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

Leading the News

Auto Industry Reps Head To Congress To Request National Autonomous Driving Rules.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Shepardson) reports officials from GM and Toyota will speak with a House panel to discuss the possibility of changes to “automotive safety rules to allow the deployment of self-driving cars on American roads.” Reuters quotes testimony from Mike Abelson, vice president of global strategy at GM, as saying “Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today’s technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen.” Reuters notes Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Republican chair of the Commerce Committee Senator John Thune issued a joint statement declaring they are looking at legislation that “clears hurdles and advances innovation in self-driving technology.” The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Lowy) reports the Senators issued their statement before auto manufacturers meet with their House counterparts on Tuesday.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Spangler) reports the two senators emphasized the great effect on road safety self-driving cars could introduce, noting “Many current federal vehicle safety standards reference placement of driver controls and other systems that assume a human operator. While these requirements make sense in today’s conventional vehicles, they could inhibit innovation or create hazards for self-driving vehicles. Left on its own, the slow pace of regulation could become a significant obstacle to the development of new and safer vehicle technology.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Beene) reports Gill Pratt, the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute will argue for “A clear and unequivocal statutory or regulatory prohibition on states regulating vehicle performance of autonomous vehicle technology would help to halt or prevent the emergence of a patchwork of state laws.” Bloomberg notes that representatives from GM, Volvo, and Lyft will also seek to “urge lawmakers to take steps to thwart a flood of inconsistent autonomous vehicle rules.”

The Detroit (MI) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Laing) reports the Trump Administration has not taken a stand on autonomous vehicles, but Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “has promised to give automakers space to develop the technology that will be used to power self-driving cars in the future.” At her confirmation hearing, she said, “Innovation and creativity is a hallmark of America,” adding, “We are now seeing the advent of autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, smart cars and also drones. While the benefits are very much known, there are also concerns about how they will continue to develop and I will work with this committee and the Congress to address many of these concerns, but we need to do so in a way that will not dampen the basic creativity and innovation of our country.”

Additional coverage included the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13), The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13), TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13), Fox News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13), Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13), and The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Zanona).

Higher Education

Universities Launch Efforts To Increase Liberal Art Graduates’ Job Prospects.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13) reports a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey conducted last year indicated only 54.1 percent of college students who graduated in 2015 secured full-time employment. Of those graduates, 65.7 had business degrees, 32.6 had philosophy degrees, and 37.3 had psychology degrees. “Liberal arts students in the classroom don’t get as much a flavor for a career conversation, that’s why we create programs outside of academics,” explained University of Connecticut assistant vice provost James Lowe. College career advisers at UConn and across the country are intensifying their efforts to help prepare liberal arts majors for the workforce though tailored courses or programs, many of which rely heavily on institutions’ alumni networks.

SUNY Polytechnic Adds Master’s Program In Systems Engineering.

The Central New York Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Reinhardt) reports SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Marcy has created a master’s degree program in systems engineering, which was “recently approved” by the New York State Education Department and the State University of New York, according to a news release. The article lists companies in the area that employ systems engineers, including BAE Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Former Navient Employees Claim High-Pressure Environment Harmed Borrowers.

BuzzFeed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Hensley-Clancy) profiles Navient Corporation, the “largest student loan servicer” in America. The federal government contracted Navient “to help student loan borrowers navigate the Education Department’s exceedingly complex system, answering questions and steering students into programs that will keep them out of default and allow them to pay back their loans.” Nine former employees told BuzzFeed that Navient’s “high-pressure insistence on cutting call times and hitting targets often made it impossible to do that job adequately.” In January last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against Navient in which it accused the company of systematically underserving and misleading borrowers. The former employees claimed that the high-pressure call center environment “was one of the central reasons that borrowers were so dramatically underserved.” The former employees also cited Navient’s focus on profits and failure to invest in technology and staff retention as other contributing factors.

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Research and Development

IUSM, Purdue Researchers Use Optogenetics To Force Reaction In Neural Stem Cells.

The Purdue University (IN) Newsroom Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13) says Purdue University and the IUSM “were able to force an epigenetic reaction that turns on and off a gene known to determine the fate of the neural stem cells, a finding that could lead to new therapeutics in the fight against select cancers and neural diseases.” Joseph Irudayaraj, a Purdue professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and Feng Zhou, a professor and neuroscientist at the IUSM, according to the release, “developed an optogenetic toolbox that brings together proteins and enzymes that methylate or demethylate a gene called Ascl1.” Their findings were published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports and the release suggests the discovery has “implications for a number of diseases and maladies.” Zhou said, “By the ability of determining the fate of stem cells, one day it may be applied to produce neurons in Down syndrome, or reduce malignancy of glioma, a cancer in the brain.”

NASA Scientists Create Computer Chip That Could Endure Venus Conditions.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Ramirez) reports that in a new study published in AIP Advances, scientists from NASA’s Glenn Research Center detail a “breakthrough” that could enable a probe to transmit data from the hash environment of Venus for longer than previously possible. According to tests in a machine that mimicked Venus’ environment, the “super durable computer chip” could survive on Venus for weeks – far longer than the 56 minutes sustained by a Soviet space probe in 1985, the last time a spacecraft landed on the planet. The “100-fold increase in the sensitive electronic’s durability” achieved by the researchers “may make a Venus rover no longer a fantasy for scientists around the globe.”

Raytheon Developing Cyber Defense System For Aircraft Avionics.

Seapower Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Burgess) interviewed retired Navy Rear Adm. Bill Leigher, director of Raytheon’s government cyber security solutions business, last week and was told that the company is developing a cyber defense system to protect aircraft from intrusion. According to Seapower Magazine, Leigher said that the system will be based on research and development the company conducted last year on shipboard cyber defense systems.

