Leading the News
IBM Develops System To Improve Human Interaction With Self-Driving Cars.
Popular Science (3/31, Verger) reports IBM researchers “have patented a new cognitive system that could help determine if and when a person” should gain control of the vehicle. The model takes into account “a variety of indicators, including factors like human fatigue and emotional state, as well as the overall mechanical function of the vehicle.” IBM hopes the system will serve as a third intelligence, simultaneously monitoring “technical aspects of the car, looking out for obstacles or errors that might be better navigated by a human,” and keeping tabs on “physiological aspects of the human—like their heart rate, the direction of their gaze, and if their attention is focused.” James Kozloski, a master inventor with IBM Research said: “What we are doing is envisioning a self-driving vehicle that is able to assess the readiness and risk associated with a human taking control of the vehicle, given some anomaly on board.”
Study: Ford Outpaces Tech Firms In Self-Driving Vehicles. USA Today (4/3, Della Cava) reports that a study by Navigant Research found that Ford is leading the way on self-driving vehicles, ahead of Waymo, Tesla, and Uber. The article explains that Ford was able to take the lead “by demonstrating that it has the strategic vision and execution capabilities to both develop automated driving systems as well as deploy them across a range of mobility platforms.” The study ranks General Motors as a close second, followed by Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler. The article suggests that the current regulatory environment for self-driving vehicles is “murky,” as “states seem to be taking individual initiatives while the industry awaits rulings from the new administration’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.”
Trump Budget Would Cut ‘Overhead’ Funding At Research Universities.
PBS NewsHour (4/1) reports that as part of its proposed $7 billion budget cut for NIH, the Trump Administration proposes cutting funding for “indirect expenses” – overhead costs such as equipment and utilities – for research universities. The proposed cuts renewed a debate over how much federal funding universities should receive for these expenses (they received $6.4 billion in 2016.) PBS NewsHour writes that some university administrators warn the cuts “would be absolutely devastating” and “would close down some research institutions.” Others argue that major universities with large endowments should pay more of their own overhead, and philanthropies like the Gates Foundation –which currently pays only 10 percent in overhead in its grants–could pay more as well. Universities differ in their needs and negotiate different rates of reimbursement for their overhead costs, and most rates “fell between 50 and 60 percent” as of 2014. Universities comprise a “powerful lobby” as funding is spread across states, PBS NewsHour adds.
Louisiana State University Hosts First Combat Robotics Competition.
The AP (4/2) reports that on Tuesday, Louisiana State University will host the “Bengal Bot Brawl,” its first combat robotics competition. Four teams of students from LSU’s College of Engineering will pit their 30-pound weight class robots in one-on-one match-ups, and the winning team will advance to the 2017 MomoCon Robot Battles in Atlanta.
WPost A1: UVA Flagged Children Of Wealthy Alumni, Top Donors For “Special Handling.”
The Washington Post (4/1, A1, Shapiro) reports on its front page that the University of Virginia’s fundraising team for “nearly a decade” has “sought to help children of wealthy alumni and prominent donors who apply for admission, flagging their cases internally for special handling, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.” The records from the U-Va. advancement office reveal efforts “to monitor admission bids and in some cases assist those in jeopardy of rejection.” While U-Va. “denies that the advancement office held any sway over admissions decisions,” the documents show “meticulous notes on the status of certain VIP applicants and steps taken on their behalf,” which were “known as an annual ‘watch list.’”
University Of California System Reports Sudden International Application Drop.
The San Francisco Chronicle (4/1) reported that for the first time in 12 years, the University of California system’s international undergraduate applications dropped in fall, 2017. Overall international undergraduate applications fell by one percent, applications from Mexico dropped by 30 percent, and applications from nations with large Muslim populations collectively dropped by 10 percent. The UC system was experiencing a 21 percent average annual increase in international applications, and the drop “coincides with the election of President Trump.” According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, nearly 40 percent of 261 colleges and universities reported an international application drop of at least two percent. The association’s deputy director, Melanie Gottlieb, stated, “The perception is that this administration wants to keep these students out.” The last time UC reported a drop in international applications was in 2004 and 2005, just after the US “led a multinational invasion of Iraq.” When asked to comment, an ED representative responded, “We can’t speculate.”
