Leading the News
Waymo-Uber Lawsuit Reflects Competition In Autonomous Vehicle Industry.
The New York Times (2/24, A1, Isaac, Wakabayashi, Subscription Publication) in a front-page article on Alphabet subsidiary Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber and its self-driving truck subsidiary Otto calls “the legal battle…a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world of top technology talent, where star engineers…command huge sums of money to try to help define a company’s technology future.” Uber’s autonomous vehicle chief Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee until January 2016, when he left to form Otto, is “at the center” of the suit accusing him and Uber “of planning to steal trade secrets” related to Google’s autonomous vehicle designs and research, which were allegedly taken by Levandowski “from a highly controversial server…in the month before he resigned from Google, where he had spent nine years working on maps and self-driving cars.”
USA Today (2/24, Cava) reports Uber called the Waymo suit “baseless” Friday, accusing its rival of trying “to slow down a competitor and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.” The fact is that “if Waymo’s suit has merit, it could significantly hamper Uber’s self-driving plans” because the technology Levandowski pioneered at Otto is at the “core” of Uber’s own autonomous program.
Multiple States Introduce Bills For On-Demand Driverless Car Services Suggested By GM. The Wall Street Journal (2/24, Higgins, Subscription Publication) reports Illinois lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this month to permit automakers to operate their own ride-hailing services with autonomous vehicles, a bill whose impetus Zalewski freely admits came from General Motors, which has lobbied several states with suggestions about how to legislate autonomous and electric vehicles over the years. The Illinois bill, like a similar measure enacted in Michigan, has drawn accusations from the tech industry that GM is trying to crowd them out of the autonomous vehicle industry rather than beating them at the development game, but GM points to its own discussions with companies like Uber and Waymo, as well as the fact that Michigan lawmakers ultimately included tech companies after hearty protest, as evidence that it is a fair player.
The AP (2/24, Lowy) reports GM “denies trying to freeze out other brands,” but there are “at least five states” – Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee – where “bills similar to the Michigan law” have been introduced, “but without the compromise language.” Because there are “no federal regulations for self-driving cars in place,” the states are creating a patchwork of rules “ensuring the benefits of the technology can be reaped without sacrificing safety,” although NHTSA did of course release “safety guidance to states and automakers last year.”
Administration Plans Executive Order To Aid Historically Black Colleges.
NBC Nightly News (2/26, story 8, 2:30, Snow) reported that the Trump Administration plans to issue an executive order “aimed at helping historically black colleges and universities,” many of which “are in a fight for survival now.” NBC (Allen) went on to highlight the problems facing these institutions.
Shooting At Kansas Bar Leading To Concerns For Indians Considering Studying In US.
The New York Times (2/26, Barry, Najar, Subscription Publication) reports that the Wednesday shooting of two Indian engineers at Kansas bar by a man “who drunkenly questioned their immigrant status” is leading to concern among Indians considering traveling to the US. The Times says that Indians “were relatively welcoming” of President Trump’s election win, but “that optimism had been diluted by fears that American might no longer welcome immigrants” even before the shooting. The piece reports that there are some 165,000 Indian students attending US colleges, and notes that Indians “are the largest recipients of” H1-B visas. The Washington Post (2/25, Gowen) reports that the shooting “reaffirmed” the belief of some Indian students that the “United States isn’t a hospitable place for foreign students.” The piece reports that the shooting “has prompted anger in India and concern that the Trump-era United States is no longer a safe place for its thriving community of visiting Indian students, scholars and tech workers.”
College Students In Ohio Launch 3D-Printed Prosthetic Hand Program For Kids.
The AP (2/25) reports University of Cincinnati biomedical engineering students, inspired by a global organization called e-Nable, launched a student organization in 2015 to manufacture inexpensive prosthetic hands for area children at no charge. Since the organization’s inception, students used 3D printing to build 42 prosthetic hands and other assisting devices. The students’ creations “aren’t meant to replace prostheses developed in collaboration with a medical professional,” but are “designed to be affordable and accessible tools for kids.” The students work with UC Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to locate patients, then “go online and find a 3D design file of a hand or fingers from e-Nable,” which “allows anyone with access to a 3D printer to make a prosthetic hand using its design files.” Their devices cost less than $20 to build, and the university fully subsidizes materials and printing costs; meanwhile, professionally-made, muscle-actuated hands can cost up to $10,000, according to e-Nable.
Research and Development
MIT Research VP Discusses Targeting Coal Emissions Without Hurting Coal Communities.
In a Washington Post (2/24, Zuber) op-ed, Massachusetts Institute of Technology vice president for research and Chair of the National Science Board Maria T. Zuber argues that “the move to clean energy is imperative,” but suggests that it can be done without hurting coal communities. Zuber outlines several suggestions for reducing the impact of coal as an energy source, including researching “carbon capture and storage technology” and finding “new ways to make coal useful” in other industries. She also calls for a commitment “to helping the workers and communities that are hurt when coal mines and coal plants reduce their operations or shut down.”
