Leading the News
Digital Assistants, Driverless Cars Dominate CES.
Numerous outlets continue to offer coverage of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, which entered its fourth day on Thursday. Some outlets, including the Wall Street Journal (1/2, Fowler, Stern, Subscription Publication), offer links to articles detailing some of the most interesting products debuted so far at CES. In the opening video clip, Journal correspondents Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern offer their picks for the most interesting tech, including Norton’s “Core” Wi-Fi router, the Willow breast pump, and LG’s new W-Series OLED TVs.
Digital home assistants have had a large presence at this year’s CES. Bloomberg News (1/5, Bergen, Kharif) explores how “tech giants led by Amazon.com Inc. are locked in a race for dominance of digital home assistants” as “new artificial intelligence software” improves voice recognition capabilities. According to Bloomberg, “tech behemoths” such as Amazon and Google are fighting “behind the scenes at CES…to get their voice-based systems into televisions, cable boxes and every home appliance, not just smartphones and PCs.” An Amazon spokesperson said its digital assistant, Alexa, works with upwards of 6,000 applications, and the company announced a partnership with Whirlpool Corp. to add “voice command capabilities to Whirlpool washers, dryers, ovens and refrigerators.” Tractica analyst Mark Beccue said that “Amazon has been brilliant about” marketing its voice-assistance partners, adding that “they might be the best trigger to the smart home, to making it a mass-market product.” But Google and Microsoft aren’t far behind Amazon, each also working to make its own voice-assistant an integral part of consumers’ lives.
Another theme at this year’s CES has been autonomous driving. According to USA Today (1/5, Snider), CES has been “a leading indicator of the growing interest in self-driving tech” in the past, and this year’s show highlights “the mounting competition between not just the automakers but also the suppliers vying to provide the high-tech components that allow vehicles to navigate through a world of obstacles.” USA Today says “it’s clear now that engineers are able to make cars drive themselves,” so the bigger issue is now “how to scale this technology in a way that finds it both culturally embraced and scientifically sound – and is cost effective.” However, the article points out that the increasing competition may result in the creation of “competing standards that could delay the arrival of a self-driving future.”
CNET News’ (1/5) Andrew Krok says the most important parts of Nissan’s CES 2017 keynote speech Thursday included details about the company’s “next-generation Nissan Leaf” and its “plans to launch a system it calls Seamless Autonomous Mobility” – a “workaround solution for what to do when the first generation of true autonomous cars encounter situations they may not be able to handle.” The system will link all autonomous cars to a command center so a car can connect to a human “mobility manager” who can guide the vehicle through any problems it may encounter. Krok adds that Nissan’s plans to partner with “Japanese internet business DeNA to test driverless commercial vehicles” and its ongoing partnership with Microsoft – which aims to launch “new connected services and applications” using “Microsoft’s Azure to offer over-the-air updates, predictive maintenance and advanced vehicle navigation” and “Cortana to create a more intuitive voice-recognition experience” – were also important parts of CEO Carlos Ghosn’s keynote.
The Washington Post (1/5, Tsukayama) reports interviews FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez about “why consumers should pay attention to the security on all their devices,” how the FTC is offering “a cash prize of $25,000 to anyone who will come up with a device that will help consumers easily identify and address vulnerabilities with their devices in their home,” and “how she thinks the FTC will operate under President Donald Trump.” She said she attends CES “to see what kinds of products are coming onto the market” because the information helps her and the other commissioners “address and anticipate possible risks that might exist when it comes to data security, for instance, and privacy in particular.”
Sources offering additional broad coverage of CES highlights include the AP (1/5), Wired (1/5), Inc. Magazine (1/5, Marks), USA Today (1/5, Molina), USA Today (1/5, Graham), USA Today (1/5), Venture Beat (1/5, Nanclares), and Tom’s Guide (1/5).
New Mural At Case Western Reserve University Honors Female Engineers.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (1/5) reports that local artist Rachel Latina has completed a “34-foot mural in Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering” which “celebrates women in the field.” Department Chair Daniel Lacks “had already been considering a mural on the gray wall in the lobby, and saw it as a chance to highlight women in engineering.” Latina and Lacks “devised a plan for a comic-book panel layout to feature portraits of women interspersed with chemical engineering material.”
Nevada Program Provides Students Access To STEM Mentors.
The Northern Nevada Business Weekly (1/5) reports that Nevada’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) has launched a new online tool, the Nevada STEM Mentor Network, that will give students in STEM fields “improved access to experienced research mentors.” The resource “provides an extensive searchable database of faculty research mentors together with access to research opportunities and partnerships in STEM via a single interactive, user-friendly website.”
CFPB Data Show More Older Americans Hold Student Loans.
