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

Leading the News

Crews Still Racing To Repair Oroville Dam Ahead Of Rainstorms.

According to ABC World News Tonight (2/15, story 5, 1:25, Muir), emergency crews are racing to reinforce the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway, bringing in 1,200 tons of material per hour, as approaching rainstorms threaten to require renewed evacuation. ABC reported that lake levels have fallen 20 feet since Sunday, resulting in areas 30 miles downstream being covered in several feet of water. Permanent repair of the structure may cost up to $200 million.

American Rivers President: “Work With Nature, Not Against It.” In a Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) op-ed, American Rivers President and Chief Executive William Robert Irvin writes that the Oroville Dam emergency only emphasizes that dams and levees are neither effective nor economical ways to address flood threats. By allowing rivers “more room, not less,” Irvin argues, many benefits will result: improved public safety, clean water, open recreation space, and wildlife habitat. While the immediate priority is the safety of those threatened by the Oroville Dam emergency, Irvin recommends the Administration and Congress adopt long-term infrastructure plans to “work with nature, not against it.”

WSJournal: Building Up Infrastructure Should Come Before Climate Action For California. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Subscription Publication) editorializes that California’s Democrat-led government has failed to provide the state with sufficient infrastructure to deal with weather fluctuations. According to the Journal, the recent excess precipitation has pushed California’s largest reservoirs to near capacity, but the state Legislature has stalled efforts to expand its surface storage for years despite it being relatively affordable compared to other projects. In addition to financing Oroville Dam repairs with state funds, Governor Jerry Brown should focus on current infrastructure needs instead of climate change predictions, writes the Journal.

Higher Education

US News Looks For Clues On How DeVos Will Approach Federal Student Loans.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Mayotte) reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made little mention of her possible higher education policy plans, but suggests that “DeVos’ written answers to the almost 1,400 questions she received from senators leading up to her confirmation hearing” could contain some clues. A number of Senators “started their series of higher education-related questions by asking about DeVos’ intent on preserving the Direct Loan program, as opposed to reinstating some type of private lender-funded federal student loan program, which existed up until 2010.” DeVos “answered these questions generally by stating that, if confirmed, she looks forward to discussing these issues as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.” The piece suggests that this “noncommittal answer” means that “because she admittedly has no experience in the student loan policy arena, she is unwilling to commit to a position on these issues before vetting them fully.”

Groups Release Papers Arguing Against Letting Private Lenders Back Into Student Loan Business.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that while there has been rising enthusiasm for “bringing private lenders back into the federal student loan program” since President Trump took office, “a pair of new papers argue it is not a solution to problems with the loan program.” The piece quotes the American Enterprise Institute resident fellow Jason Delisle, the author of one of the papers, saying, “People want to go back to this because they think it has something to offer over the current direct loan program. But if you look at their motivation, there is a lot of confusion and a lot of misinformation about how the program worked.” While “opponents of direct federal lending say banks could do a better job” if the government returned to the old Federal Family Education Loan program, Delisle counters that “the $60 billion program was private in name only as it relied on government spending and operated under the government’s terms.”

Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) reports that Delisle’s paper argues that “if private lenders are allowed back into the federal student loan program — a program from which they were removed during the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — it would preclude ‘universal access to student loans at universal terms.’” Delisle’s paper “comes at a time when questions abound about whether the administration of President Donald J. Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress will seek to revert to the bank-based system that President Barack Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress scrapped back in 2010.”

Two Dozen Yemeni Students In US Face Uncertain Future.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Brown) reports two-dozen Yemeni students who “left their families in Yemen nearly three years ago through an exchange program that aimed to introduce Muslim high school students from overseas to America” face an uncertain future. The students remained indefinitely in the US after a “civil war broke out at home, [and] they couldn’t return.” The State Department, which has “sponsored the program and has supported these two dozen students since they arrived in 2014,” notified the students that “they’ll be on their own in a few months.” State Department spokesman Nathan Arnold “said the agency made what arrangements it could to allow the students to stay in the country two years after their initial program ended.” The State Department “has sought to ensure that the students understand their options for the future, he said.”

Students Increasingly Using Crowdfunding To Raise Money For College.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) reports that “more students are turning to GoFundMe online fundraising campaigns to raise money for college costs,” noting that in Illinois alone, “about $2.6 million has been raised since 2014 from nearly 5,300 campaigns to assist with tuition, housing and other higher education expenses.” Over 130,000 such campaigns nationwide “have raised $60 million from over 850,000 donations for college tuition and related expenses” during the past three years.

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Research and Development

DARPA Planning To Demonstrate Drone Swarm Technology.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Ernst) reports that DARPA “is planning a demonstration for late 2018 that will prove to the world that it can blanket the globe with versatile drones.” The agency is funding “Phase III of its Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) project,” which “will give officials the ability to launch long-range, high-endurance operations from anywhere in the world.” TERN “will use vertical launch drones with offensive and defensive capabilities from over 100 small deck helicopter-capable ships.”