Nevada Partnering With Companies On Training Programs.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (4/2) reports that Nevada’s Office of Economic Development is partnering with individual corporations to develop “accelerated education programs tailored for a specific company” to provide workers with skills to fill new jobs. In Nevada’s target industries –aerospace and defense, IT, manufacturing, natural resources, and healthcare – the state is “about 197,000 jobs short of the national average.” Panasonic is the first company – through the Panasonic Preferred Pathway Program – to launch a tailored training program, and representatives of the governor’s office hope that more companies will follow suit and “basically say, ‘Here’s what we’re specifically looking for, instead of just complaining that we can’t find people,” the Review-Journal writes. Bob Potts, research director for the NV Economic Development Office, says officials are looking “toward these emerging sectors that pay above average and grow our economy.”
Research and Development
Wisconsin Engineering School Hosts Fluid Power Seminar.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (4/1) reported the Milwaukee School of Engineering partnered with the National Fluid Power Association to offer the first in a series of fluid power education seminars last week. The event attracted participants from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and South Dakota, a region known as “a hub of fluid power, or liquid under pressure, that provides the muscle for almost every type of big machine, including theme park rides.” About 75 percent of America’s fluid power industry emerges from within a 300-mile radius of Milwaukee. Researchers are exploring ways to scale down fluid power applications for use in bionic prosthetics, but a “major hurdle is coming up with a small sustainable power supply to generate the pressurized fluid for something like a bionic leg.” Currently, digital 3D printers “create fully functioning hydraulic prosthetics for infants,” and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers developed the “Rheo Knee,” a lower-leg prosthetic that mirrors realistic walking motions.
Stanford University Professor Develops Artificial Skin Capable Of “Feeling.”
Newsweek (4/1, Firger) reported Stanford University chemical engineering professor Zhenan Bao is developing an artificial epidermis “that can mimic the properties of human skin,” including the ability to feel. The recently-named L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science laureate is currently testing a material that expands when heated. The material lowers electrical conduction and, as a result, allows the brain to “read” skin surface temperature. Bao tested her artificial skin on genetically-modified mice brains and detected brain responses when bright light stimulated the material. She said companies like Fitbit could one day use the material to increase personal devices’ reliability.
Renovated $12 Million Nuclear Lab Set To Reopen At University Of Michigan.
The AP (4/2) reports that the newly renovated $12 million Nuclear Engineering Laboratory building is set to reopen on the University of Michigan’s campus, which the school says will focus on nuclear security, nonproliferation, safety and energy.
Navy Set To Test Drones In Alabama After Reaching Deal With Local Office.
The Navy Times (4/2) reports that after reaching an agreement with the Mobile County Commission, the US Navy will conduct drone flight research at Jeremiah Denton Airport on Dauphin Island. The short-term research project is being conducted by the Office of Naval Research and “is mostly a technology demonstration.” The agreement addresses potential concerns that locals and tourists may have.
IARPA Director Discusses New Homomorphic Encryption.
FedScoop (3/31, Waterman) reports that Jason Matheny, Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, told the Billington Cybersecurity Summit that “the latest kind of advanced encryption could soon allow classified computing to be done on unclassified computer systems.” He said, “That’s really one of the next places [we’re] likely to look – Can we use homomorphic encryption to do secure multiparty computation?” Matheny said that tt first, the “computational penalty” involved with homomorphic encryption was “enormous” but that IARPA’s Security and Privacy Assurance Research, or SPAR, program kept working and “‘thanks to a lot of clever crypto math in the past several years, that overhead has been brought down’ and the capability he described was available to US agencies.” Meanwhile, IARPA has been thinking about other applications “like allowing intelligence agencies to do very secret computing work on IT networks they don’t control.”
Facebook, HP Press Outside Legal Teams To Become More Diverse.
The New York Times (4/2, Rosen, Subscription Publication) reports Facebook implemented Saturday a policy that requires that that women and ethnic minorities account for 33 percent of the outside legal teams it works with, and law firms must also demonstrate that they “actively identify and create clear and measurable leadership opportunities for women and minorities.” Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said in an interview that he thinks the legal firms are “ready” for the mandate. HP similarly adopted in February a more stringent program pressing their outside legal consultants to make their teams more diverse that entails a 10 percent “diversity holdback” of fees if a team does not have a woman or ethnic minority performing 10 percent of the billable hours. HP General Counsel Kim Rivera said that because “the lack of diversity is a stubborn and persistent problem,” the company decided the best approach was to “be clear and unambiguous and hold firms financially accountable.”
