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

Leading the News

Army Corps Of Engineers Approves DAPL, But Sioux Vow Court Action.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Nicholson) reports that the US Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday “that it will allow the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota, clearing the way for completion of the disputed four-state project.” However, NBC Nightly News (2/7, story 5, 0:25, Holt) reported in a brief item, “The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is promising to fight in court.” Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Volcovici, Scheyder) reports that the tribe “had fought the line for months, fearing contamination of their drinking water and damage to sacred sites on their land.”

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Turkewitz, Subscription Publication) reports that acting Army Secretary Robert Speer “announced the decision to Congress, saying he was ready to offer the pipeline’s owner a 30-year easement on a disputed patch of land.” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement, “As native peoples, we have been knocked down again. But we will get back up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact.”

Higher Education

Southern Methodist Launching New Masters In Engineering Entrepreneurship.

Dallas Innovates Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/6, Pruet) reports that Southern Methodist University is preparing to offer a master’s degree in engineering entrepreneurship. The piece quotes Bobby S. Lyle School of Engineering Dean Marc Christensen saying, “The master’s in Engineering Entrepreneurship will focus on shaping a small cohort of elite students, providing them the skills and experiences to have impact in the competitive world of high-tech startups.”

Virginia Tech Names Julia Ross As Engineering Dean.

According to the Engineering News-Record Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Rubin), on January 24 Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering named its new dean as of July 31: Julia M. Ross, currently dean of engineering and technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Virginia Tech praised her “collaborative leadership experience” a top university for innovation and her concerted efforts “to advance opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities” in STEM subjects.

Kentucky Holds Higher-Ed Transfer Summit.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) reports that the Transfer Summit 2.0 will take place Wednesday in Versailles, Kentucky as a result of Kentucky Community and Technical College System and Council on Post-secondary Education efforts make in-system transfers seamless. The college’s statement says the summit aims to focus on areas of need in the state like engineering, nursing, and logistics and that its goals are “identifying agreements that could be expanded to other colleges, identifying potential new agreements and mapping new degree options.”

Gov. Snyder Recommends Raise In Michigan University Funding.

The Detroit (MI) Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Jesse) reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a budget that will implement a 2.5% overall increase in state post-secondary funding, with half guaranteed and half based on performance measures, such as graduation rates and maintaining tuition increases below 3.8%. Snyder says the budget “will fully restore higher education funding to previous levels” and is set to announce his budget recommendations Wednesday morning.

Officials Puzzled By Virginia Higher Ed Enrollment Drop.

According to the Washington (DC) Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Press), Virginia post-secondary education officials are awaiting US Department of Education data to help explain a Richmond Times-Dispatch report stating that 1.5% fewer students are enrolled in Virginia public and private higher education institutions this academic year despite there being a larger population of high school seniors than in previous years. The Post writes that the Times-Dispatch indicated four-year public universities saw a “modest increase,” which was “outweighed by declines at the Virginia Community College System and at Liberty University.”

San Francisco To Provide Residents With Free Community College Tuition.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Hafner) reports San Franciscan Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday announced the city would provide all residents, regardless of income, free tuition at City College of San Francisco. Voters in November approved the transfer of property sales taxes expected to total an annual $5.4 million to the initiative. The city will allocate the revenues to cover the $46-per-credit fees for both full- and part-time students. The City College’s trustees anticipate that the initiative will increase enrollment numbers and, as a result, the school’s eligibility for more state funding. NBC Nightly News (2/7, story 10, 0:20, Holt) reported about 30,000 residents are expected to enroll in classes this fall. San Francisco is the only major US city to offer free community college to all residents.

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Research and Development

MIT Team Creates Hydrogels In Hopes Of Improving Surgery Technology.

According to Popular Science Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Atherton), MIT engineering researchers have produced soft multi-limbed robots called hydrogels with the goal of building “soft, gentle hands” for surgeons working inside “squishy, delicate human bodies.” Hydrogels are designed to be “biocompatible” and to “form more friendly interfaces with human organs,” said lead researcher Xuanhe Zhao, associate professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT.