The Wall Street Journal (1/5, Hayashi, Subscription Publication) reports a CFPB study published Thursday shows the number of consumers 60 years or older holding student loan balances quadrupled between 2005 and 2015, from 700,000 to 2.8 million. The average amount owed by these borrowers nearly doubled from $12,100 to $23,500. MarketWatch (1/5, Berman) also reports on the CFPB data.
Research and Development
Airbus Moves US Engineering Unit To Wichita State Facility.
The Wichita (KS) Eagle (1/4) reports that Airbus has moved its “US engineering outpost” to “a new building at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.” Airbus Americas Engineering’s move “was more than just a means to consolidate its work into one building,” says John O’Leary, vice president of Airbus Americas Engineering, adding that the draw “is being at the university and its new Innovation Campus, where new ideas flourish and a pipeline for its future workforce exists.”
The AP (1/5) reports that the engineering unit “does wing design work on all Airbus commercial jetliners and houses a team of workers and engineers assigned to the company’s in-service repair and customer support.”
NASA Working With Northeastern, MIT On Robots To Assist Human Astronauts.
Cisco (12/22) reports on its “The Network” technology news page that NASA is working with researchers at Northeastern University and MIT “to prepare robots to help, or even replace, human astronauts,” noting that NASA recently “awarded two of its humanoid robot prototypes, the R5, to scientists at Northeastern University and MIT, tasking teams with developing the robot’s ability to help in extreme space missions, such as one to Mars.” The piece quotes Northeastern robotics expert and research team leader Taskin Padir saying, “As one of the prizes, the top-performing teams will get time with an actual physical robot and will be able to dump their code on the hardware. It’s a unique opportunity for the robotics community.”
Swiss Scientists Develop Prototype For Solar-Powered Pacemaker.
The Wall Street Journal (1/5, Akst, Subscription Publication) reports that scientists in Switzerland have developed a prototype for an implantable solar panel, which can be used to power a pacemaker. The scientists tested a solar panel on the necks of volunteers and found that through everyday activities, the panel generated enough power. The scientists also recognize the need for an accumulator to store power during darkness and to alert the user if power is running low. The study was published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering .
General Motors Head Of Design Interviewed On Future Of The Company.
Motor Trend (1/5, Rechtin) features an interview with General Motors Vice President of Global Design Mike Simcoe who discusses GM’s future plans. After discussing the legacy of his predecessor and his own personal design ethos, Simcoe delves into how “both engineers and designers get what they want in the current international regulatory climate with emissions, crash safety, pedestrian protection, and such.” He said: “The design fails if one group—design, engineering, marketing—has the upper hand in the deal.” He added, “It’s not compromise; it’s balance. Make it attractive. Make it function well. Make it safe. Make it an emotional vehicle that connects to customers. All those things are important and rely on different players.” Simcoe also described each of GM’s five brands and affirms that the designers strive to cater vehicles for each markets’ tastes.
Tech Companies Beginning To Believe AI Can Help Advance Human Health.
The Economist (1/6) reports that more and more people and tech firms are beginning to believe that “AI is well placed to help unpick biology and advance human health.” The Economist adds that whether “it is the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), from the founder of Facebook and his wife, or the biological subsidiaries being set up by firms such as Alphabet, IBM and Microsoft, the new Big Idea in Silicon Valley is that in the squidgy worlds of biology and disease there are problems its software engineers can solve.”
IBM Predicts Hyperimaging Will Make “Superhero Vision” Possible.
Mashable (1/5, Williams) reports IBM “gathered its best and brightest minds to make five bold predictions about the technological innovations that could change our everyday lives within the next five years” and the prediction that stood out dealt with hyperimaging. Fortune (1/5, Darrow) reports that “IBMers say that hyper-imaging technology that use a broad swathe of the electromagnetic spectrum will see much more than is otherwise visible, giving devices what researchers are calling ‘superhero vision.’” Inc. Magazine (1/5, Satell) reports that these “technologies already exist in IBM labs, but” Dario Gil, Vice President of Science & Solutions at IBM Research, “predicts that in the next five years they will be integrated into consumer products.”
Colorado’s SwRI and Lockheed Martin Space Systems “Key Players” In Lucy Mission.
The Denver Post (1/5, Worthington) reports that two the Southwest Research Institute and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, both based in Colorado, “are key players” in NASA’s Lucy mission to explore Trojan Asteroids, which the agency announced Wednesday. Lucy “will be built and flown at Lockheed Martin” in Jefferson County, and Harold Levison of SwRI, based in Boulder, is serving as the mission’s principal investigator. Levison said the hope for the Lucy is that the asteroids will reveal “something about how the solar system formed and evolved.”
