Leading the News
Facebook Announces Telecom Partnerships To Expand Connectivity In Africa.
PC Magazine (2/27, Marvin) reports Facebook announced at MWC “its latest initiative in Africa, along with updates to the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and the company’s growing open-source telecommunications technology stack.” Facebook engineering and infrastructure head Jay Parikh “gave some insight into the company’s latest developments on the connectivity front” during a MWC press Q&A, announcing Facebook has launched a project in partnership with telecom operators Airtel Uganda and Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group (BCS) to build a connectivity network covering upwards of three million Ugandans. PC Mag adds “Parikh said the effort is a learning experience in working with local telcos to design, plan, and build out infrastructure for backhaul network capacity” and Facebook intends to “offer open access and a shared infrastructure framework to encourage greater local participation, and once completed, Parikh said the new infrastructure will reduce costs and increase capacity, improving performance and supporting upgrades to 3G and 4G in areas where operators are bandwidth-constrained.”
Facebook Steps Up Drone Test Flights. Bloomberg News (2/27, Turner) reports Facebook plans to step up test flights for its experimental Aquila drone, a solar-powered high-altitude glider featuring “a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737” that’s “powered by four electric engines.” According to Bloomberg, the company conducted its first test flight of the massive drone in June last year, though an NTSB report said the aircraft “suffered a ‘structural failure’ as it was coming in for landing.” Parikh said, “We learned a lot, from data, to how it turned, how it handled, and the battery performance. But we need to fly a lot more and more regularly.” The drone is reportedly part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s drive to find “new ways to connect as much of the world’s population to the internet.”
White House Reaching Out To HBCUs.
The Washington Post (2/27, Svrluga) reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ visit to Howard University sparked protests which “showed the suspicion and hostility some people at a prominent and historically black university feel toward the new president and the Republican-controlled Congress.” However, the Post says “DeVos’s overture was symbolic of a visible outreach from the GOP to historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs.” The Post adds that Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) “plans to lead a discussion with more than 85 presidents and chancellors of HBCUs Tuesday at the Library of Congress,” noting that DeVos is scheduled to deliver keynote remarks. The piece notes that in addition, President Trump and Vice President Pence met with HBCU leaders in the White House on Monday. The AP (2/27, Holland) reports that HBCUs are calling on Trump “to set aside more federal contracts and grants for their schools, and take a greater hand in their welfare by moving responsibility for a key program for those colleges to the White House.” A group of HBCU presidents, the AP reports, “met with Trump briefly in the Oval Office and later with Vice President Mike Pence.” The piece explains that HBCU leaders, “the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and other HBCU advocates, planned to express their support for migrating the White House Initiative on HBCUs from the Education Department to the White House itself.”
McClatchy (2/27, Kumar, Douglas) reports that Trump “is expected to provide historically black colleges and universities a long-awaited boost as he looks to outdo his predecessors — including the nation’s first African-American president – on a surprising issue.” Trump is expected to sign an executive order “to significantly strengthen the office that pushes the federal government to do business with the colleges by moving it to the White House and providing it specific goals.” The piece says the move could have a “huge” impact, since “federal agencies have thousands of contracts with colleges, universities and think tanks worth billions of dollars, primarily for research that includes studying everything from cancer to poverty.”
CFPB Urges Borrowers To Monitor Enrollment Status, Servicers’ Records.
The AP (2/27, Sell) reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on Monday in which it warned student loan borrowers to closely monitor their enrollment status and the personal information their student loan servicers have on record. The CFPB said it handled 12,000 student loan-related complaints in 2016, and thousands of those complaints were from borrowers with “problems tied to incorrect or incomplete enrollment status information.” The most common complaints included reporting lag times, an inability to easily correct errors, loans entering repayment status before graduation, and interest accruing too early because of reporting errors. According to “several in the student loan world,” the complex system involves higher education institutions, the National Student Loan Data System clearinghouse, third-party companies, and borrowers. Because of the system’s complexity, “students who do run into problems often have difficulty finding out where the problem occurred, making it more challenging to fix it.”
Research and Development
New Mexico State University Launching TechSprint Accelerator.
The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (2/27) reports that New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center is launching a new business accelerator called TechSprint. Under the program, “technology startups, innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs from across New Mexico can apply for a $2,000 boost and three weeks of intensive mentoring and training.” The center “launched TechSprint this month to expand its assistance to people around the state.” The piece notes that graduates of the program will be “eligible to apply for national NSF grants of up to $50,000 with help from NMSU mentors.”
Facebook To Increase Frequency Of Aquila UAV Test Flights.
Bloomberg News (2/27, Turner) reports that Facebook plans to step up test flights for its experimental Aquila UAV, a solar-powered high-altitude glider featuring “a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737.” The company conducted its first test flight of the massive UAV in June last year, during which the aircraft “suffered a ‘structural failure’ as it was coming in for landing.” At the Mobile World Congress on Monday, Facebook Head of Engineering and Infrastructure Jay Parikh said, “We learned a lot, from data, to how it turned, how it handled, and the battery performance. But we need to fly a lot more and more regularly.” The UAV is part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s drive to find “new ways to connect as much of the world’s population to the internet.”