Ericsson, IBM Cite 5G “Breakthrough”.

ZDNet Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/8, Reichert) reports that Ericcson and IBM recently revealed what they believe to be a “research breakthrough” for 5G network technology, the two companies arguing that a recently discovered “silicon-based millimetreWave (mmWAve) phased array integrated circuit” could optimize 5G uptake. Ericcson specifically cites the collaboration as a “significant step” towards developing commercially viable antenna modules, due in part to improved size, weight, cost and performance. Senior advisor for Ericsson Network Products business unit Thomas Noren described,

Microsoft’s AI Group Adds Sophisticated Language Model, Image And Video Analysis.

According to GeekWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Bisho), Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group has debuted customizable speech-to-text technology in a public preview, a functionality Microsoft says will allow developers to “upload a unique vocabulary” and thereby “produce a sophisticated language model for recognizing voice commands and other speech from users.” The company also announced it will add two more cognitive services, Content Moderator and Bing Speech API, the former capable of analyzing “images and video” with optional-character and object recognition technology, and the latter able to convert “audio into text” as well as interpret the “intent of the language” and convert text back to speech. Related coverage from CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) suggests the firm’s latest AI development efforts will help users play video games. One of the firm’s newest projects, Starship Commander, is described as a virtual reality-based game controlled completely by the player’s voice.

Driverless Cars “Looking Better And Better” As Research Into Angry, Distracted Driving Emerges.

The Atlantic Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Pelini) reports that “according to one analysis, 4 million of the nearly 11 million” car crashes that occur each year “could potentially be avoided if distractions were eliminated,” and points out that “instead, we actively seek out distractions, like texting.” For this reason, the article contends, “driverless cars are looking better and better,” as they won’t engage in aggressive road behavior or get distracted while driving.

Opinion: Mandatory Reporting On Autonomous Car Tech Could Skew Research.

In The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter’s (2/7) “Pundits Blog,” Ian Adams, a senior fellow with the R Street Institute, writes that new data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles indicates that “self-driving cars are getting better, and they are getting better faster than before.” However, Adams points out that while the results of the reports are “meaningful,” they are also “uneven” and part of a mandatory reporting requirement; he contends that we should “be leery of expanding reporting requirements or imposing them in other jurisdictions. There is always a cost to regulation, even when it involves an apparently benign data call.”

Virginia Aerospace Firm Sues Pentagon Over Space Robots Program.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Gregg) reports that Orbital ATK, an aerospace manufacturer based in northern Virginia, is suing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) “over plans to award a Canadian firm a $15 million contract to build a fleet of space-faring robots capable of repairing government and commercial satellites.” Orbital argues that the federal program, called the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites, “would unfairly compete with its own privately funded effort, a system called the Mission Extension Vehicle 1, backed by at least $200 million from investors.” Orbital “has already set up at a production facility in Northern Virginia, with a launch planned for next year.” The Post notes that DARPA “wants to build out a government-funded program of its own, and is close to awarding a contract to a company that Orbital views as a competitor.”


Report: US Solar Jobs Grew 25 Percent In 2016.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) reports jobs in the US solar industry grew 25 percent in 2016 to include more than 260,000 workers, according to a Solar Foundation report out Tuesday. The annual gain is the largest since the group began tracking data six years ago and solar jobs increased in 44 states, “including all but one of the states that voted to elect Trump.” Solar Foundation president Andrea Luecke said “the Trump administration is going to get jobs with solar.” The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Henry) reports 51,000 jobs were added in 2016, according to the Solar Foundation, which attributed the gain “to a decline in the cost of solar panels and larger consumer demand for solar installations.” The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Mooney) reports “solar is now the second largest U.S. energy industry, second only to oil and petroleum and considerably larger than coal.”

TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) and Vox Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Plumer) also report on nationwide solar job growth, while the Denver Post Share to
FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Svaldi), the Dallas Morning News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Martin) and the Charlotte (NC) Observer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) report on job gains by individual states.