Lockheed Martin Selected To Build, Operate Lucy Spacecraft. A press release from Lockheed Martin (1/5) announces that it “has been selected to design, build and operate the spacecraft” for the Lucy mission. “The design of the spacecraft draws from the flight-proven OSIRIS-REx spacecraft currently on its way to a near-Earth asteroid,” bringing “known performance, reliability and cost to the mission,” Lockheed Martin explains. Guy Beutelschies, director of Interplanetary Systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said Lucy “is a thrilling mission as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids have never been studied up close.”
MDA Announces SSL Subsidiary To Provide Spacecraft For Psyche Mission. A press release from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (1/5) announces that its SSL business unit “was selected to provide a spacecraft platform” for NASA’s Psyche mission to reach and research the asteroid. The “spacecraft design is based on the SSL 1300 platform, which has been proven on more than 100 missions,” and the contract for providing it “is expected to exceed US$75 million.” Under the agreement, “SSL will work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to support Principal Investigator Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Earth and Space Exploration.”
Lockheed Martin Hosting Syracuse Job Fair To Recruit Up To 100 Employees.
The Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard (1/5) reports Lockheed Martin hosted a job fair on Thursday in Syracuse, and said it intended to “recruit up to 100 new employees for its plant at Electronics Park plant in Salina.” The company had openings for “jobs in engineering, finance and as assembly technicians.”
Ford To Integrate Alexa Into 20 Million Vehicles By 2020.
According to USA Today (1/5, Snider), CES has been “a leading indicator of the growing interest in self-driving tech” in the past, and this year’s show highlights “the mounting competition between not just the automakers but also the suppliers vying to provide the high-tech components that allow vehicles to navigate through a world of obstacles.” USA Today says “it’s clear now that engineers are able to make cars drive themselves,” so the bigger issue is now “how to scale this technology in a way that finds it both culturally embraced and scientifically sound – and is cost effective.” However, the article points out that the increasing competition may result in the creation of “competing standards that could delay the arrival of a self-driving future.”
In continuing coverage, Bloomberg News (1/5, Naughton, Soper) reports Ford Motor Co announced at CES this week “it will begin offering ‘Alexa in the car’ this summer,” integrating Amazon’s digital assistant into select vehicles so drivers can “order items on Amazon, listen to audio books, play music, check news, search for restaurants and get directions.” According to Bloomberg, Alexa applications will begin showing up “later this month in Ford’s Focus electric car and its two plug-in hybrids, the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi,” which will “will be equipped with an ‘Alexa at home’ app that enables drivers from their couch to start their cars, lock and unlock the doors and check driving range and how much charge is left in the battery.” The company will then expand the integration this summer, GeekWire (1/5, Bishop) says, which it will add “Alexa to vehicles running its Sync 3 in-car technology – allowing drivers to press a button to ask for driving directions, sports scores and anything else Alexa would normally do or answer.”
The Wall Street Journal (1/5, Higgins, Subscription Publication) says Ford vehicles featuring the company’s Sync 3 infotainment system will be compatible with Alexa. The Journal also reports that Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. revealed details Thursday about how they’ll integrate Microsoft’s Cortana into their vehicles to aid drivers with predictive tasks. Other companies, such as BMW AG and Hyundai Motor Co., are also working to bring virtual assistants into their vehicles. According to the Daily Mail (1/4, Best), Ford expects “to have 10 million vehicles in North America and 20 million globally equipped with embedded modems by 2020.” The company’s vehicles “will talk with Alexa through a new mobile app connected to SmartDeviceLink, an open-source platform that allows developers to create apps compatible with all automakers within the system” so the don’t “need to adapt them to the specifications of each carmaker individually.”
Reporting similarly, the New York (NY) Times (1/5, Boudette, Wingfield, Subscription Publication) points out that “many analysts believe Amazon has vaulted to a leadership position in the race” to develop and market push their versions of voice assistants “with the surprise success of the Echo family of smart speakers.” The article says Amazon has pursued a “more aggressive” strategy “than other tech giants in getting other companies like Ford to integrate Alexa into their products.”
According to the Christian Science Monitor (1/5, Rosen), “some transportation safety experts and advocacy groups” are warning that such “technology isn’t necessarily safer.” They claim that, although “voice commands might keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and eyes on the road,” engaging with Alexa or Siri “can be just as mentally distracting to drivers.” Ford spokesperson Elizabeth Weigandt said in an email that “research indicates that helping drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road is the most important factor in minimizing distractions. … Therefore, we’ve prioritized voice recognition as the interface for smartphone control while driving.” However, advocacy group the National Safety Council said in an email that “Hands-free is far from risk-free. Communication that doesn’t help the driver with the primary task at hand – the safe operation of a motor vehicle, should not be used behind the wheel and has the potential for distraction.”