NASA Seeks Expedited Timetable For Crewed Deep Space Missions.

According to the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Chang, Subscription Publication), NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced at a Wednesday conference the agency’s interest in adding a crew to the first flight of the Space Launch System for deep space missions. In a memo released to NASA employees, Lightfoot also acknowledged that increased research and preparations would push back the crew-less launch which was scheduled for late 2018 and said the mission likely would be shorter. Contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin issued statements of support for accelerating the timetable for crewed missions.

Huawei Developing Its Own Digital Assistant Technology To Take On Big Competitors.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Gurman) reports, citing “people familiar with the matter,” that Huawei Technologies Co. is has “A team of more than a hundred engineers is in the early stages of developing” a digital assistant technology. The “extensive” efforts “are aimed at” the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google, “not smaller players.” Bloomberg says the assistant will use Chinese, targeting the domestic market, where the move “may help Huawei devices stand out” as “many Google services that come with the dominant Android smartphone operating system are blocked.” Beyond China, Huawei “will continue to work with Google and Amazon’s Alexa service.” Bloomberg adds that Huawei “trails only Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. in global smartphone shipments as it pushes upmarket with premium features.”

Vigilant Tests UAV Avoidance System At NASA Armstrong.

Aviation Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Fuller) reports that Vigilant Aerospace has announced that it successfully tested its “FlightHorizon detect-and-avoid collision avoidance system” for UAVs in over 100 encounters at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. For the 18 different collision scenarios, two DJI Phantom 4 UAVs were used, with one acting as the intruder. The FAA’s senior UAV regulator and an FCC representative observed the tests.

Workforce

Spotify Announces NYC Office Relocation, 1,000 New Jobs.

Spotify’s announcement that it will relocate its Manhattan office and add 1,000 jobs has received heavy coverage from financial, music, and local New York City press. The Wednesday announcement was made with New York City Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also unveiled a curated playlist to mark the occasion. According to the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Morris, Subscription Publication), Spotify said it plans to move its office from Chelsea to Four World Trade Center, for which it will receive up to $11 million in rent-reduction credits from the state. Horacio Gutierrez, general counsel at Spotify, is quoted saying that the company decided to remain in the city due to the access it provides to a diverse talent base. “This is in many significant ways the media capital of the world,” Gutierrez is quoted saying.

Gutierrez said the new jobs will be focused on areas including engineering and marketing, Billboard Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Schneider, Gensler) reports. “We will bring more diversity and a whole lot of music to the area. … I hope that Spotify’s expansion sends a message to the tech community that NYC is open for business,” he is quoted saying. AM New York Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Pereira) quotes Gutierrez as saying: “Where in the world can you really find the technological talent and the richness of the music tradition in New York?”

Global Developments

Basic Energy, Vintage Engineering Partnering On Renewable Energy Projects.

The Philippine Star Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/16, Rivera) reports that in a Wednesday disclosure, Basic Energy announced that it has entered into a subscription agreement with Thai-based Vintage Engineering Public Co and will sell shares to VTE in line with an agreement to develop renewable energy projects. Basic Energy senior vice president and general manager Anthony Cuaycong said, “The price is yet to be determined and will be finalized upon the signing of the subscription agreement. There will be two or three tranches.” He added, “VTE is interested in the gamut of Basic’s projects. Likewise, Basic is in discussion with VTE regarding the latter’s own projects.”

Industry News

GM Discusses Potential Sale Of Opel To Peugeot.

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Meredith) reports Evercore ISI analysts predict General Motors could be prepared to sell Opel, its European division, to PSA Group for around $1 billion. Although European car sales are at a nine-year high, carmakers have shown difficulty drawing profit, as evidenced by Opel’s more than $15 billion losses since 2000. Evercore analysts believe that GM was retaining the “European operations to allow it to develop compact cars and diesel engines.” But global demand for diesel is rapidly declining, setting the stage for GM “to benefit from a potential split with Europe.” The deal is attractive to GM according to Eversore because “and if we equated a sale price of PSA paying up to $1 billion to GM, it would be the equivalent of 6-8 times the potential earnings of a restructured GME.” Speaking on a Bloomberg Markets: European Open Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) segment, Evercore ISI analyst George Galliers speculates on why Peugeot would be interested in acquiring Opel, questioning the company’s motives. Galliers states Peugeot CEO Carlos Tavares “may see some near term gains” in “opportunities for synergies on capex, R&D, and also white collar jobs.” Tavares may also believe that incremental scale is what PSA currently needs to compete among emerging technologies.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Colias, Subscription Publication) attributes Opel’s decline to a growing consumer rejection of passenger cars. Low fuel prices have shifted consumer demand toward SUVs for which American engineers are recognized. Although several models, including redesigned Opel Astra and Chevrolet Malibu, have been showing decent sales, GM executives said selling more sedans harms overall margins in critical regions. The Opel-PSA deal might “indicate GM is further stepping back” from passenger vehicles according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) reports General Motors CEO Mary Barra assured employees Wednesday that combining Opel and Vauxhall with Peugeot would benefit both companies. She also encouraged “employees not to let speculation about Opel’s fate distract the carmaker from” focusing on the proposal. Barra said, “While there can be no assurance of any agreement, any possible transaction would enable PSA Groupe and Opel Vauxhall to leverage their complementary strengths, enhancing their competitive positions for the future in a rapidly changing European market.” According to the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Boston, Kostov, Subscription Publication), her comments come as the sale faces political resistance in Germany over the imminent job cuts through the deal. Barra and GM President Dan Ammann flew to Germany to meet with Opel’s management and representatives in attempt to assuage some concerns.

