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

Leading the News

Administration Asks Court To Delay Ruling On Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Biesecker, Hananel) reports that the Trump Administration has asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to “postpone ruling on lawsuits over Obama-era restrictions on carbon emissions.” In a motion filed “hours after…Trump signed an executive order seeking to undo his predecessor’s efforts to curb climate change,” Justice Department lawyers argued, “Because the rule is under agency review and may be significantly modified or rescinded through further rulemaking in accordance with the executive order, holding this case in abeyance is the most efficient and logical course of action here.” The AP adds that a coalition of environmental groups and “16 mostly Democratic-led states” plan to “oppose the administration’s request for a delay.”

Interior Secretary Zinke said on Fox News’ Fox & Friends (3/29) that “it is better to produce energy here under reasonable regulation than watch it get produced overseas with no regulation. As a former SEAL, I can tell you I have seen a lot of countries and I have seen what happens in the Middle East and Africa when there is no regulation. So environmentally, it is better to produce energy here and export our cleaner coal.” Later (3/29) in the interview, Zinke was asked if it is possible to be “environmentally responsible and be pro-coal.” Zinke said, “Absolutely. And my intention is to be a steward of the majesty of our public land and make sure we can create wealth and jobs on some of it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders took a very different view on MSNBC’s Morning Joe (3/29). Sanders argued, “You have a President telling who tells the world that in his view, after intensive study, he has concluded, unlike the rest of the scientific community, that climate change is a hoax emanating from china. And what he’s done in appointing the people he has appointed is a danger, a horrific danger, not only to our generation but to our children and our grandchildren.” Sanders added, “What this guy is doing is really an international embarrassment and endangering the future of our country.”

Environmental Groups Sue To Block Trump’s Climate Order. Meanwhile, environmental groups “made good on their promise” to fight Trump’s efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan, joining forces with an American Indian Tribe to “ask a federal court to block an order that lifts restrictions on coal sales from federal lands,” the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Webber, Brown) reports. Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine filed the lawsuit in US District Court in Montana “on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity.”

WPost Analysis: Experts Say Trump Order Will Not Save Coal Jobs. A Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Fears) analysis says that as Trump signed his executive order lifting a moratorium on federal coal leases, he portrayed the action as the fulfillment of his promise “to revive the struggling coal industry and bring back thousands of lost mining jobs in rural America.” However, according to industry experts, “coal mining jobs will continue to be lost, not because of blocked access to coal, but because power plant owners are turning to natural gas.” The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Tabuchi, Subscription Publication) says the jobs to which Trump alluded when signing the order “have steadily become vestiges of the past” as the coal industry “has been replacing workers with machines and explosives.” According to energy and labor specialists, “no one — including Mr. Trump — can bring them all back.”

Higher Education

Trump Calls For Cutting $1.3 Billion From Pell Grants In FY2016.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) reports that the Trump administration is pressing Congress to cut $3 billion from ED’s budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which includes “a $1.3 billion reduction to the Pell Grant program’s $10.6 billion surplus.” Senate HELP Committee ranking Democrat Patty Murray “called the new White House proposals ‘absurd’ and ‘absolute nonstarters’ for her party.”

Proposed Travel Ban Leaves Qualified Iranian Graduate Students In Limbo.

The Associated Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Binkley) reports 25 of America’s biggest research universities have sent more than 500 acceptance letters to students from the six countries affected by President Trump’s second proposed travel ban, according to data the schools gave the AP upon request. Schools say the potential ban would have significant negative effects on graduate schools, where Iranian students are accepted in particularly high numbers for engineering programs. Once put in place, the policy would end after 90 days, but the AP says it likely would be too late for students to complete the lengthy visa process. For universities that rely on international students as research and teaching assistants, the potential loss of these international students is a particular hardship.

Clemson Appoints NASCAR Fan To Kulwicki Endowed Professorship.

