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

Leading the News

Uber Suspends Autonomous Vehicle Tests After Test Vehicle Involved In Arizona Crash.

Uber announced Saturday it is suspending its autonomous vehicle testing in Arizona after one of its Volvo XC90s in self-driving mode was involved in an accident in Tempe on Friday. The announcement received wide national attention, although no one was seriously injured and there were no customers in the Volvo, and media coverage emphasizes that the incident raises bigger questions about the integration of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

ABC World News Tonight (3/25, story 12, 0:20, Llamas) broadcast “the test SUV” ended up “on its side” after another “car hit it after failing to yield to the vehicle.” The CBS Weekend News (3/25, story 7, 0:15, Ninan) broadcast the car being operated by a human “sideswiped the automated car after an illegal left turn.” Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(3/25, Cherelus) reports there were two vehicle “safety” drivers in the front seats of the Volvo, the Uber “standard requirement” in all its autonomous vehicle tests.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25, Isaac, Subscription Publication) reports Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler said “We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no back-seat passengers in the vehicle.” In the meantime, “she said Uber had also suspended testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco for the day” on Saturday, “and possibly longer.” The Times points out that Friday’s incident “comes at a difficult time for Uber,” which has jumped from regulatory show-downs to crisis management over the past few months – its dispute with state regulators over California testing, the Waymo lawsuit, Uber’s Greyball program, the video of CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver, and sexual harassment allegations from former employees.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25, Overly) reports “the accident once again raises questions about the safety of autonomous driving technology and how it will interact with other drivers on the road.” In spite of the fact that “automobile and technology companies alike are dumping billions of dollars into the technology with the idea that one day our cars will no longer need human pilots,” Friday’s accident shows “that future is still far off.” The regulatory environment is also unstable, but from NHTSA to Congress to state legislatures around the country the “push and pull between freewheeling innovation and regulatory oversight that many new technologies endure” is unfolding. Part of that discussion involves the “debate about public tolerance for injuries and deaths as a result of self-driving cars.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25, Bensinger, Subscription Publication) puts the accident in context of Uber’s wider strategy, the race against companies like Waymo, which has logged more test hours on its self-driving cars than any other company, to develop reliably autonomous vehicles. Uber depends on the development of autonomous vehicles to reduce labor costs from its drivers.

Higher Education

New Jersey’s Stevens Institute Of Technology Names New Engineering And Science Department Dean.

NJBIZ (NJ) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/24) reported Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey announced on Tuesday that it named Jean Zu as the new dean of its Charles V. Schaefer Jr. School of Engineering & Science. Zu chaired the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. As the new dean, Zu will oversee eight departments, more than 170 faculty members, and more than 50 academic programs and majors.

DeVos Touts Community Colleges During Florida Visit.

The Naples (FL) Daily News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/24) reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “highlighted the importance of effective community college programs at Valencia College in Kissimmee on Friday.” The piece quotes DeVos saying, “Community colleges are a tremendous option and a tremendous on ramp for many students. and we need to do a much better job of highlighting the important work they do across this country to help students achieve their goals and abilities.” DeVos “was fairly quiet” and “mostly listened to manufacturing, construction and dual enrollment students talk about their experiences and recommendations for how to improve the country’s education system.”

The Orlando (FL) Weekly Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26) reports that DeVos “was met with boos the last time she was in Central Florida,” but that there was “little protest” Friday “as she learned about the community college’s success in helping non-traditional students in affordable ways.” DeVos “visited Valencia’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, where she saw mechanical lab demonstrations and listened to students and business owners who talked about the program’s effectiveness.”

Other news outlets reporting similarly on DeVos’ visit include WFTV-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Orlando, FL (3/24), WESH-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Orlando, FL (3/24), WFTV-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Orlando, FL (3/24), Bay News 9-TV Tampa (FL) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Tampa, FL (3/24), and 9-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Tampa, FL (3/24).

NYTimes A1: Getting Into College Challenging For Many Working Class Students.

A more than 2,200-word New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/24, A1, Hartocollis, Subscription Publication) front-page analysis reports that for students from working class families, getting into college, while an aspiration for many, may seem impossible achieve. For many, the Times says, there is no money to help them with college test prep and the cost of college itself “may seem formidable.” For many, alternatives, such as the military or trade school, seem more attractive. The Times says “at a basic level, many of these students simply lack the knowledge of how to manage the increasingly complex college applications process.” Moreover, students who have never been exposed to a “college-going culture” also “have trouble even imagining themselves at a university.”

Universities Concerned US Immigration Policies Pushing Away Foreign Students.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/24, Svrluga) reported, “Many university officials are on edge, fearful of immediate and long-term impact on higher education” due to President Trump’s moves towards stricter immigration enforcement and restricting travel from some countries. A survey led by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers “found that college recruiting specialists reported deep concerns from students and families.” The expected decrease in foreign scholars studying in the US will have economic effects – often paying full tuition, international students contributed “an estimated $36 billion a year to the U.S. economy, according to the Institute of International Education” – but also will affect “something arguably more valuable” to elite universities: “America’s ability to attract the brightest minds from around the world.”

