Leading the News
Uber Technologies is refusing to heed warnings from San Francisco officials and the California Department of Motor Vehicles over the ride-sharing company’s launch of a special test service in San Francisco consisting of a small fleet of Volvo XC90s equipped with autonomous capabilities the Wall Street Journal (12/16, Bensinger, Subscription Publication) reports, adding that the DMV and City of San Francisco have both notified Uber that its tests are considered illegal, but Uber vice president of advanced technologies Anthony Levandowski got into the semantics of how autonomous the vehicles are. Uber’s experiment with autonomous vehicles hailed via app in Pittsburgh does not require a permit from the state there.
USA Today (12/16, Weise) reports online that Levandowski said Uber’s vehicles are “just like a Tesla,” so “we cannot in good conscience” follow laws that Tesla doesn’t. Commenting on the cease-and-desist letter sent this week to Uber by the DMV, Levandowski said Uber is putting its foot down on behalf of the entire industry and the technology that is by now “commonplace on thousands of cars being driven today in the Bay area.” Uber points out that its vehicles, while capable of performing some driving functions, do require a person to be ready to take over at a moment’s notice. USA Today notes the release earlier this year of “a 110-page document aimed at steering tech and automotive companies down the same autonomous car lane.”
The New York Times (12/16, Isaac, Subscription Publication) reports “companies like Google, Tesla Motors and Mercedes-Benz have all gotten” permits from the DMV to test autonomous vehicles. Uber says the difference between a human driver and “human oversight” is the key to its argument that it does not need state permits.
FRA Releases Plan To Address Growing Needs Of Northeast Corridor.
On Friday, the FRA released its recommendations for extensive improvements to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor over the next 30 years, from new tracks to other projects designed to decrease travel times along the busy corridor between Washington and Boston, Reuters (12/16, Shepardson), using the word “expensive” twice in the first two sentences to describe the “$123 billion to $128 billion” plan. According to Reuters, President-elect Trump’s administration will be responsible for taking the lead on funding these improvements, along with governments at the state and local levels. FRA’s recommendations focus on the benefits of having four tracks devoted to NEC service in most locations, like accommodating more trains along the route and shortening travel times to more job opportunities.
METRO Magazine (12/16) quotes a statement from Transportation Secretary Foxx, who said the Department “believes that investing in this vision for the Northeast Corridor must happen — because rail does more than take us places; it provides us with opportunities and connects us to the future.” Foxx compared the cost of implementing the plan with “the cost of doing nothing,” saying the price of the latter “is much greater” because “the communities and the economies of the Northeast cannot grow and flourish without significant, new investment.” FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg also released a statement on the plan, saying the plan is crucial for preparing for the future needs of the region.
The AP (12/16, Sisak) reports the recommendations include “shoring up crumbling infrastructure running more trains and building new tracks that would allow speeds of up to 220 mph.” Amtrak’s executive vice president for NEC business development, Stephen Gardner says FRA’s recommendations align with Amtrak’s “long-held view that rebuilding and expanding the Northeast Corridor is essential for the growth and prosperity of the entire region,” but figures like Sen. Richard Blumenthal are already picking apart pieces of the plan, especially the part “calling for new tracks from Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to Rhode Island.” Sen. Cory Booker, on the other hand, is all for the plan. As FRA public affairs director Matthew Lehner points out, however, the recommendations released Friday are but one part of the public process of forming a final plan.
Harvard Business Professor Urges Trump To Overhaul Education For Workforce.
In commentary for The Hill (12/16) , Joseph B. Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, writes that there is bipartisan support for “a new approach to developing workforce skills and improving the earnings prospects of working class citizens,” lamenting that “the current education and training system…provides too few aspiring workers with the skills necessary to fill today’s jobs.” Fuller offers four recommendations for President-elect Trump to “undertake to bring innovation to post-secondary education and revitalize the workforce in America.” Fuller calls on trump to boost the Pell grant program, require colleges to fully disclose graduation rates, overhaul the apprentice system in the US, and “modernize institutional accreditation.”
Obama Administration Working To Address For-Profit College Debt.
Slate (12/16) reports that ED is “racing to finish a slate of Obama administration priorities” including the “daunting” task of “processing thousands of debt-relief claims filed by former students of closed for-profit colleges.” ED has received “tens of thousands of such applications to have loans discharged under a previously little-used borrower defense statute” in recent years, and “activist groups and borrowers are pressuring the department to move faster” before the beginning of the Trump Administration.
Research and Development
Michigan State Plans Building To Bolster STEM-related Work.
The AP (12/16) reported Michigan State University is planning a new building “that’s designed to bolster the university’s efforts to support growth in STEM-related fields with research.” The school’s Board of Trustees on Friday approved construction of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building, a project “expected to cost about $100 million,” to begin in August, and to be finished in August 2019.
NASA Science Chief Discusses Plans, Earth Science Mission.
