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

Leading the News

Bloomberg: Apple Sets Deadline For Project Titan Self-Driving Car Initiative.

On Monday, Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Gurman, Webb) published a report in which it claimed Apple executives set a clear deadline for its Project Titan autonomous car development team to produce a feasible product. By the deadline, Bloomberg said, the project members must not only evidence the feasibility of the Apple Car, but also determine a final direction for the project. Media outlets that covered the issue overwhelmingly predicted that Apple will terminate its Apple Car initiative and pointed to Project Titan’s tumultuous two years to support that prediction.

Quoting the Bloomberg report, Investor’s Business Daily Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Seitz) explains that “Apple executives have given the car team a deadline of late next year to prove the feasibility of the self-driving system,” after which it will focus solely on the development of an autonomous driving software system. CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) says prior to the deadline, Project Titan already refocused its efforts on the development of an independent driving system instead of on the creation of an actual self-driving car. This shift in strategy, says CNBC, will grant Apple the option of marketing the self-driving system to existing car manufacturers, should Project Titan fail to produce a feasible demo by the deadline.

TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) explains that Apple has encountered a variety of setbacks in the initiative and began shifting its focus in July, when it brought Apple veteran Bob Mansfield onto Project Titan. Engadget Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) says an unnamed source told Bloomberg that the initiative was “an incredible failure of leadership” until Mansfield took over as the team lead and reshaped the project’s direction. The article points to auto industry suppliers’ unwillingness to invest in Apple’s initiative as yet another setback to Project Titan. The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) similarly says Apple “underestimated the complexity” involved in the auto industry, “particularly the challenges of automotive supply chains.”

TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) explains, “If a company doesn’t have the right technology, engineers and strategy, then it could end up being a costly mistake. That’s why Apple is treading carefully.” The article says “Apple is having second-thoughts about becoming a car company” in part because Project Titan also experienced a string of leadership and directional changes. AppleInsider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Fingas) notes that prior to the deadline announcement, hundreds of Project Titan team members already left voluntarily, were reassigned, or fired. The remaining team members are allegedly developing self-driving code and sensors and simulators in preparation for real-world testing scenarios. Those developments, Motor Trend Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) claims, show that Apple intends to develop “autonomous drive software that would be sold to automakers and other third parties” while simultaneously leaving open the option to develop a car in-house. Motor Trend concedes that when Apple brought on Mansfield as the new Project Titan chief in May, however, it effectively “put the kibosh on the Apple Car” and “did not inspire confidence” in the initiative.

Popular Mechanics Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) praises Apple’s strategy shift and says “Apple enjoys huge profit margins and exclusive rights to certain components manufactured by suppliers,” but the company lacks the “complex and well-established relationships between traditional automakers and suppliers, as well as the astounding regulatory burden of putting a new car on the market.” That challenge, the article suggests, “must have looked insurmountable to the Titan team.”

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) similarly suggests that Apple either “wanted to develop a vehicle to use future technologies that aren’t practical or accessible today; or that Apple is completely incompetent when it comes to this car project.” It adds that those optimistic about Apple’s introduction of a self-driving vehicle within the next decade will likely “be disappointed.” Business Insider claims that Apple’s best course of action “is to develop a comprehensive automotive interface of some sort, a CarPlay that takes over your entire vehicle.”

PC World Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) more optimistically writes that “Apple develops and prototypes devices and software all the time” but most of those efforts never manifest into actual products, a practice engaged by most technology companies. PC World says “the oft-rumored Apple television set is a good example of that.” PC Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) posits that Apple is still exploring the idea of creating an autonomous car and points to the company’s attainment of auto-themed website domain names and its hiring of several Tesla executives. MIT Technology Review Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) suggests that the harder deadline could force the Project Titan team members to focus more intensely on the initiative but, like the majority of media outlets on the issue, says Apple “may ultimately end up canning the project.” Regardless of the outcome, the article says, the harder deadline “appears to be a vitalizing force that the team needs.”

Higher Education

Clark Foundation Gives Johns Hopkins $15 Million For Engineering Scholarships.

The Baltimore Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) reports Johns Hopkins University has announced that it is receiving $15 million from the Clark Charitable Foundation “to provide financial aid for undergraduate engineering students.” This is the largest gift Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering has received to date. The Baltimore Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Subscription Publication) also covers this story.

NSF Awards Grant To Six Universities For Pilot Engineering “Redshirt” Programs.

In a more than 1,600-word article, the Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Wurth) reports on the National Science Foundation’s recent award of a five-year, $5 million grant to a six-university consortium “to implement a bridge year for incoming freshmen from disadvantaged backgrounds,” which at the University of Illinois is an “engineering “redshirt” program” to help “who show academic promise but may be unprepared for the rigors of college because they had fewer opportunities in high school.” The News-Gazette adds that “the NSF wants to see if the program could be implemented across the country, said Professor Kevin Pitts, associate dean of undergraduate programs and one of three lead investigators on the grant.”