Engineering and Public Policy

Engineering Company Estimates Upgrading Flint’s Water Plant Will Cost $108M.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) says a report from engineering and construction company CDM Smith estimated that the total cost of upgrading Flint’s water treatment plant will be around $108 million, which is higher than previous estimates. According to the AP, “The report estimates work on the plant can be completed in 2019-2020. The state Department of Environmental Quality must agree to the final version of the consultant’s report.”

MLive (MI) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Fonger) also provides coverage.

Military Microgrids Could Be Boosted Under Mattis.

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Asmus) reports that Secretary of Defense James Mattis “has revealed that he is a big fan of microgrids, particularly those that integrate solar PV,” due to his experience of vulnerabilities around supplying fossil fuels to combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and a value seen in “reducing necessary fuel transport for forward operating bases and portable tactical microgrids.” These perspectives could help revive the “lagging” military microgrid segment that has “frustrated” vendors for it “slow pace of development, complex contracting challenges, and the failure to integrate renewable energy purchasing with onsite base resilience priorities.” A recent study by Pew Charitable Trusts claimed that the US military could save $1 billion through the incorporation of microgrids.

California Lawmakers Urge Regulators To Pause SCE’s Puente Power Plant.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Penn) reports three California state lawmakers on Tuesday urged the California Energy Commission “to pause and reevaluate the need for the [Puente Power Plant]” proposed for Oxnard by Southern California Edison in light of a report published by the Los Angeles Times that detailed a state electricity capacity oversupply. The plant would be a peaker plant replacing two older gas-fired steam turbines that “were barely used in 2015, operating at about 6.5% of their capacity, according to federal data.” Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson wrote Tuesday, “We should not rush the Puente Power Project until the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission can adequately justify the need for this plant … and address the serious environmental and environmental justice concerns raised by the community.”

Offshore Wind Moving Into Mainstream.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Reed, Subscription Publication) reports on the rise of offshore wind energy into northern Europe’s energy mainstream and the subsequent rise of US and East Asian energy firms and investors into the market. “The increasing variety of investors looking to join is a major shift from a quarter-century ago.”

Maine Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Block Wind Development Near Monhegan Island.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7) reports Maine state Sen. Dana Dow submitted a bill that “would prohibit placement of a wind energy test area within 10 miles of the Monhegan Island Lobster Conservation Area.” Dow says Monhegan “should be afforded the same kind of protections Mainers would want for Mount Katahdin and Acadia National Park.”

Siemens To Build Largest Green Hydrogen Pilot Project.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Nasralla) reports Siemens, steel maker Voestalpine, and hydropower firm Verbunda planning a project that would use excess power generated by renewable sources to produce hydrogen that can be stored for reconversion into power or for direct industrial use. In the long term the process could “help to phase out the use of coal to make steel altogether.” The new 6-megawatt $19.2 million research plant “will be the biggest in the world to use so-called Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology developed by Siemens,” and will be “more closely integrated into the steel-making process than similar green hydrogen projects.” Experiments are likely to start in about two years.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Colorado Library Competition To Highlight Work Of Local Girls In STEM Middle School Program.

The Denver Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, Klemaier) reports on the Girls in STEM (Girls iSTEM) program at Bell Middle School in Jefferson County, Oregon that grew out of the STEM Girls program at the county’s Golden Library. The library is sponsoring a competition judged by students from Colorado School of Mines

Also in the News

Cyber Attack Shuts Down One-Fifth Of Dark Web.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/7, McMillan, Subscription Publication) reports that a cyber attack on Friday disabled about one-fifth of the Dark Web – a network of websites used by hackers and others to anonymously share information – according to researcher and former Amazon security engineer Sarah Jamie Lewis. Right afterward, attackers published databases with information on Freedom Hosting II, the largest hosting provider for anonymous websites, including child pornography forum messages and code used to control hacked computers.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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