The Greenville (SC) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Felicien) reports Clemson University named an endowed chair in motorsports for the late NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki 20 years after his passing. The chair’s inaugural recipient is Robert Prucka, an associate professor in the Department of Automotive Engineering, who said he admired Kulwicki as “one of the first people to show that by using engineering, you could make race cars go faster and compete with larger teams with more resources.” According to the Upstate Business Journal (SC) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/28, Anderson), Prucka’s primary focus will be guiding a cohort of graduate students and industry sponsors in the development of a next-generation Rallycross car for Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research’s ninth installment of its vehicle prototype program, Deep Orange. Automotive Engineering Department Chair Zoran Filipi said in a statement, “Students are consistent in saying that he is instrumental in complementing science with the hands-on experience that prepares them for careers in the automotive industry.”

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Ideas Lab
A new ASEE report tries to break the code of successful interdisciplinary research.

Research and Development

UC-San Francisco Working To Advocate For US Research Leadership.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) reports that “UC-San Francisco is launching a series of Science Advocacy’ workshops to give its researchers the information, tools and skills needed to defend America’s leadership in research.” The piece reports that researchers are concerned about “threats to future funding and fact-finding” under the Trump administration. The piece quotes Keith R. Yamamoto, who oversees research activities at UCSF’s school of medicine, saying at the first event of the series, “We are in a situation where science is not just ignored, but actively denigrated in ways no one anticipated. We need to commit in a very explicit way — to engage in conversation with policymakers about our discoveries, our technologies and the ways they will be used for the betterment of all people.”

FDA Approves Further Trials For FIU’s Prosthetic Hand System.

The South Florida Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/28, Lima, Subscription Publication) reports Florida International University announced Tuesday that the FDA has approved further trials of the university’s prosthetic hand system. The prosthetic is “similar to a pacemaker” in that it “works by delivering electrical pulses to specific nerves in the arm, using a wireless device that can be surgically implanted within the nerves. Sensors embedded in the prosthetic send signals to the implanted device, which then elicits sensations by delivering pulses.” Grace Peng, program director at National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which has collaborated on development of the prosthetic, said, “This unique system, integrating the long-term efforts of academia and industry, is an example of the bioengineering partnerships we promote.” The Miami Patch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/28) also covers this story.

AM General Partnering With TARDEC On Autonomous Vehicle.

The South Bend (IN) Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) reports AM General announced it is partnering with the US Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in an effort to “develop and test a self-driving vehicle for transporting troops and equipment within U.S. military facilities.” The Tribune says the vehicle-maker expects to begin testing this spring at the US Military Academy at West Point, adding that “the project is part of the Applied Robotics for Installations and Base Operations initiative” allowing “current civilian robotics technology to be examined in vehicles in semi-controlled environments with restricted roads, predefined routes and restrictive operations.”

According to Inside INdiana Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Brown), AM General “says the vehicle could revolutionize how military service members and equipment are transported.” AM General Executive VP Kevin Rahrig said, “The American-made AM General vehicle is ideally suited for this initiative which will demonstrate the ability to augment the Academy’s existing transportation system, which consists of a 24/7 shuttle service transporting cadets and other military personnel to/or from the Academy hospital. Imagine what having a fully autonomous wheelchair accessible vehicle would mean to individuals with disabilities. This partnership with the Army could be the first step in transforming transportation for millions of people.”

PRNewswire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) carries a press release announcing the partnership, while additional coverage is offered by Defense World (IND) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29).

Survey: US Drivers Do Not Trust Self-Driving Vehicles.

The Detroit News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/30, Berg) reports that according to a survey released by AAA, three-quarters of drivers are afraid of self-driving vehicles. The AAA survey also found that just 10 percent of the survey respondents said they would feel safer with self-driving vehicles. The AAA concluded from the survey that US drivers are not ready to entirely give up control of their cars. AAA Director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations Greg Brannon said, “US drivers may experience the driver-assistance technologies in their cars today and feel they don’t work consistently enough to replace a human driver – and they’re correct.” The article adds that a study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute also “showed 95 percent of drivers want a self-driving car with steering wheel, accelerator and brake controls to be able to take complete control.”

Bezos Reveals Mockup Images Of Space Capsule’s Interior Design.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Mosher) reports that Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos on Wednesday revealed images of a concept capsule the rocket company “plans to use to ferry adventurous tourists into space.” Among the images, “which Bezos emailed to a listserv on Wednesday,” are illustrations depicting “the inside of a mock-up spacecraft that’s supposed to resemble its close-to-final form.” Bezos said that the company has “been designing the capsule interior with an eye toward precision engineering, safety, and comfort,” noting that “his capsule would have the ‘largest windows ever in space.’” Bezos also said that “the high-fidelity capsule mock-up will be on display alongside the New Shepard reusable booster that flew to space and returned five times” at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from April 3-6.

