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

Leading the News

Researchers Develop Protocol To Update Automobile Software To Reduce Hacking Vulnerability.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18, Detsch) “Passcode” reports, “Unlike many cybersecurity experts, Justin Cappos doesn’t lay awake at night worrying about data breaches,” but “worries that malicious hackers may become more adept at remotely hijacking cars as they speed down the road.” Passcode says, “With automakers outfitting cars with computers that do everything from tighten seat belts to deploy airbags, experts worry that criminals could take advantage of vulnerabilities in those digital systems.” Cappos and his team at New York University, along with researchers from other institutions, “have set out to solve a key piece of the automotive cybersecurity puzzle: Remotely patching and updating old software.” Their “Uptane” protocol “aims to safely and securely update some of those millions of lines of code inside cars without drivers needing to return to dealerships.”

Higher Education

ED Clarifies Legality Of Online Courses Under SARA.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Blumenstyk) reports that on Thursday, the Education Department clarified “that the reciprocity agreement known as SARA Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (State Authorization of Postsecondary Distance Education), under which more than 1,300 colleges have already been approved to offer online courses across state lines, would satisfy the new regulation,” ending questions over those programs’ legality. The article adds that “although it’s unclear if the department’s regulation will stand” because “Republicans in Congress may seek to revoke it in the coming weeks…the clarification also gives a boost to SARA.”

Media Analyses: Navient Allegations Underscore Gravity Of Student Loan Crisis.

In a 1,300-word “Dealbook” analysis on the front page of its business section, the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, B1, Silver-Greenberg, Cowley, Subscription Publication) continues coverage of lawsuits filed this week accusing “Navient, the largest collector of student loan payments in the nation, of the kind of sloppiness and misleading tactics that emerged in the mortgage market in the years after the financial crisis.” The article says the accusations against Navient, “by the nation’s consumer watchdog agency and attorneys general in two states, are aggravating a student loan crisis that has swept the United States.” The Times cites how the CFPB said Navient’s practices pushed borrowers away from income-based repayment plans, instead permitting student loans to remain in a state of forbearance.

Similarly highlighting the magnitude of the student loan crisis, Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Buerkle) “Breakingviews” columnist Tom Buerkle says that regardless of President-elect Donald Trump’s management of the CFPB’s lawsuit, “Trump can’t easily sweep away the student-debt problem.” Buerkle concludes, “The growth and affordability of student debt have major consequences for the U.S. economy and the aspirations of Americans.”

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Laconangelo) and USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19) provide additional coverage of the lawsuits.

In a separate article, Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Pinsker) features an interview with North Carolina-based attorney Heather Jarvis “about the pain points in the student loan process.” Jarvis cited issues related to a lack of updated student loan records and poor service from student loan service companies. Jarvis called the student loan processing system “huge and unwieldy,” and described the negative impact on student loan debtors of failing to make timely payments.

Charlotte School Of Law, Cut Off From Federal Student Loans, To Start Classes Monday.

In its “Dealbook” blog, the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Olson, Subscription Publication) continues coverage of the Charlotte School Of Law’s rejection of an agreement with the Education Department over student loans. On Thursday, the school said it would nevertheless open its doors for spring classes on Monday. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said the negotiations broke down and the school “is no longer recognized to participate in federal student aid programs, and students will not be able to receive federal student aid at C.S.L. for current or future attendance.”

The Charlotte (NC) Observer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Gordon) reports, “The already reeling Charlotte School of Law has fired much of its faculty – a possible response to what’s expected to be a significant drop in enrollment when the school reopens next week.” According to unnamed sources, “two-thirds of the school’s professors and staff were notified in the past two days.”

Scholarships Offered To Prospective Scientists.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Ramella) reports on scholarships offered to students who plan to study science. For example, Shell Oil Company offers up to $2,500 under its Technical Scholarships program, which is open to high school seniors who will enroll full time in geoscience or engineering programs at one of the 20 participating universities. After their freshman year is completed, the recipients can apply for a four-year renewable scholarship for $5,000 annually.

University Of Missouri’s “Leadership Online For Today” Program Profiled.

The Bolivar (MO) Herald-Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19) profiles the “Leadership Online For Today” interactive program offered by University of Missouri Extension, which focuses on leadership training. The article says the program “allows participants to improve communication skills, build relationships and networks, and develop a collaborative project to benefit a community or organization.”