Engineering and Public Policy

Boeing Calls On Congress To Streamline FAA Certification Process.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Zanona) reports that at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, a top Boeing official called on lawmakers to streamline the FAA’s foreign certification process when they reauthorize the agency later this year. Manufacturers have “long lamented” that validating FAA-certified airplanes with foreign authorities takes too long, undercutting profits and competitiveness. Boeing Vice President of Engineering for Commercial Airplanes John Hamilton told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that validation should “be quick and efficient,” but can take as long as 14 months. He cited that for the company’s 737 MAX, Boeing and the FAA must seek approval from the governments of each of the 43 countries where companies have ordered the plane. Committee ranking member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) suggested that foreign certification is “the number one issue” raised by the industry.

Solar Largest Source Of New Capacity In US.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Martin) reports a record 14.6 gigawatts of solar capacity was added to US grids in 2016, almost double the total from 2015 and “enough to make photovoltaic panels the largest source of new electric capacity for the first time.” According to a report Wednesday from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar accounted for 39 percent of new generation last year, beating natural gas (29 percent) and wind (26 percent). The San Jose (CA) Mercury News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Hansen) and the Triad (NC) Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Subscription Publication) also report.

Utilities Will Still Pursue Clean Energy Even Without Clean Power Plan.

ClimateWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Subscription Publication) reports that utilities continue to plan to reduce carbon emissions even as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan “seems doomed under the Trump administration.” Speaking on the sidelines of the NARUC meeting this week, Arkansas Public Service Commission chairman Ted Thomas said, “If [Republicans in Congress] don’t get it together, we’re going to have a different administration in four years, and that’s when folks might wish they had the Clean Power Plan” as the following administration may seek a stricter plan. Thomas explained that most of the price risk of the CPP would have come in the second half of the next decade anyway. Speakers at the conference said the oil and gas and renewables will create jobs, but none were optimistic outlook for the coal sector. Jonathan Weisgall, at Berkshire Hathaway Energy Weisgall said corporate demand, technological advances, aggressive state policies and remaining federal tax incentives will all drive carbon reductions, as will a “customer-driven pull,” rather than a “mandate-driven push.”

Handy: Power Sector Coal Use Could Rise Without Clean Power Plan. Randy Handy writes for the San Antonio Express-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) that without the Clean Power Plan “fewer coal-fired power plants will be retired and additions to renewable energy capacity will drop.” Handy cited an EIA report stating, “In the scenario where the Clean Power Plan is not implemented, coal again becomes the leading source of electricity generation by 2019 and retains that position through 2032.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Ohio Governor’s Budget Proposal Would Cut Funding To State’s CTE Schools.

The Canton (OH) Repository Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14) reports that Ohio CTE schools “soon could be feeling the squeeze of Ohio’s tightening purse strings,” noting that 35 of 49 such schools in the state “would receive less state funding next year under Gov. John Kasich’s proposed 2018-19 budget.” The state’s Office of Management and Budget says most of these cuts are related to reduced enrollment.

Tennessee Elementary School Team Wins First-Place In State LEGO Tourney.

The Greeneville (TN) Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) reports that the “‘Block Jocks’ of Hal Henard Elementary School returned with a first-place trophy from the First LEGO League state competition in Cookeville this past weekend.” The school’s team topped rivals “in the category of ‘Innovative Solution’ for a research project undertaken as part of the First LEGO League challenge.”

UMass Dartmouth Professor Gets NSF Grant To Help Improve STEM Teacher Training.

The New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) reports the National Science Foundation has given UMass Dartmouth Associate Professor of STEM Education and Teacher Development Walter Stroup a “$457,755 grant to develop new strategies for middle school and high school teachers to excite their students about science, technology, engineering and math careers.” Stroup and his team “envision classrooms where students engage in collaborative problem solving projects — untangling traffic jams or mapping the potential spread of the Zika virus — using math and science skills and knowledge.”

The Providence (RI) Business News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15) reports that the project “focuses on demonstrating the benefits of collaborative, cloud-based learning, in which students work in groups to solve real-world problems – from traffic jams to the spread of infectious diseases – using math and science skills.” The piece quotes Stroup saying, “Young people are curious, creative and social beings, so it only makes sense to get them into a hands-on problem solving endeavor with their peers. They will be motivated to learn the math and science needed to succeed in their mission.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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