 2018.” The AP adds that while Ford is focusing on autonomous cars for ride-sharing within the same timeline, Volvo is taking a “consumer focused strategy.”

Nissan Unveils Battery-Powered, Autonomous Chair.

NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) reports Nissan has “unveiled a high-tech, battery-powered autonomous chair” the company says is designed to make waiting in line “easy and fun.” The ProPilot chair “transports passengers along fixed paths without any instruction from the user.” NPR says the chairs are “designed to make the wait in line and visiting museums easier” and “could provide benefits in places with aging populations, such as Japan.”

Engineering and Public Policy

NYTimes: Clean Power Plan Deserves To Survive Court Challenge.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/30, Board, Subscription Publication) says in an editorial that President Obama “has established a strong record in fighting climate change,” but “one very important part of his strategy remains in legal limbo – the Clean Power Plan, a rule created by the Environmental Protection Agency that would place strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants and would force many of the dirtiest to shut down.” Twenty-eight states and “scores of power companies and industry groups” are challenging the plan in court, but it deserves to survive, the Times says, arguing, “It would in fact move that system in the same direction that the marketplace and modern technology are already driving it – toward cleaner energy alternatives, and away from the oldest and dirtiest fossil fuels.”

EPA Poised To Release Ozone Standard Compliance Plan.

Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Reilly, Subscription Publication) reports that the EPA “could soon publish a proposed blueprint for implementation of its 2015 ozone air quality standards” now that the White House Office of Management and Budget has completed its review. “While publication in the Federal Register would typically follow, an EPA spokeswoman had no immediate comment this morning on the agency’s next move.”

Report: Energy Companies Seeing Rise In Cyber Attacks.

The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) reported energy companies have seen a large spike “in successful cyberattacks over the past year, and they need to address the risks in order to maintain their security and keep their businesses resilient,” according to a World Energy Council report. The report found that the worst case scenario could lead to “infrastructure shutdowns, economic and financial disruptions and even deaths and massive environmental damage.” However, “awareness has grown over the past three years, with more than 30 countries putting ‘ambitious’ cyber plans and strategies in place.”

Solar City Plan To Install Panels On Tonawanda Landfill Is Delayed.

The Buffalo (NY) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Popiolkowski) reports that a plan by SolarCity “to install 8,500 solar panels on the Tonawanda Landfill has encountered a glitch now that” the company has been told by National Grid that “the project requires some costly equipment.” National Grid’s “requirement could affect how much the town will save on its electric bill.” National Grid spokesman Stephen F. Brady said that connecting the project to the grid requires “direct transfer trip equipment.”

Alabama Power Adding Hundreds Of Megawatts Of Renewable Energy By 2021.

EnergyWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Subscription Publication) provides continuing coverage of Alabama Power’s recently issued request for proposals for renewable energy projects, reporting the company “is casting a wide net as it moves to add several hundred megawatts of renewable energy, including solar, to the grid by 2021.” The article says the company will consider a variety of sources, including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and others, and is interested in asset ownership or long-term power-purchase agreements. According to EnergyWire, Alabama Power “has been slow to entertain renewables and, like most electric companies nationwide, does not need to add any significant generation right now.” As a result, “the company is not obligated to move forward on any project that it reviews during the bid process, a company spokesman said in an earlier interview.” The article mentions that sister company Georgia Power “will have roughly 900 MW of solar on the grid by the end of the year, most of which has been added through a competitive bidding process.”

Promise Seen For Floating Offshore Wind Platforms.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports on testing of floating offshore wind turbine platforms by the University of Maine. “Floating turbines, with anchors, would mean new flexibility in where wind farms could be placed, with potentially less impact on marine life — and less opposition from the human neighbors on shore,” the Times explains. Statoil is developing what could become the first commercial-scale floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland, while Seattle-based Trident Winds is pursuing a federal lease to install about 100 turbines more than 30 miles off central California. The Times reports the Obama Administration’s recently updated offshore wind strategy “identifies the floating structures as important in fighting climate change.” According to José Zayas, who directs DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, more than half of the United States’ potentially capturable offshore wind capacity is in deeper waters, while proponents say floating turbines would avoid obstacles that have deterred offshore wind farms.

Offshore Wind Called A Proven Technology With Costs Bound To Decline.

Nancy Sopko of the American Wind Energy Association writes for The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/29) in its “Congress Blog” that that “offshore wind energy is a mature, proven technology that has the potential to supply clean energy to millions of Americans,” despite a September 23 commentary by Dan Ervin to the contrary. While offshore wind “may be in the early stages of development” in the US, “in Europe it has been reliably generating emission-free electricity for decades.” Sopko writes that the drop in the cost of onshore wind by two-thirds will also happen for offshore wind. Raising state renewable portfolio standards “are overwhelmingly successful policies that create jobs, save money and clean the air.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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