Idaho Community Colleges To Begin Offering UAV Piloting Classes.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19) reports that two Idaho community colleges “will offer classes on piloting [UAVs] to train people for jobs in the growing commercial” UAV industry. Two instructors from Hayden-based UAV company Empire Unmanned will teach the courses, one at North Idaho College starting in February and another at Treasure Valley Community College. The article notes that the FAA last year “removed a requirement that [UAV] operators also be licensed to pilot manned aircraft,” enabling “people to become certified through a 16-hour course and a test.”

ASEE’s New Position Statement on Support for Engineering Education
As a new administration and Congress assume office, ASEE urges that bipartisan support for engineering education and research continue and, if possible, increase. Read the full statement here.

ASEE Winter Webinars – Student and Early Career Success
Join ASEE in January and February 2017 for two professional development webinars for students and new professionals. On January 25, learn about ASEE-administered fellowships for all grade levels and discover tips for crafting successful applications. On February 15, learn how to build strategic networks and enhance your social capital.

Accreditation and Professional Development

AAAS Names Geosciences Researcher Michelle Kominz As New Fellow.

The Western Michigan University News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Baron) reports the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently elected Dr. Michelle A. Kominz, a professor of geosciences at Western Michigan University, as an AAAS Fellow. The article outlines Kominz’s professional background, and says she “is one of 391 association members from the group’s 24 sections who received the honor for 2016 ‘because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.’” The article adds that “the new fellows will be recognized at an AAAS Fellows Forum Saturday, Feb. 18, during the association’s 2017 annual meeting in Boston.”

Research and Development

Northwestern University Chemists Create New Nanomaterial.

Northwestern University (IL) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Fellman) reports “a team of chemists led by Northwestern University’s William Dichtel has cooked up” “an entirely new type of nanomaterial and watched it form in real time,” which the article calls “a chemistry first.” The article explains “the researchers made covalent organic frameworks (COFs) that are stable – a major advancement. These strong, stiff polymers with an abundance of tiny pores are suitable for storing all kinds of things, including energy, drugs and other cargo.”

New Vibration-Proof “Metamaterial” Aims To Protect Premature Babies From Life-Threatening Stressors.

The Conversation (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Scarpa) reports on the creation of a new vibration-proof “metamaterial” that the article says “could save premature babies’ lives” by removing life-threatening stress from the child that is created by “mechanical vibrations and noise from the equipment and transfer vehicle.” The Conversation explains “Auxetic materials can dampen vibrations” using “what’s called a negative Poisson’s ratio, which means that they become thicker when stretched along their length, unlike an elastic band, which becomes thinner.”

Researchers Develop Algorithm To Help With Disaster Recovery Efforts.

In the Government Computer News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19) “Emerging Tech” blog, Patrick Marshall describes how Paolo Bocchini, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh University, and his team of researchers “developed a tool, dubbed AMIGO” – or Algorithm with Multiple-Input Genetic Operators – to help officials understand where to focus recovery efforts in the wake of a disaster. AMIGO analyzes “all the available information about infrastructure, the damage sustained and the repair resources available, then presents several optimal recovery strategies to a decision maker who can choose from the best alternatives.” AMIGO is part of a larger project, which is “funded primarily by the National Science Foundation,” known as “PRAISys, the Probabilistic Resilience Assessment of Interdependent Systems,” centered around “modeling the interdependencies of critical infrastructure systems and their recover after disasters.”


Anita Borg Institute Promotes Chicago’s Women In Technology.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Jackson) reports on La’Shon Anthony’s work to promote the “Chicago chapter of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, a nonprofit focused on narrowing tech’s gender gap.” The Tribune profiles the nonprofit institute, which “focuses on the advancement of women in the field – including underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ people.”

Producers Turn To Automation Amid Farm Income Slump, Labor Shortage.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/20, Bjerga, Parker) reports that as labor sources become “increasingly unreliable and costly,” producers are investing “in machines that reduce human involvement in the production cycle.” In addition to a “tightening” supply of immigrant workers, US farm income has been declining for three years, prompting producers to use “robotic devices like lettuce thinners and grape-leaf pullers.” Bloomberg notes “the slow march of mechanization is hardly new in the U.S. – where John Deere’s steel plow revolutionized Midwest farming almost two centuries ago and helped give birth to a global agricultural powerhouse.”