Scientific American (12/16, Witze) reported an interview with new NASA Science Mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, in which Zurbuchen discussed preparation for the incoming presidential administration, the importance of the agency’s Earth science mission, and how NASA intends to work with Congress. Zurbuchen said that Earth science “has been part of NASA since the beginning,” that “Earth is worthy of being explored like other planets,” and that “research on Earth can actually help save lives and make the world better.”
University Of Arizona Center Seeks To Classify, Study Space Debris.
The Arizona Daily Star (12/17, Beal) reported that “NASA estimates that 23,000 intact satellites and pieces of them larger than a softball orbit Earth, in addition to 500,000 pieces in the nuts-and-bolts size and millions of even smaller particles.” In response, “a new center at the University of Arizona proposes to bring some order to the chaos with a systematic attempt to find as many objects as possible and classify them to determine which are debris and which are operable.” The Daily Star explains that “the University of Arizona’s Space Objects Behavioral Science, SOBS, initiative seeks to marry the expertise and capability of various disciplines at the university to answer those questions and become the go-to center for all things orbital.” The report says the “initiative is led by Moriba Jah, the first of a five-professor ‘cluster hire’ underwritten by the office of Kimberly Espy, the UA senior vice president for research.”
Indonesia FAcing Shortage Of Engineers.
The New York Times (12/18, Cochrane, Subscription Publication) reports that according to “education experts, economists and business leaders” in Indonesia, the country “has a shortage of skilled workers — in fields ranging from medical services to agriculture — and will need tens of millions more in the coming decades.” In particular, it needs more engineers, “a problem that could thwart President Joko Widodo’s ambitious plans to upgrade Indonesia’s outdated infrastructure.” But government data shows that “of Indonesia’s six million university and postgraduate students, as many as 20 percent are majoring in Islamic studies.”
Volkswagen Agrees To $200 Million Settlement To Offset Emissions.
Reuters (12/16, Shepardson) reports that Volkswagen AG and US regulators have reached an agreement for the company to pay a little more than $200 million “to offset emissions from about 80,000 3.0-liter diesel US vehicles, a person briefed on the settlement told Reuters.” The article says the agreement was expected to be announced Friday, but that there is still “sticking point” over “how much VW will agree to offer owners in compensation for getting vehicles repaired or selling them back.” According to the source, “The US Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency may disclose details of the agreement later today.”
WSJournal A1: Microsoft Is Only Pre-Internet Company To Emerge As Tech Industry Leader.
The Wall Street Journal (12/16, A1, Greene, Subscription Publication) in a front-page analysis reports that Microsoft, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, is becoming the only pre-Internet technology giant that has not been brought down by its signature product, the Windows operating system for PC desktops, to emerge as an industry leader in an era of cloud computing. The Journal says that many tech companies are finding it challenging to keep up with mobile devices and web-based computing and that Microsoft’s transition has been bumpy. The article also notes the change in internal strategy, where Microsoft’s prior culture was insular and new hires were stifled. Now, the piece says the company gives the CEOs of acquired companies freedom to critique strategy and run innovation workshops, while the company begins to embrace the idea of open source.
Engineering and Public Policy
WPost: Efforts To Streamline Infrastructure Must Mind Environmental, Other Concerns.
In an editorial, the Washington Post (12/17) says “infrastructure spending…brings short-term job creation and long-term productivity enhancement, and can be financed cheaply at historically low interest rates,” and argues that “any new infrastructure drive should include a serious effort to streamline bureaucratic red tape.” However, the Post warns that “considerations such as the environment, historic preservation, prevailing wages and individual property rights must be addressed before pouring federally funded concrete,” pointing to the “now-forgotten backlash to the Interstate Highway System which improved the country’s transportation efficiency, but also ravaged landscapes and central cities.”
WSJournal Criticizes EPA For Changing Conclusion On Fracking.
In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (12/18, Subscription Publication) faults the EPA for changing the conclusion of its five-year study on the impact of hydraulic fracturing. While a draft released last year concluded that fracking has not had an impact on drinking water, the agency changed its conclusion to say that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.”
Hydroelectric Engineers To Use Abandoned Mine To Create Electricity.
The AP (12/18, Esch) reports an “ambitious group of engineers” is looking to an abandoned mine in a small New York state town to provide “a new way to provide a steady flow of electricity in a growing market for renewable energy.” They are pitching a plan “to circulate some of the millions of gallons of groundwater that have flooded the mine shafts over the years to power an array of 100 hydroelectric turbines a half-mile underground.” The engineers envision the operation “as a solution for solar and wind power producers, who need ways to ensure an uninterrupted flow of energy when the sun isn’t shining and winds are still.” The AP describes the process as “incredibly simple” but “logistically complex.” Albany Engineering Corp head Jim Besha is quoted saying, “Today, everyone’s recognizing that a critical part of our energy infrastructure is going to be storage.”