Researcher Developing Swarming UAV Technology To Map Oil Spills.
Science Daily (2/27) reports that University at Buffalo Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Souma Chowdhury has developed a software package for programming a swarm of inexpensive UAVs to map an oil spill. Chowdhury presented his paper, “A Swarm-Intelligence Approach to Oil Spill Mapping Using UAVs,” at the AIAA Science and Technology Forum in January. He explained that the “thematic focus of my lab is developing computational design approaches that take inspiration from nature.”
NASA To Launch Solar Probe Plus Next Year.
On its website, NBC News (2/27) reports that next year, NASA plans to launch the Solar Probe Plus, which is slated to fly within 4 million miles of the sun in the agency’s first mission to our star. Eric Christian, a NASA research scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, explained that the mission is designed to investigate three questions: the “big puzzle” of why the sun’s photosphere is not as hot as its corona; how solar wind accelerates particles to up to speeds of a million miles an hour; and why the sun emits solar energetic particles. On its website, USA Today (2/27) features a video about the mission.
Elon Musk: SpaceX To Launch Manned Moon Orbit Mission In 2018.
ABC World News Tonight (2/27, story 11, 0:25, Muir) reported SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s plan to launch a week-long, two-man mission to orbit the moon in 2018. Musk said the private citizens “are doing this with their eyes open” and are aware of the risk. The CBS Evening News (2/27, lead story, 2:25, Pelley) said in its lead story that the passengers will travel in a capsule Dragon, a completely automated spacecraft. SpaceX has not revealed the cost of the journey, but the travelers have put down “a significant deposit,” and the company hopes such trips will generate significant revenue. According to NBC Nightly News (2/27, story 9, 1:05, Holt), the genders and names of the astronauts are also still under wraps.
Nissan Conducts First Test Of Autonomous Car In Europe.
Reuters (2/27, Pitas) reports a modified autonomous Nissan LEAF electric “car took to the streets of London on Monday for the Japanese company’s first European tests of an autonomous vehicle,” which included both local streets and “a major multi-lane road.” Maarten Sierhuis, director of Nissan’s Silicon Valley research center, said the UK’s flexible autonomous car legislation made the country attractive for the company’s first tests, saying, “It’s not everywhere in Europe that we can go and drive on the road.” Nissan, which “liaised with regulator Transport for London and the police ahead of the trials,” plans to test its autonomous cars elsewhere in Europe. According to Sierhuis, “We’re thinking of testing in the Netherlands and Paris. It’s not easy to go and test everywhere because we need to create maps, we need to get approval from the regulators and then it is expensive to set up a test.”
According to Xinhua News Agency (CHN) (2/28), Nissan plans to introduce its multi-lane autonomous driving technology, which “will enable automatic lane changes on highways,” by 2018. The company plans to launch “autonomous driving on urban roads and in intersections” in 2020.
Firms Aiming To Profit From Tracking Orbital Debris.
Bloomberg News (2/27, Bachman) reports on the dangers that orbiting debris “moving at ludicrous speeds” poses for “satellite operators who do business in orbit.” The space flotsam “poses an existential risk for greater commercialization of space, from the grand ambitions of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corp. and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin LLC to other players who see promising futures for an array of space activities, from tourism, to imaging, to pharmaceutical research.” The piece quotes Bill Ailor, a research fellow at space debris tracking firm Aerospace Corp., saying, “Knowing where stuff is is the first part of the problem. Over the longer term we need to be getting much better [tracking] data so satellite operators don’t move unnecessarily.” The piece describes a spate of entrepreneurial activity in which firms “see profit potential in helping to catalog better all that junk up there.” The article focuses on LeoLabs, which “Spun out of research center SRI International last year.”
Honda’s Clarity EV To Be Handicapped By 80-Mile Range.
CNET News (2/27, Paukert) reports Honda has struggled to establish a reputation in the US as an EV leader, “largely ceding that green ground to automakers such as Toyota and Tesla,” despite originating “modern hybrid cars in the US with its original Insight model in 1999.” However, forthcoming EV and plug-in hybrid models based on Honda’s Clarity fuel cell vehicle “may have a massive handicap when it comes to market” – a pure electric range of about 80 miles, “a jarringly short distance compared even to aging models like the Ford Focus Electric (100 miles) and Nissan Leaf (107 miles).” Chevrolet’s Bolt EV “has a range that’s nearly three times as long (238 miles)” and Tesla’s forthcoming “Model 3 is expected to offer similar performance.” CNET cites an Automotive News (2/27) report indicating “Honda’s desire to use the Clarity fuel cell model’s platform and keep the price around $35,000 (before tax credits or other spiffs) are the key reasons” the company’s “engineers were unable to shoehorn a bigger battery into the model for longer range.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Amid Planned Science March, Role Of Scientists In Public Policy Debated.