Sources offering additional coverage of Ford’s announcement include CNBC (1/5), the Daily Mail (1/5), CNN Money (1/5), the Seattle (WA) Times (1/5, Day), The Street (1/5), The Next Web (1/5), Venture Beat (1/5, Johnson), Jalopnik (1/5, Westbrook), Motor Trend (1/5, Nishimoto), and Car and Driver (1/5, Stoklosa).
Engineering and Public Policy
DC Circuit Denies Request To Delay Briefing On EPA Carbon Rule.
The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico (1/5, Adragna) reported the DC Circuit court on Wednesday denied “a request from the states and groups challenging EPA’s carbon rule for new power plants (the Clean Power Plan’s sister rule) to delay the briefing schedule until after the inauguration.” The “unsigned order” of the court did not “explain why it would not delay, but the unmistakable message is that the looming shadow of Trump isn’t justification enough.” ME adds “challengers’ final reply briefs are due on Jan. 19 — although the court, which sits directly on the inaugural parade route, is closed that day and Jan. 20, and thus those briefs are technically due on Monday, Jan. 23.” The new administration will not “have much time to change course before its final brief is due on Feb. 6, although a new request from DOJ to delay briefing once he takes office is possible.”
House Bill Would Repeal DOE Appliance Efficiency Standards.
Greenwire (1/5, Subscription Publication) reports that a bill introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess would repeal federal energy efficiency standards for appliances. The “Energy Efficiency Free Market Act of 2017” would prohibit state or federal agencies from adopting or implementing “any requirement to comply with a standard for energy conservation or water efficiency with respect to a product.” Burgess believes the Constitution’s commerce clause “doesn’t permit the federal government to regulate products not posing a risk to human health and safety.”
Clean Energy Backers Push For Override Of Hogan Veto.
The Baltimore Sun (1/5, Dresser) reports Maryland state lawmakers are rallying to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would increase the amount of renewable energy Maryland utility customers receive. Hogan labeled the measure a “sunshine tax” for requiring rate increases, but “proponents countered that rates would increase no more than 58 cents a month” and that benefits would exceed costs in five to seven years. The AP (1/5) also reports.
Virginia Approves Two Solar Projects.
The AP (1/5) reports the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has approved permits for two 20-megawatt solar projects. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has “been a cheerleader for solar energy” in Virginia, which has “lagged other states in solar energy production facilities.”
Scientific Divide Over Wood Biomass As Green Source Of Energy.
In a 2,656-word story, Science Magazine (1/5, Cornwall) outlines the “fierce debate” around government efforts to designate wood biomass as a carbon-neutral fuel, “making it eligible for beneficial treatment under tax, trade, and environmental regulations” around the world. “There are four or five different approaches that you can use in order to measure the greenhouse gas implications of forest biomass energy,” says Madhu Khanna, an environmental economist and chair of an EPA expert panel. “There are huge differences in the answers you can get.” The EPA panel has endorsed a long view, and doing carbon accounting over a 100-year timeframe. But some scientists object that “such long timescales gloss over the risk that the near-term spike in emissions produced by large-scale wood burning.”
Delaware High Schools Competing In Samsung STEM Competition.
The Dover (DE) Post (1/5, Paulk) profiles three students at Indian River High School in Dagsboro, Delaware, who have “created a prototype cell phone case that will act like a yo-yo and bounce back into the owner’s hand if dropped.” The students’ work is “part of a larger effort at the school to win this year’s Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.” The school is among “255 competing nationwide to solve real-world problems using science, technology, engineering, arts and math.”
Aerospace Firms Looking To Promote STEM Careers As Early As Kindergarten.
The Los Angeles Times (1/5, Masunaga) reports that US aerospace firms have faced challenges in recent years in recruiting young engineers, who have tended to prefer tech firms in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Moreover, “aerospace companies are facing an even stiffer challenge as Web and computer companies, and other sectors like the auto industry, move into areas like drones and autonomous systems.” Such firms as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Corp. are “realizing they have to dig deeper — and adjust their messaging — to capture top tech talent.” Such firms are “starting to reach out earlier to potential employees — as early as elementary school or even pre-kindergarten — to get them interested in science and math.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• BMW, Intel, Mobileye To Begin Testing Driverless Cars In 2017.
• For-Profit Sage College Abruptly Closes Amid Accrediting Issue.
• Researcher Develops Manufacturing Technique For Biocompatible Micromachines.
• Toyota Plans To Continue Building Human-Driven Cars In Coming Years.
• DOE Changing Test Procedures For ACs, Heat Pumps.
• High School Students Work With Cisco Engineers On Space Experiment.