Engineers Pitch Underground Hydroelectric Energy Storage Solution.
The AP (12/18, Esch) reports that Albany Engineering Corp. sees an abandoned, centuries-old iron mine in New York’s Adirondacks “as a new way to provide a steady flow of electricity in a growing market for renewable energy” by circulating “millions of gallons of groundwater that have flooded the mine shafts over the years to power an array of 100 hydroelectric turbines a half-mile underground.” The engineers would move water between an upper and lower chamber as an energy storage system to balance renewable energy variability.
South Dakota Firm Seeks DOE Deep Borehole Contract.
Haakon County. The AP (12/18) reports that South Dakota-based engineering consulting firm RESPEC and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are seeking a $35 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund a deep borehole waste storage test project. Haakon County residents attending a public meeting, largely expressed concerns about land and water use. Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he supports it for its scientific and research aspects, but that the state “in no way should be seen as a repository for spent nuclear waste, because we’re not.”
Southern California Schools Aim To Improve Computer Science Education.
EdSource (12/15, Maio) reported on a summit hosted by a consortium of Southern California school districts focused on improving computer science education, and attended by executives from “the Pentagon, Google, Lockheed Martin, the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools, or ACCESS, and the US Army Research Laboratory.” Lockheed’s Imran Bidiwala “said workers are needed to develop and build military jets and aeronautical projects,” and that “most openings at his company’s facilities… require a background in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.”
New York Elementary School Students Get A Taste Of Computer Coding.
The Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record (12/18, Liu) reports that students at Plattekill Elementary School are “getting their first taste of coding, or computer programming, through a campaign known as an Hour of Code, because each online tutorial is taught in about an hour.” The report says that “Plattekill Elementary launched Hour of Code tutorials for students in every grade level during Computer Science Education Week from December 5-11.” Meanwhile, Principal Monica Hasbrouck “believes coding has made a dramatic impression on the 500 students at her school.” She said, “This year, since we’ve introduced new technology, we’ve seen the attendance rate increase so far. … It’s gone from 94 percent to almost 97 percent. I heard a student complain the other day that she would have to miss a technology class, and she was sad about it.”
ED, California Still At Impasse Over Science Tests.
Marva Hinton writes at the Education Week (12/16) “Curriculum Matters” blog that ED and the California Department of education remain at loggerheads over standardized science tests in the state, noting that last week, ED “rejected California’s request for a waiver that would allow the state to skip standardized science tests for two years.” The piece explains that California “wanted to give new pilot tests based on the Next Generation Science Standards,” but Ann Whalen, adviser to Education Secretary John King, wrote in a letter to state officials, “CDE’s proposed pilot tests would not measure the full depth and breadth of the state’s academic content standards in science, as each student would receive only a sample of assessment items during the pilot phase, and both the proposed pilot and field tests would not be aligned to the relevant academic achievement standards, as such achievement standards would not have been established.”
Teach For America Grants Aimed At Expanding Computer Science.
The McAllen (TX) Monitor (12/18, Hernandez) reports that “a year ago Teach for America received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to train corps members in computer science and bring the classes to underserved schools.” According to TFA managing director Jonathan Stevens, “four teachers in the Valley volunteered for this initiative and this is the first year they teach the course in Edcouch-Elsa, La Joya, Harlingen and San Benito.” He said, “This curriculum comes with professional development where they can train people who already are teachers to teach a new subject. … Because you can try to recruit people directly into teaching with a computer science background but that’s even harder to do.” Meanwhile, AT&T Aspire has donated $900,000 to the effort “at expanding computer science programs in underserved communities…out of which $100,000 will be coming to the Valley.”
Columbus Students Pursue Education In Building Trades.
The Columbus (OH) Dispatch (12/18, Bush) reports that “while many college graduates are having difficulty finding jobs in their fields and paying off college loans…Columbus City Schools juniors and seniors are working on real construction jobs, and some are getting paid about $500 a week for it, as part of a pilot program that is in its second year.” The Dispatch says a dozen students “alternate between attending school for a week and working a 40-hour job the next week at $12.50 an hour.” Executive Director of Career-technical education Pegeen Cleary Potts said “the Columbus school district is experiencing double-digit percentage growth in enrollment at its Fort Hayes Career Center” and “has about 40 students each in its carpentry and masonry programs; 25 in welding; 45 in heating, ventilating and air-conditioning; and 34 in landscaping.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• GM To Start Testing Of Autonomous Chevy Bolts In Detroit.
• ED Announces Experimental Student Loan Counseling Program.
• Pegasus Launches NASA CYGNSS Satellites For Weather Forecasting Mission.
• South Korea, Israel Unveil Hybrid VTOL UAV.
• California Threatens Legal Action Against Uber For San Francisco Self-Driving Testing.
• Physical Movement Used In Teaching Coding To New York Students.