An article in the Arizona Daily Star (2/25) revolves around the upcoming “March for Science,” scheduled for Earth Day, and the question over the role that scientists should play in public policy debates. As some scientists and supporters prepare for the event, others “worry it will be interpreted as a strictly partisan act in opposition to the Trump administration.” The article goes on to describe a conference at the University of Arizona College of Engineering last week titled Science Diplomacy and Policy. Marga Gual Soler, project director in the Association for the Advancement of Science’s Center for Science Diplomacy, “said scientists can’t be content to conduct research and issue reports when it comes to having an impact on policy.” The piece quotes Gual Soler saying, “The facts don’t speak for themselves. The conversation between people is the important part.”
Record Number Of Nuclear Operators To Shutdown Reactors For Spring Refueling.
Bloomberg News (2/27, Crawford) reports that more U.S. reactors will “close for refueling this spring than at any time in nearly two decades creating a power shortage that may lift beaten-down natural gas.” Plant operators plan to shut down 34 reactors, “more than a third of nuclear generating capacity, to replace fuel rods from March through May, according to Michael Rennhack, president and chief executive officer of www. NukeWorker.com, a website that advertises jobs in the sector.” The closures “may be good news” for natural gas, “the worst performer in the Bloomberg Commodity Index as generators that burn the fossil fuel run harder to make up for the nuclear shortfall, according to Kyle Cooper, director of research with IAF Advisors in Houston.” Natural has “tumbled about 28 percent this year as weak demand amid unseasonably warm weather has allowed a glut in supplies to persist.”
Trump Expected To Sign Order Aimed At Rolling Back Clean Water Rule.
According to the New York Times (2/27, Davenport, Subscription Publication), President Trump on Tuesday will sign an executive order aimed at rolling back the Waters of the United States rule, which “gives the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major water bodies, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as in streams and wetlands that drain into those larger waters.” By itself, Trump’s order “will have almost no legal effect on the sweeping rule” but will essentially give him “a megaphone to direct his new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the lengthy and complicated legal process required to rewrite the rule.” According to the Times, the order is one of two expected announcements directing Pruitt “to begin dismantling the major pillars of Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy.” Trump is also expected to sign an order directing Pruitt “to begin the lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting Mr. Obama’s signature 2015 climate change regulation.”
Columnist Praises Las Vegas’ Increased Focus On CTE Programs.
In his column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal (2/27), Paul Harasim writes that the push to make college available to all students, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, inadvertently attached a lower-class stigma to career and technical education. As a result, “Preparing students for a four-year college degree became, and remained, high schools’ major focus for about 30 years.” College preparatory courses are no longer “the only focus now that the modern workplace favors people with technical skills.” The Clark County School District introduced six CTE academies offering “dozens of areas of study” and certifications “translating into jobs.” Furthermore, CTE programs received $12.4 million in funding in 2017, compared to $5.6 million in 2015, and more than 61,000 of the 320,559 students in the Clark County district are currently enrolled in CTE courses. Harasim writes that students can now “choose their own path,” and many of these students “flock to technical programs with their parents’ blessing.”
Professor Uses Grant To Study Ways To Increase Young Children’s Interest In Engineering.
The High Plains and Midwest AG (KS) Journal (2/27) reports University of Nebraska-Lincoln research assistant professor Lorey Wheeler received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. With the award, she will join an Arizona State University team “to study how children’s stereotypes, motivation and achievement-related beliefs affect their interest in engineering.” Wheeler commented, “This project is a starting place to address occupational and educational disparities. It is important to study students’ knowledge and beliefs in early elementary school to create developmentally appropriate interventions.” She explained elementary school students are rarely exposed to engineering, so how students develop an interest in the field and how their gender and ethnicity impact that interest remains unclear.
South Dakota School District Considers Computer Science Immersion Program.
The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader (2/27) reports school board members from South Dakota’s Sioux Falls School District on Monday considered whether to enter into a five-year, $1.26 million contract with Code to the Future, a national company that helps schools create computer science immersion programs. Under the contract, Code to the Future will train and provide professional development support to educators at three elementary schools and two middle schools. Superintendent Brian Maher praised the measure as a means to expand specialty program access to more diverse students, and school board president Todd Thoelke said the program would set the district ahead nationally and regionally. Only a handful of schools across the nation have implemented computer science immersion programs into K-12 curricula.
Monday’s Lead Stories
• Waymo-Uber Lawsuit Reflects Competition In Autonomous Vehicle Industry.
• Administration Plans Executive Order To Aid Historically Black Colleges.
• MIT Research VP Discusses Targeting Coal Emissions Without Hurting Coal Communities.
• Former Energy Transition Head Suggests Trump Will Cut Solar, Wind Research Funding.
• Lockheed Martin Promotes Females In Engineering At “Girl Day.”