NSA Head Pushing For Changes On Handling Cyber Weaponry.
The Hill (2/25, Uchill) reports the National Security Agency (NSA) and Cyber Command Adm. Michael Rogers “is pushing for widespread changes to the US’s treatment of cyber weaponry, including contracting private sector firms to develop arms.” The Hill cites him as saying at a San Diego conference, as reported by the Defense Department, “we have done almost all of our weapons development internally. … And part of me goes – five to 10 years from now is that a long-term sustainable model? Does that enable you to access fully the capabilities resident in the private sector? I’m still trying to work my way through that, intellectually.” The piece notes that while the US purchases “product-specific digital lock-picking tools so newly discovered that vendors are not aware of them, it combines them and weaponizes them on its own.”
Notre Dame Researchers Join ARMI Manufacturing Research Consortium.
The South Bend (IN) Tribune (2/24) reported University of Notre Dame announced on Wednesday that its bioengineering researchers “will join a consortium of academia, industry and government organizations and the nonprofit sector to develop new manufacturing processes and technologies for cells, tissues and organs.” The Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute’s Manufacturing USA initiative is expected to gather nearly 100 partner organizations together in its efforts “to revitalize American manufacturing and encourage companies to invest in new technology development in the United States.” The Notre Dame researchers will address advanced tissue biofabrication issues and explore ways to make current technologies and solutions accessible to patients. The Defense Department will contribute about $80 million to the combined $200 million initiative.
Notre Dame Researchers Begin Construction On Hypersonic Wind Tunnel.
On its website, WSBT-TV South Bend, IN (2/23) reported University of Notre Dame researchers launched “a unique project” to develop “the biggest hypersonic wind tunnel in the country,” which they hope “will soon change travel as we know it.” In the proposed tunnel, wind will move “at six times the speed of sound,” a speed that would reduce travel time from DC to Los Angeles to less than 15 minutes. The project received about $1.3 million in funding from the Air Force and more than $500,000 from the University of Notre Dame. The researchers expect to complete the wind tunnel’s construction in a year and a half.
UPS Successfully Tests Drone Delivery In Central Florida.
The Marshalltown (2/25) reports with continuing coverage of UPS’ successful UAS delivery test in Lithia, Florida on Monday, where a Workhorse Group drone docked on the roof of a delivery truck delivered a shipment to a customer’s house. The UAV “launched from a UPS car roof, flew autonomously toward its destination, dropped a package and then returned to the vehicle, as the driver separately continued on a delivery route,” and everything “went as expected.” The vice president of industrial engineering at UPS, John Dodero, says “We see this as an exploration into this new technology,” but there is no firm timeline for officially offering drone deliveries because of the current Federal regulations on commercial UAS operation.
CNBC (2/25) reports “UPS said the drone deliveries could help drivers in more rural, spread-out areas.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Former Energy Transition Head Suggests Trump Will Cut Solar, Wind Research Funding.
TIME (2/24, Worland) reports Mike McKenna, a lobbyist and former head of President Trump’s Department of Energy transition team, “speculated that the Administration will cut research funding for wind and solar power and redirect money to fossil fuels.” McKenna told the West Virginia Coal Association that current funding isn’t sustainable and if the “DOE doesn’t take care of that on it’s own accord, the Office of Management and Budget almost certainly will.”
Energy Economist Profiled, Predicts $70 Oil This Year.The Wall Street Journal (2/24, Sider, Subscription Publication) profiles Gary Ross, an energy economist with an expansive personal network in the industry. Ross rose to prominence after a 2014 forecast predicting Saudi oil producers were prioritizing market share over prices, and is in regular contact with middle eastern producers. The article notes that Ross predicts oil prices may reach $70 a barrel this year, relying on sustained OPEC production cuts to push prices higher.
Montana Residents Accuse EPA Of Botched Arsenic Clean-Up.
The AP (2/24, Volz) reports Montana landowners are accusing the federal government of botching the environmental cleanup of the Anaconda smelter. They claim the EPA’s determination of safe arsenic levels in their soil is “arbitrary,” and worry it is unsafe. The residents are suing Atlantic Richfield, the company that owned the smelter, to pay for “the removal and replacement of all their soil to a depth of 2 feet, and permeable barriers installed underground to keep arsenic in the shallow groundwater from flowing onto their property.”
California Says Road Damage Due To Winter Storms Will Cost $600 Million To Repair.
The AP (2/24, Smith) reports that it will cost nearly $600 million to repair California roads “hammered by floods and rockslides in an onslaught of storms this winter.” The AP says this is “more than double what the state budgeted for such emergencies, and the costs are mounting for other badly damaged infrastructure just two months into 2017.” There is still no pricetag for repairs to other structures damaged this year, “including repairs at Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest, whose spillways threatened to collapse and flood communities downstream,” but “early estimates put the fixes there at $200 million.”
Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday also requested $437 million “to speed up flood control efforts in Northern California and boost the readiness of the state’s emergency operations,” the Los Angeles Times (2/24, Myers) reports. He said in a news conference, “These liabilities are a serious cloud, and we have to take them seriously.” The Times says, however, that Brown’s budget director said this request doesn’t address what he said “is at least a $1-billion price tag for damage in the state caused by floodwaters and emergency evacuations.”
Chao: Self-Driving Car Rules Under Review, Industry Should Educate “Skeptical Public.”
Reuters (2/26, Shepardson) reports Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indicated Sunday that the department has put Obama-era guidance on self-driving cars under review and aims to “amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance,” in her first major public remarks in office. Chao said the department should be a “catalyst” for the technology that has the potential to significantly improve safety, and she called on “Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs” to “educate a skeptical public” about its benefits.
Garmin Official: Indian Employee’s Murder Will Not Jeopardize Recruitment Through H-1B Program.
The AP (2/25, Suhr) reported the GPS device-maker Garmin employs about 100 foreign workers at its Olathe, Kansas campus through the H-1B visa program at any given time. Despite the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla of India last week, Garmin’s human resources vice president, Laurie Minard, said she does not believe the company’s overseas recruitment efforts are jeopardized. “We tend to be a family here,” Minard explained, and stressed that Garmin believes “acceptance” is “extremely important.” Sen. Jerry Moran reached out to Olathe’s mayor and pledged to help assure Indian nationals living in Kansas that Kuchibhotla’s murder is “not the norm.” He added, “This is not the nature of Kansas, and we welcome people to the United States, particularly a company like Garmin and many others.” The AP noted that in 2014, India received 70 percent of H-1B visas for its temporary high-skilled workers.
Engineering Professors Discuss Challenges Of Defending Electricity Grid From Cyberattacks.
Government Computer News (2/24) carries an article originally in The Conversation by engineering professors Manimaran Govindarasu and Adam Hahn about the vulnerability of the US electricity grid. The authors write, “we are just beginning to determine how best to protect [the grid] against cyberattacks.” The authors says protecting the grid from cyberattack is a challenge “because the grid has to continue to operate in real time” and “because the electricity industry is used to a slower pace of technological advance.” Security standards and simulation exercises “have significantly improved the security of the larger elements of the power system,” but “have done little to protect the low-voltage distribution networks that supply power directly to our homes and workplaces.” The authors highlight an approach that “involves systematically analyzing the risks inherent in critical systems and methodically defending against each of them,” as well as developing “new systems that can detect anomalous grid communications and create more secure network architectures.”
Lockheed Martin Promotes Females In Engineering At “Girl Day.”
The Denver Post (2/24, Pierce) carried video coverage online of Lockheed Martin’s participation in “Girl Day, a worldwide campaign to introduce girls to the world of engineering during National Engineers Week.” The campaign included a “marshmallow-launching cannon competition at the company’s campus in Littleton,” Colorado on Thursday.
Missouri High School Students Prepare For Robotics Competition.
The Columbia (MO) Missourian (2/26) reports 28 students from Colombia-area high schools will compete as a team in the FIRST Robotics Competition on Mar. 8 in St. Louis. The team, dubbed the Army Ants, met almost every day for the last six-and-a-half weeks to design, build, and program a robot for the competition. FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) holds an annual competition to attract students to science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields. FIRST’s website claimed 33 percent of the female participants enter engineering programs in college; meanwhile, according to the Society of Women Engineers, only eight percent of female college freshman in 2014 majored in engineering, computer science, math, or statistics.
Arizona Middle School Attracts Female Students To STEM Fields With Relatable Mentors.
The Arizona Daily Star (2/25) reports that on Tuesday, Amphitheater Middle School in Arizona hosted its Girl Power! Science and Engineering Club event, during which about 80 students were paired with mentors in the science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, professions. Engineering, coding, video production, and robotics teacher Scott Weiler launched the club at Amphitheater Middle in 2012 in hopes of inspiring female students to pursue STEM professions. Weiler said he “became aware that the girls in our schools weren’t meeting women in STEM fields,” and “so they didn’t want it.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Reports: FlexDex Tool Offers Innovation To Surgeries.
• Nonprofit Sector Holds Many Opportunities For STEM Students.
• Office Of Naval Research Awards Robotics Researchers $16 Million.
• Apple Expanding Its AI Engineering Operations Center In Seattle, Looking To Community For New Talent.
• Nationwide Floods Prompt Federal Reevaluation.
• Astronaut Speaks To Students For “Introduce A Girl To Engineering” Day.