The Sacramento (CA) Bee Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26, Hadley) reports almost 40 percent of American colleges have noticed a decline in international applications, while 35 percent have remarked an increase, according to a study from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The Bee cites New York Times reporting that applications from China, India, and the Middle East have dropped the most. According to comments by a student and president for the Times and NBC News, the current rhetoric surrounding immigrants in the US may have played a role in the decline in foreign applicants.

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Research and Development

Air Force Base In Ohio Trains Cyber Security Team.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25, Barber) reported “hundreds of cyber warriors” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio are learning offensive and defensive cyber capabilities through the Center for Cyberspace Research. Riverside Research defense contractor and former Air Force cyber expert Rusty Baldwin said “certainly Wright-Patterson develops some of the most advanced weapon systems the Air Force has,” and its “really smart folks” are “out there working on really incredible things so they’re a huge target.” Its cyber warfare team’s “crucial real-world missions” include defending weapons from cyber threats and analyzing air, space, and cyber threats against the Air Force. Other military branches have also “boosted the number of cyber troops for the growing menace.”

University Researchers Culture Human Heart Tissue On Spinach Leaf.

The New York Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/23) reported Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro interdisciplinary research teams “took a spinach leaf and sucked the plant cells out of it,” placed human cells inside the leaf’s vein network, and then injected “blood-lie fluids into the leaf’s vasculature.” The end result cultured beating human heart cells. The research could help bioengineers address the “crucial challenge” of “how to take a small, lab-sized piece of human tissue and grow into an actual working human organ.” WPI professor Glenn Gaudette said the project evidenced that they “an, in theory, sow those veins into the native arteries in the heart and produce a contractile muscle that can replace the dead tissue in the heart.”

University Of Utah Professor Leads Researchers In Developing Brain Photography Technique.

The Deseret (UT) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26) reports University of Utah College of Engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon and his team partnered with neurobiology professor Jason Sheperd and Nobel laureate Dr. Mario Capecchi to develop a non-invasive “technique for taking photographs of cells and cell activity.” The researchers discovered “process using an inexpensive, micro-thin surgical glass needle, laser light and a standard camera to create images of interior brain cells.” Their approach records scattered light waves and then processes those waves “by a sophisticated algorithm developed by Menon and his team into a 2-D or potentially 3-D picture.” Unlike other researchers who “try to shrin microscopes down to very minute sizes,” Menon explained, his team “took a different approach, and our solution was actually quite simple.” The National Science Foundation’s BRAIN initiative helped fund Menon’s work.

MIT Researchers Design Color-Changing, 3D-Printed Robot “Skin.”

Digital Trends Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25, Dormehl) reported Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, led by graduate student Subramanian Sundaram, developed a 3D-printed robot “skin” that can change color in response to physical stimuli. Sundaram explained the project was inspired by the “incredibly interesting” golden tortoise beetle, which can “respond to mechanical disturbances by changing the color and transparency of its outer shell. I thought we might be able to replicate that.” Even though the robot skin has no obvious useful applications, the researchers’ creation “serves as a neat proof of concept for scientists’ newfound abilities to print flexible substrates made up of multiple materials that are capable of demonstrating unique behaviors.”

Michigan State University Professor Helps Design Robotic Arm For Middle School Student.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26, Lavey) profiles Holt’s Hope Middle School student Zeke Holmes, who was born without arms or legs. Because of his “enthusiasm and willingness to try new things,” Michigan State University invited him to participate in the testing of its robotic arm. The design uses “a vest fitted with sensors that respond to muscle movement.” The Lake Orion-based nonprofit Project 1 launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the robotic arm and a van that can transport Holmes and his wheelchair. Lansing-based Springer Prosthetics owner Joe Springer originally fitted Zeke with prosthetic arms, but the effort was unsuccessful so Springer contacted MSU mechanical engineering professor Ranjan Mukherjee for assistance in providing Zeke with controllable limbs.


Minnesota Medtech Firms Could See Shortage Of Qualified Workers In Near Future, Recruiter Says.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25, Carlson) reported that Minnesota, “famous for its dense cluster of health-technology companies, which employ 67,000 workers and indirectly create work for another 100,000,” could face a “shortfall in qualified workers.” Talent recruiter Paula Norbom said that universities “are not churning out enough students that have STEM-related degrees (science, technology, engineering and math), or technology experts,” both in Minnesota and elsewhere in the US.