UT Board Votes To Name College Of Engineering.

Tennessee Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/14) reported Friday that the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees “voted today to name the College of Engineering for distinguished alumnus John D. Tickle,” the chairman of the Strongwell Corporation, the second time in the 22-year history of the university “that a college has been named for an alumnus and benefactor.” The piece adds Tickle recently made a “transformational gift [that] will impact every aspect of the college–from students and faculty to research and facilities.”

Texas For-Profit Shutting Down After Employees Violated Student Aid Rules.

The San Antonio Express-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports San Antonio, Texas’ Career Point College has announced that it is “closing immediately,” saying in an announcement that “management discovered that three long-term employees had ‘collaborated to violate the rules related to student aid funds.’” The announcement “blamed the school’s shuttering on the federal Education Department, to which Career Point self-reported the violation.” ED, Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) reports, “rejected a plan by the college to repay funds it received ‘inappropriately’ and restricted the use of federal funds at the college, forcing the shutdown.”

CFPB Points To Problems In Student Loan Rehab Program.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Monday that if ED fails to fix problems in the Federal student loan rehabilitation program, a third of the defaulting student borrowers the program is intended to help “could be driven back into default over the next two years and pay more than $125 million in unnecessary interest charges.” The Post notes that CFPB has received complaints from participants about “collection agencies setting incorrect monthly payment amounts, having trouble verifying their income and not applying payments toward the rehabilitation process.” CFPB cites “misaligned debt-collection incentives” as contributing to the issue, and the Post explains that ED “pays debt collectors as much as $40 for every dollar collected from struggling borrowers, even if borrowers end up back in default.” The Post reports ED spokesperson Kelly Leon “said the agency is working overhaul the payment system to help people avoid default.”

Glassdoor: Engineering, Tech Diplomas Most Lucrative.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that according to a study from Glassdoor, “engineering and technology are among the most challenging fields of study in college, but…many of the top-earning entry-level jobs are tied to related majors.” Eight of the ten majors with the highest associated salaries are “tied to engineering or technology, such as computer science, electrical engineering and information technology.”

Analysis Explores Interest Of Lower-Income Students In For-Profit Schools.

Stars And Stripes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Elejalde) carries a more than 1,900-word analysis originally run in the Chicago Tribune investigating the reasons that “youth from lower-income communities…enroll in for-profit trade schools they often can’t afford,” which include “a lack of information and an urgency to land a job.” Stefanie DeLuca, an associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, co-authored a study, published in the October issue of the Sociology of Education, that examined the post-secondary decisions of low-income black 15- to 24-year-olds in Baltimore that “found many of the 150 students…who ended up at for-profit trade schools were trying to make the best decision they could with little information beyond what they saw on advertisements.”

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Research and Development

MIT, Harvard Researchers Create Implantable Optic Fibers That May Detect Disease.

Fox News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) reports researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School “have developed a stretchy, biocompatible optical fiber” intended to help doctors visually detect disease in the body. They are also intended to “deliver therapeutic pulses of light when the fiber senses when and where it’s being stretched.”

Montana State Researcher Gets L’Oreal Women In Science Fellowship For Gravitational Wave Research.

The Bozeman (MT) Daily Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) reports that Laura Simpson, a Montana State University graduate “whose work contributed to the groundbreaking first detection of gravitational waves” has been given a $60,000 L’Oreal 2016 Women in Science Fellowship. Sampson will use the funding “to advance her postdoctoral research.”

Apple Increases Artificial Intelligence Focus With New AI Director, R&D Facility.

As Apple explores a more substantial foray into the world of artificial intelligence, PC Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Brant) , Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(10/17) , and Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) report that the firm has recruited several experts to assist in that effort. Among them, PC Magazine highlights recently hired AI expert and former Carnegie Mellon professor Russ Salakhutdinov, who joins as its director of AI research. The hire also coincides with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s visit to Japan, which according toMacWorld Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Raymundo), is centered around celebrating the company’s new R&D facility which will research new AI and “deep engineering” focused technology. MacWorld quotes Cook’s comments to Nikkei Asian Review regarding the visit, “AI is horizontal in nature, running across all products, and is used in ways that most people don’t even think about. We want the AI to increase your battery life, to recommend music to Apple Music subscribers… [to] help you remember where you parked your car.” UberGizmo Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Lee), International Business Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) reports similarly on Cook’s AI-focused Japan trip.

Toyota Offers Donations To Encourage Participation In Connected-Vehicle Study.