Global Developments

IET Chair Calls For UK Prioritization Of Global Strategy For Idea Sharing.

Process and Control Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19) reports Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Innovation Panel Chair Dave Smith commented on the British Prime Minister’s speech made earlier this week, saying, “While it gives greater clarity about the kind of Brexit we can expect and when it will happen, (this week’s) speech leaves a number of unanswered questions for the UK’s engineering and technology sectors, particularly around how the Government intends to maintain ideas and innovation sharing between the UK and the rest of Europe – something which is greatly enabled today by movement of people here from outside the United Kingdom.” Smith applauded the UK’s commitment to engineering and technology, but urged a prioritization of “a clear, long term Industrial Strategy so that Government and UK industry and businesses can work together with confidence to grow the UK’s global trading.”

Industry News

NHTSA Investigation Finds No Evidence Of Defects In Tesla Electric Cars.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Shepardson) reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “has found no evidence of any defects in Tesla electric cars” over the course of its investigation into “the death of a man whose Model S collided with a truck while he was using its Autopilot system.” NHTSA announced on Thursday that it “will not seek a vehicle recall,” a decision that is “seen as a boost to automakers racing to get vehicles that are nearly self-driving or fully autonomous on US roads in the next few years.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke with reporters, saying “drivers have a duty to take their obligations seriously and automakers must explain the limits of semi-autonomous systems.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Spector, Higgins, Subscription Publication) reports that NHTSA’s decision has given Tesla a reprieve from the scrutiny it has faced since the fatal accident in May, but notes that US highway safety regulators have said they will continue to monitor autonomous driving technology. The company commented on the conclusion in a statement, saying, “At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion.”

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Vladimirov) reports “nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Watchdog blasted NHTSA’s report.” Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John Simpson said in a statement, “NHTSA has wrongly accepted Tesla’s line and blamed the human, rather than the ‘Autopilot’ technology and Tesla’s aggressive marketing. … The very name ‘Autopilot’ creates the impression that a Tesla can drive itself. It can’t. Some people who apparently believed Tesla’s hype got killed. Tesla CEO Elon Musk should have been held accountable.”

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Bomey) [1/19, Bomey] reports that while NHTSA noted “it had not discovered a problem with [Tesla’s] system,” it still “left open the possibility that it could reopen the investigation.” The article includes a quote from the agency: “The closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists. … The agency will monitor the issue and reserves the right to take future action if warranted by the circumstances.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Laris) reports “a broader federal review of dozens of Autopilot crashes did point to industry-wide challenges as drivers…increasingly rely on cars to do more of the driving for them,” and notes that the driver at the center of the fatal Tesla crash “had seven seconds to react to a danger ahead but did not do so.” The broader review of Tesla crashes “included those that occurred when Autopilot was being used or within 15 seconds of a transition from Autopilot,” and investigators wrote, “Many of the crashes appear to involve driver behavior factors, including traveling too fast for conditions, mode confusion, and distraction.”

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Grenoble) reports the NHTSA investigation “actually makes a pretty compelling argument” in favor of the Autopilot feature, with the data showing that “Teslas (both Model S and Model X) with the Autopilot installed crashed about 40 percent less often than their purely human-driven counterparts.” However, the agency “hastened to add that all responsibility ultimately falls on the driver, Autopilot or no.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Randall) also reports that data investigators received from Tesla indicates that “installing Autopilot prevents crashes—by an astonishing 40 percent,” which is “good news for Tesla.”

In a separate article, Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Levin, Beene) reports the National Transportation Safety Board, “an independent agency that has no regulatory power, is conducting a parallel investigation of the accident” and plans to issue its conclusions by “early summer.”

Also reporting is the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Krisher, Lowy, Durbin), the Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Mitchell), Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Ohnsman), Financial Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Campbell, Hook, Subscription Publication), MLive (MI) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Raven), Consumerist Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Kieler), The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Golson), Engadget Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Baldwin), Tech Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Velasco), ComputerWorld Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Mearian), Automotive News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Shepardson), CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19), and MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19).

Hydrostor Aims For Contracts Replacing US Peak Power Plants.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Sharp) reports that Hydrostor and its engineering partner AECOM are “eyeing $1 billion of contracts to replace decommissioned” US peak power plants over the next two to three years. According to the article, the companies are targeting “dozens of mostly coal-powered facilities of at least 100 megawatt capacity” that either shut down in 2016 or will shut down in the current year. Hydrostor CEO Curtis VanWalleghem said, “We are now by far the lowest cost storage solution, we can be built at scale, we’ve got our partnerships in place and we’re going to start marketing it here in the next month or two.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Replacing H-1B Program Would Reduce US Companies’ Ability To Innovate, Report Says.