Engineering and Public Policy

Executive Order Will Begin Eliminating Obama Carbon Emissions Rules.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26, Dlouhy) reports EPA Administrator Pruitt told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the Administration will issue an executive order on Tuesday that begins the process of ending an Obama Administration rule that reduced carbon dioxide emissions and discouraged coal-fired electricity. ABC’s This Week (3/26, Stephanopolous) showed Pruitt saying President Trump “is keeping his promise to the American people this week with respect to the executive order coming down on Tuesday, the Energy Independence Executive Order. We need a pro-growth and pro-environment approach to regulations in this country.” Pruitt added, “The executive order is going to address the past administration’s effort to kill jobs across this country through the Clean Power Plan.” The New York Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26, Schultz) quotes Pruitt as saying, “It will bring back manufacturing jobs across the country, coal jobs across the country. Across the energy sector, we have so much opportunity.”

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26, Wolfgang) says the executive order “is just the first step in what will be a complex process” as the EPA “still must hold public hearings, accept public comments, consult with stakeholders, and likely face numerous lawsuits in its effort to eliminate the Clean Power Plan altogether.” The Times adds that “specialists have said it will take at least one year, possibly longer, to remove it from the books.”

EPA Administrator: Paris Accord “Nonbinding.” When asked on ABC’s This Week (3/26, Stephanopolous) if the Administration policies would stall progress on the Paris Accord, Pruitt highlighted that the “the Paris Accord is nonbinding” and “not a treaty, as such.” Pruitt added, “The Clean Power Plan is not tethered to the Paris Accords. This is an effort to undo the unlawful approach the previous Administration engaged in and do it right going forward, with the mindset of being pro-growth and pro-environment.”

However, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26) reports Pruitt also said the Paris agreement is a “bad deal” because it is too easy on China and India – who are among the leading producers of carbon dioxide. Pruitt explained, “So we’ve penalized ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally. So Paris was just a bad deal, in my estimation.”

WPost: Reversal Of Auto Emissions Standards Will Hurt And Cost Everday Americans.

An editorial by the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25) says the Administration’s “broad rollback of federal environmental rules” for auto emissions finalized in the closing days of the previous presidency overlooks “the rule’s benefits: curbing the country’s gasoline addiction would shrink fuel bills and reduce the country’s carbon footprint,” backed up by “exhaustive studies” by the EPA and NHTSA. The Post says “the national as a whole will pay the price” for more lenient auto regulations.

Members Of Obama’s OSTP Prepare For A Fight.

Dave Levitan writes at the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/24, Levitan) that former staffers from President Obama’s science office are “ready to both push forward on the ambitious science-related agendas of the previous administration, and to defend against the attacks on science emanating from the new White House.” Levitan says former members of Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy “decided to form a sort of phalanx of science- and tech-friendly experts and policy wonks.” Meanwhile, “many former staffers said the budgeting battle is a primary focus” Levitan points out that “the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy (ARPA-E) would disappear entirely, and on down the line.”

King: Trump’s R&D Budget Cuts A Mix Of “Ignorance, Indifference And Delusion.”

Llewellyn King writes for the Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25) that President Trump’s budget is prompting “fear and alarm” at the National Science Foundation, the NIH, and DOE’s national laboratories, where government-backed science “is in for a radical reversal” under the proposal. The Trump Administration has identified 62 programs for elimination or deep cutbacks, but has done so with “a mixture of ignorance, indifference and delusion,” King writes.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Illinois High School Students Dissect Human Cadavers In Anatomy Program.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/26, Harris) reports Training Tomorrow’s Physicians Today, a program sponsored by Illinois’ Tremont Community Unit District 702, the University of Illinois School of Medicine in Peoria, and UnityPoint Health-Pekin, is introducing 22 area high school students to human anatomy. Participating students meet twice a week and will dissect two human cadavers. Dr. Volkan Sumer, a program instructor, said some high schools lack anatomy classes, and some medical schools lack cadaver labs. “So many schools do so well in engineering and mathematics, but this is a nice way to take the sciences to the next level,” Sumer stated. None of the participating students dropped out, according to Sumer, “so these students have truly been vetted and picked in such a way that they are able to handle and tolerate this class.”

High School Students Gather In Tennessee For Regional Robotics Competition.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25) reported hundreds of high school students gathered in Knoxville, Tennessee for the 2017 Smoky Mountains Regional Robotics Competition. The 48 teams competed for a chance to advance to the 2017 FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston. FIRST Regional Director L.J. Robinson launched the event in Knoxville in 2010. “These children are mentored by professional engineers from the industry or professors from here at UT,” or the University of Tennessee, Robinson explained. She continued, “When they go to college they become the interns of these industries and when they graduate these industries have already captured their future engineers and scientists.”

School District Uses Technology To Increase Student Performance.

According to the U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/25), the Pequea Valley school district in Pennsylvania is attempting to make students’ learning experience different and better, with early success. Pequea Valley school district redefined the role of school for students by adjusting to the new world of technology and innovation. Electronics are widely used by all students, and instruction is “tailored to students’ interests,” with mandatory STEM curriculum at all levels. In this new teaching environment, teachers are intended to guide students rather than lead blindly, and students are grouped based on their academic level to allow each to learn at their own pace. This different approach has proven to be better, with a particularly large jump in high school achievement test scores.

Friday’s Lead Stories

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