Uber Crash Details Paint A Complicated Story.

In an Innovations blog entry for the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Overly), Steven Overly discusses newly released details about the accident in Tempe involving a self-driving Uber Volvo SUV, which raised “questions about how self-driving technology, which is still under development, will respond to roadway scenarios where human behavior and common driving practices may not always align with the letter of the law.” Details indicate the driver of the Honda CR-V that struck the Uber, which was proceeding through a yellow light at two miles below the speed limit, was at fault for failing to yield to oncoming traffic. However, Overly states “the collision unfolded in a way with which most motorists can sympathize,” as “drivers often slip through lanes of traffic when other cars are at a standstill or pick up their speed to make a light before it switches.” How machines respond to such behaviors is still an issue engineers must address. Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Bergen) concurs the accident involved complexities, and states another witness told police the Honda driver was not at fault. Witness Brayan Torres told police, “It was the other driver’s fault for trying to beat the light and hitting the gas so hard…The other person just wanted to beat the light and kept going.” Bloomberg states the upside to the accident is that Uber is provided with “rich, unique data to use for its self-driving program.”

Global Developments

Amid Opioid Crisis, UBC Students Create Wearable Device That Aims To Save Lives

Globe and Mail (CAN) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29). “A group of students at the University of British Columbia have turned to technology in an effort to address the opioid crisis by creating a wearable device they say can detect an overdose. The six engineering, medical and design students wanted to focus on people who could overdose indoors, where others can’t see or help them, said Sampath Satti, a biomedical engineering graduate student.”

Industry News

Analysis: Smartwatch Industry Will Continue To Decline If Apple, Google Maintain Control.

The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Gartenberg) tech writer Chaim Gartenberg says independent smartwatch makers – such as startup Dagadam – are “doomed” so long as Google and Apple continue to control the already-struggling smartwatch industry. According to Gartenberg, “even if somehow the Dagadam Watch has, bar none, the single greatest smartwatch hardware and interface ever made, beating out Apple’s billions of dollars in R&D and Google’s teams of top software engineers — which is about as realistic as thinking that your crowdfunded smartphone will somehow top the Galaxy S8 or Apple’s next iPhone — it still won’t matter so long as Apple and Google have total control over the playing field.” As a result, Gartenberg concludes, any smartwatch development from independent makers seems futile.

Engineering and Public Policy

House Science Committee Holds Hearing On Climate Science.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Henry) reports House Science Committee members fought “over the validity of climate science during” a hearing on Wednesday. Chairman of the committee Lamar Smith “opened the hearing by saying he believes ‘the climate is changing and that humans play a role,” but, he added, “I also believe significant questions remain as to the extent.” At the hearing, Smith “asked a series of scientists invited to the hearing by Republicans to outline ‘uncertainties and biases’ he sees in climate science, and he contended there are inconsistencies in climate and weather projections within global warming research.” The Hill notes that Smith’s stance “is out of step with the majority of climate scientists, who have concluded human activity is a primary contributor to a warming trend around the globe.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Harvey) reports the “prominent scientists operating outside the scientific consensus on climate change” urged the committee yesterday “to fund ‘red teams’ to investigate ‘natural’ causes of global warming and challenge the findings of the United Nations’ climate science panel.” The scientists “argued that policymakers would benefit from assembling groups of experts to conduct assessments that challenge the accepted climate narrative.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Borenstein) reports that the hearing at times reverted to “name calling and bullying” but that neither side could agree “on who was doing the name calling, though.”

Trump Administration’s Keystone XL Approval “Significant Milestone” But Will Face Challenges.

Engineering News-Record Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Russell) reports, “While labor is eager to start work on the Keystone XL pipeline following the Trump administration’s permit approval, opponents are promising court battles lasting several years as well as a possible on-the-ground battle, similar to the one that delayed the Dakota Access pipeline.” However, TransCanada President and CEO Russ Girling says the decision to approve the pipeline is still a “significant milestone.”