Morning Consult Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Bordelon) covers a report published on Thursday by the National Foundation for American Policy which found that “replacing the visa lottery system frequently used by the tech industry to hire high-skilled foreign workers would reduce the ability of U.S. companies to innovate and create jobs.” Reportedly, Trump transition team members “are considering replacing the H-1B visa lottery system with one that awards visas to employers with the highest-salaried positions.” Yet, US Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Randy Johnson notes that “despite the purported benefits to the U.S. economy, there are challenges to selling the H-1B program to a skeptical American electorate.” Said Johnson, “I think the biggest problem with your report is we can’t reduce it down to a tweet.”

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Defends Obama’s Cyber Legacy.

Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/18) “Morning Cybersecurity” reports on an interview with White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel. Daniel “rejected Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s criticism that the Obama team never developed a comprehensive cyber strategy,” and also “defended the administration’s release of a report containing technical indicators about Russian hacking, which critics said would result in false positives because it included data not strictly linked to Kremlin operations.” Morning Cybersecurity adds that “it’s easy to forget that Daniel and his colleagues spearheaded a number of less flashy cyber developments in recent years.” Daniel is quoted saying, “Within the federal government, we have started a real culture change in terms of how agencies think about their information assets.”

Investors Think Companies Will Increase Automation Under Trump Administration.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Randall) reports that “with a greater political push to keep factories at home, investors are betting that automation will gain speed in” a number of industries. Middleby, for example, “recently introduced robots which can prepare French fries as quickly as a human line cook, saving labor costs and improving reliability.”

Bloomberg News Highlights Other Ways Trump Could Affect The Auto Industry.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Stock) reports on potential automaker targets for President-elect Trump, following a “Twitter-fueled” warning to the American Big 3 “about building factories south of the border,” and later “threats” aimed at German automakers. Bloomberg highlights the potential to blame companies operating in Canada, such as Fiat Chrysler, GM, and Toyota. Bloomberg also singles out parts suppliers noting that “each part on a North American vehicle…may have crossed borders up to eight times,” leaving the potential for Trump to focus on Robert Bosch of Linamar Corp. Finally, Bloomberg highlights the potential for Trump to call out Asian manufacturers which have large automotive trade gaps with the US. Bloomberg notes that a 35 percent tariff would result in 22,000 new US-based production jobs, but that would be countered by a loss of 37,000 jobs as a “very conservative estimate” according to “Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry, Labor & Economics Group at the Center for Automotive Research.”

Hyundai Announces Large Investment Into US Operations. USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Woodyard) reports Hyundai announced in South Korea it will “beef up its U.S. factories and operations, spending $3.1 billion by 2021,” after feeling pressure from President-elect Donald Trump. Hyundai President Chung Jin Haeng told reporters in Seoul the company will spend the money on research and development and “to augment its Hyundai and Kia factories in Alabama and Georgia.” He also said that if demand in the US rises, the company will also consider constructing a new US plant. The group’s sales have been hindered “by not having as full of a range of crossovers and other trucks, such as pickups, as competing brands, both import and domestic.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Facebook-Funded “Code For Fun” Teaches Third-Graders Computer Coding.

The Menlo Park (CA) Almanac Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Bradshaw) reports that in Menlo Park, California, students take a weekly “break from traditional classwork to dive into team-based computer coding lessons, prepared by Code for Fun, a nonprofit that teaches kids about computer science.” Facebook provides funding support for the program. The article points out that although “Facebook has also assembled a toolkit to help kids learn to code on their own, that approach has limitations,” as many “students don’t have computers or Wi-Fi access at home.”

Obama Said To Hope Trump Prioritizes STEM, Diversity In Schools.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/19, Janjigian) lists 10 things the current White House “wants Trump to do for science and technology.” At number four, Business Insider says President Obama hopes that President-elect Trump will improve STEM education and invest in educational technology to make the high school experience more engaging. The article also suggests Education Secretary John B. King Jr. prioritized mitigating the impact of bias in schools, and says the Administration hopes Trump will improve “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in schools.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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