MLive (MI) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) reports that Toyota in partnership with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is offering donations of $15,000 to Ann Arbor Public Schools Parent-Teacher Organizations in an effort to “encourage more participation in the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment that aims to collect enough data on drivers’ habits to help reduce collisions.” Participants will need to install a vehicle-awareness device, which “will transmit data about the vehicle’s speed, location and direction of travel.” The school with the highest proportion of participation will win the price money for the use on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) programs.


Manufacturing Sector Struggles To Find Software Engineers, Developers.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Tangel, Subscription Publication) reports the manufacturing industry is struggling to find software engineers and developers, as many of the potential recruits flock to Silicon Valley tech firms. The Journal says the struggle puts further strain on the industry’s skills gap, adding that while some companies are able to get a foothold in recruiting pools, many find difficulty in filling roles.

Engineering and Public Policy

Grid Improvements Lessen Length Of Outages Following Major Storms.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Polson) reports the “billions of dollars spent to harden” power grids in the US “are reducing the time it takes to recover from major storms like Hurricane Matthew and throwing growth-starved utilities a lifeline to better earnings.” The Edison Electric Institute reports that “annual power-grid spending by investor-owned utilities has more than doubled to $52.8 billion since hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” And “grid-hardening efforts accelerated after it took 19 days to restore power to 8.7 million homes and business” following tropical cyclone Sandy. Approximately “1.2 million FP&L customers blacked out by Matthew had power restored within two days after the storm.” NextEra has spent over “$2 billion hardening Florida’s power grid over the past decade.” At an energy conference last week Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “They were really walking the talk. … They invested their own $2 billion in everything from simple stuff like concrete poles rather than wooden poles to making the grid smarter and harder with information technology.”

DOE Employee Touts Potential Of Micro-Hydro Projects.

Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Subscription Publication) reports the only Energy Department employee in Alaska “is betting that small-scale hydropower will reduce energy costs for rural residents in the remote state.” DOE Office of Indian Energy Alaska program manager Givey Kochanowski “is pressing for resources to build more micro-hydropower projects.” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz “has committed to adding three employees to Kochanowski’s office, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is pushing Moniz to ramp up the hiring process.” E&E adds “Kochanowski notes thousands of streams, rivers and beaches that might provide an energy boom.” He stated, “This is a first step of bringing together tribal interests and hydropower up here.”

Green Groups Worry Clean Power Plan Will Drive More Natural Gas Generation.

ClimateWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Holden, Subscription Publication) reports environmental groups are concerned that utilities may add additional natural gas capacity in order to comply with the Clean Power Plan, reducing carbon rates while still increasing overall emissions. Virginia League of Conservation Voters director Michael Town said, “We cannot look at doing the bare minimum…We need this administration to act and actually reduce the pollution we’re putting into the air.” The article highlights Dominion, reporting that the utility thinks Virginia “should focus on reducing the power sector’s carbon intensity or rate, rather than overall carbon levels,” meaning that “some companies could build large amounts of natural-gas-fired power” under rate-based plans.

Texas Wind Farms Killing Thousands Of Birds, Experts Say.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17, Ramirez) reports that “wind farms are becoming a trademark of the Lone Star State.” The MIT Technology Review has found that “if Texas were a country, it would be the sixth-largest generator of wind power in the world.” The Energy Information Administration places “Texas as the top wind power state in the nation, producing twice as much wind energy as the next leading state, Iowa.” However, “Texas wind farms kill between 123,000 and 146,000 birds a year.” Sierra Club Lower Rio Grande Valley Group chairman Jim Chapman said, “They’re pushing for carbon-free energy really hard, and obviously wind is a big part of that, and to some degree they’re turning a blind eye to the slaughter that entails.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Girl Scouts CEO Wants Girls To Learn To Code.

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) profiles Sylvia Acevedo, a Stanford university engineering graduate and White House commissioner on the Presidential Initiative for Hispanic Educational Excellence, who is also the interim CEO of Girl Scouts, “said she aims for Girl Scouts to not only instill the mission of leadership into girls, but to become more technology-focused and teach how to code.” The piece quotes her saying, “It is part of our culture to do technology, to learn how to code, to have hands on projects — whether it’s creating fashionable wearables, or creating robots.”

Professor Discusses How to Get Women Into Engineering.

In a more than 1,400-word U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/17) piece republished with permission from The Conversation, Carolyn Conner Seepersad, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, asks “how can we get more women into engineering fields, and help them stay for their whole careers?” According to experts, Seepersad says, “we need to encourage young girls to develop their spatial skills” and “find ways to help women feel less alone as they help us build a more inclusive engineering community.” She concludes that “when we begin to tell multifaceted stories…we find that a much larger and more diverse set of students identify” as engineers.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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