Tribes File First Legal Challenge To Keystone XL Pipeline. The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) reports lawyers for American Indian tribes have “fired the first legal shot” against President Trump’s decision to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, alleging that the endangered species protections and renewable energy alternatives were overlooked. Lawyers for the Indigenous Environmental Network and the North Coast Rivers Alliance said the State Department “entirely failed to consider the feasible and environmentally beneficial alternatives of adopting aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to obviate the claimed need for more crude oil.” The groups are seeking a court injunction to stop construction until all claims against the project are resolved.

White House Yet To Propose H-1B Visa Reforms.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Meckler, Subscription Publication) reports that although as a candidate, President Trump vowed to change the H-1B visa program, the next round of applications will begin next week using long-standing rules. Russ Harrison of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA said, “There was a window in which the White House could have made serious reforms. For whatever reason, they decided not to take it.” White House spokesman Michael Short said that reforms “are something that the Administration is actively considering and working through.”

Chao: Administration Will Unveil Infrastructure Plan Later This Year.

During an event at the Transportation Department’s headquarters, Transportation Secretary Chao said the Administration will “unveil a $1 trillion infrastructure plan later this year,” Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, Shepardson) reports. According to Chao, the plan would include “a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years. The proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure, it will include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals as well.” While her comments “were the most detailed timetable from the administration about its plans to unveil a plan,” Chao “did not offer details of funding for projects.”

In an analysis for the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29, O’Brien) “Wonkblog,” Post reporter Matt O’Brien writes that while Trump hopes to use the infrastructure plan “to woo Democrats to his side on tax reform, and, in the process, cut the recalcitrantly right-wing House Freedom Caucus out of any negotiations,” Trump “has lost whatever leverage he might have once had over Democrats” after doing “just about everything he could to alienate” them. In addition, Trump’s “inability to unite Republicans” behind the healthcare bill “showed Democrats that they don’t have to make a deal with him out of fear of him making an extremely conservative deal with the House Freedom Caucus.” As a result, O’Brien writes, if Trump wants votes from Democrats, “it’s going to have to be entirely on Democratic terms, which, whether he realizes it or not, are quite different even when it comes to infrastructure.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Students Attend Alabama Power Sponsored Career Day.

The Birmingham (AL) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/30) reports that ninth-grade students from Gadsden and Birmingham attended Alabama Power’s Lineman, Engineers and Apprentice Programs (LEAP) Career Day, where the students “heard speakers, participated in hands-on programs and saw firsthand some careers available to them.” Alabama Power employees representing a variety of departments, including engineers and environmental affairs representatives, were on-hand to help students explore different careers.

Oklahoma Students Working On ED/NASA STEM Program.

The Norman (OK) Transcript Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) reports that students in Oklahoma are participating in a 21st Century Community Learning Center program that partners with NASA to “solve a national problem — the critical shortage of students with mastery of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.” The after-school program allows students to conduct “scientific observations of the natural environment” allowing them to learn “the relevance of STEM skills to daily life.”

Roots And Branches, Ecotek Host STEM Olympics.

The Baltimore Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/28) reports that West Baltimore charter school Roots and Branches and Ecotek, a lab program for “young inventors”, recently hosted a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Olympics to prepare students for the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment taking place this week. Ecotek Lab founder Keith Young has worked with students since January on physics, biology and chemistry, the Sun reports.

Ohio Introduces STEM Elementary Schools.

The Columbus (OH) Dispatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/29) reports that the Ohio Department of Education recognized two of the states’ first STEM elementary schools this week: Summit Road STEM Elementary and Herbert Mills STEM Elementary. The state has recognized STEM middle and high schools since 2008, the Columbus (OH) Dispatch writes, and Gov. John Kasich (R) signed legislation last fall allowing recognition of elementary schools. Schools applying for the STEM label must have open admissions and “work with local businesses and colleges for real-world learning experiences,” the Columbus (OH) Dispatch adds. “The Ohio STEM Learning Network reported Tuesday that a record 30 schools” applied for the STEM label in the last application round, the Columbus (OH) Dispatch reports.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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