DARPA Announces Next Funding Phase For TERN VTOL UAV Program.

Popular Science Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13) reports that on Monday, DARPA announced funding for Phase III of its Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) VTOL UAV project, which is being developed by Northrop Grumman for the agency and the Office of Naval Research. The aircraft take off “vertically like a helicopter, before transitioning to plane-like horizontal flight in midair,” and DARPA’s goal for the program is to provide the Navy and Marine Corps with “a versatile flying scout that can support ships and troops almost anywhere.” TERN has a planned range of 690 miles and payload of 1,000 pounds.

Global Developments

Hyperloop One, McKinsey To Study Feasibility Of Rapid Transit System In Dubai.

The Arabian Industry Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13) reports Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) “formed a committee to explore the potential for building a Hyperloop rapid transit system between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and commissioned the first provisional studies…with US-based research firm Hyperloop One.” Under the deal, “Hyperloop One will work with McKinsey and architecture and engineering firm the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) on a detailed feasibility study.” The article adds that “the RTA envisages a hyperloop system as being part of an emirate-wide strategy to transform 25 percent of total journeys in Dubai into ‘smart’ driverless modes of transportation.”

Engineering and Public Policy

India’s IT Industry Vulnerable To US H-1B Visa Changes.

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13) reports that restrictions on the H-1B visa program will put India’s IT sector under pressure, including IT outsourcing companies, such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro and Cognizan. The article cites Goldman Sacs in noting that 85,000 H-1B visas went to “engineers, designers, coders and others from India” in 2015. Nomura’s chief India economist Sonal Varma said, “Immigration restrictions are the main source of India’s vulnerability.” Visa restrictions in the US “have sparked curiosity about whether IT outsourcing companies that are reliant on such visas will try to place workers in China or elsewhere instead.”

Emergency Crews Racing To Repair California Dam.

NBC Nightly News (2/13, lead story, 2:45, Holt) reported in its lead story that emergency crews are racing to repair the damaged Lake Oroville emergency spillway that could unleash a 30-foot wall of water on communities downstream before rains arrive later in the week. According to ABC World News Tonight (2/13, lead story, 3:50, Muir), more than 200,000 downstream residents have been told to evacuate, with many sleeping at shelters. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Thompson) reports Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea’s statement that evacuees will not be able to return until California Department of Water Resources officials have repaired the dam, but a timeline has not yet been determined. The California National Guard is reportedly on standby.

The CBS Evening News (2/13, story 5, 2:20, Pelley) reported environmental groups issued warnings in 2005 of the potential for “severe damage downstream” if steps were not taken to reinforce the emergency spillway. According to the Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Serna) the foreseen “extensive erosion” of the spillway has taken place and flooding would likely impact the spillway road and high-voltage transmission towers.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Subscription Publication) editorializes that the emergency is “the latest wake-up call” that American infrastructure is crumbling from lack of necessary repairs. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the cost of repairing the country’s dams, whose average age is 52, at $21 billion. The Times says President Trump’s proposal to fund $1 trillion in infrastructure spending with investor tax credits is not a sound strategy for keeping public works safe despite its likely profitability for developers.

Dakota Access Pipeline Construction Begins Again.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/9, Cama, Henry) reported Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) has restarted construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, and according to ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado, crews “started work in the 1.5-mile Lake Oahe section right after the company received its Army Corps of Engineers easement that President Trump expedited.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is quoted saying, “The administration is pleased that Americans will be going to work building this pipeline, and building it with American steel, wherever possible.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/9, Hampton) reported ETP said “that it expects its Dakota Access Pipeline to begin service in approximately 83 days, according to a company spokeswoman.” The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/9, Yardley) reported construction started less than 24 hours after the final easement was granted. ETP said it expects to have $2.6 billion in loans for the project “within the next several days.” The pipeline is expected to be fully operational before June. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/9) reported North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R) urged “cooperation and restraint” from all parties, and requested federal law enforcement help during construction.

Governors Calling On Trump To Support Renewable Energy.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Ryan) reports governors, Republican and Democrat, are pushing for President Trump to support renewable energy, saying the wind and solar industries “are crucial economic engines for impoverished rural regions.” The Governor’s Wind & Solar Energy Coalition is seeking “increased federal funding to modernize local power grids and boost clean energy research, according to a letter submitted to the White House Monday.” The group is “also calling for legislation to promote offshore wind farms and efforts to streamline the permitting process for wind and solar projects.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Nonprofit Develops STEM Education Program.

The Lower Hudson Valley (NY) Journal News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13, Wilson) reports the Indianapolis-based nonprofit education organization Project Lead The Way developed K-12 programs aimed at facilitating students’ skills and piquing their interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The program “also helps paint a clearer picture for future career opportunities” in STEM. About 2,300 school across the nation have implemented its most recently-developed elementary program, which aims to expose young children to engineering, computer science, and biomedical science. The program’s up-front costs range from $7,000 to $10,000 to cover program materials like lesson plans, educator training, and software, but the nonprofit offers grants to some eligible districts.

Nonprofit STEM Education Program Holds Texas Conference.

On its website, KVUE-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Austin, TX (2/13) reports Texas students from 11 schools showcased their creations at Project Lead The Way’s annual state conference in Austin on Monday. The nonprofit’s David Dimmett explained, “We’re really trying to get students excited about” science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. Education leaders have repeatedly tried to address the low number of students, especially girls, interested in STEM and are “now starting as early as Kindergarten.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

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