Automotive Engineers Hold Annual Gathering In Detroit.
The Detroit Free Press (4/1) reports the Society of Automotive Engineers is holding its annual conference, dubbed WCX 17, in Detroit this week, noting that “thousands of engineers, executives, researchers and regulators from around the world will peer into the auto industry’s future.” Engineers “from around the world come to share their research and meet suppliers, regulators and government officials from around the world.”
Engineering and Public Policy
WPost: US Must Change Approach To Nuclear Energy.
In an editorial, the Washington Post (4/1) says that Westinghouse’s bankruptcy leaves “the four reactors that the company was building in the US South…in limbo,” and bodes poorly for nuclear energy in the US. The Post believes the US “should keep using nuclear energy during what is bound to be a long transition from the current energy mix to a completely renewable system,” but calls for changes in the country’s approach that include a carbon tax and long-term waste storage at Yucca Mountain. The Post concludes that “a solvent, innovative nuclear industry would serve national security as well as the environment.”
In Wake Of Dakota Access, Pipelines See Increased Resistance.
The Wall Street Journal (3/31, Maher, Subscription Publication) reports that in the wake of the Dakota Access protests, pipelines are facing increasing resistance from activists that claim the lines could harm drinking water and damage private land. The Journal goes on to detail the problems that Sunoco Logistics Partners LP has encountered in Pennsylvania as the company attempts to build a new gas pipeline that the state’s government determined was necessary.
Judge Overturns $4.24 Million Jury Award In Cabot Fracking Pollution Case.
The Hill (3/31, Cama) reports federal judge Martin Carlson on Friday overturned a $4.24 million jury award against Cabot Oil and Gas Co “in a landmark case regarding alleged groundwater pollution from hydraulic fracturing.” Carlson cited “multiple ‘weaknesses’ in the case, along with ‘serious and troubling irregularities in the testimony and presentation of the plaintiffs’ case – including repeated and regrettable missteps by counsel in the jury’s presence,’” as the reason for the ruling, and ordered a new federal trial.
California Schools Implement Garden Programs Under New Science Curriculum.
A 2014 Inverness Associates study suggested 68 percent of the 520 California school surveyed said that they have school gardens, and 43 percent said they had school garden programs incorporated into the science curriculum, EdSource (4/2, Jones) reports. Schools in San Francisco Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Berkeley Unified, and San Diego Unified have all transformed, at least in part, their blacktops into “greentops.” In 2015, the state issued its Blueprint for Environmental Literacy guidelines for environmental education. The guidelines are a key component of California’s new science standards, and they stressed the value of school gardens and students’ time spent in nature. Several studies suggested a correlation between academic achievement and school gardens, but state Education and Environment Roundtable head Gerald Lieberman emphasized that the benefit largely depends on how teachers implement those gardens. Lieberman said including investigations and experiments maximizes the benefits of school garden programs.
Wisconsin Seventh-Graders Complete “Toothpick Bridge” Engineering Exercise.
The Chippewa (WI) Herald (4/1, Macek) reported seventh-grade students at Wisconsin’s Chippewa Falls Middle School have, for the last two weeks, been “researching, planning and building their own bridges” from toothpicks. On Tuesday, the students put their toothpick bridges “to the test.” Chippewa’s science department has included the toothpick exercise in its seventh-grade engineering standards curriculum for four consecutive years. In the exercise, students analyze real-life examples of collapsed bridges, explore and commit to bridge designs, and then build the bridges in accordance with predetermined dimensions and a hypothetical budget. Each team received a $1 million “budget” to allocate on materials. Their budget included a mandatory consulting fee. Teacher Chelsey Zoromski commented, “Everything they used cost money, and if they lost things, they paid a fine to get it back.” She said she hoped the exercise will give students “that practical experience of going through an engineering project, but we also tried to relate it to real life.”
‘Hovercraft Project’ A Hands-On Experience For STEAM Students.
U.S. News & World Report (3/31, Mirza) describes Matthew Chase’s “Hovercraft Project” that “provides an interactive STEAM project to fifth and sixth graders in 20 schools across the US.” Chase, executive director of Chase Educational Consulting, developed the project as “minds-on learning” that engage students with “thinking and problem-solving” as “real-world skills.” Students are divided into 16 groups of six to eight students and each given a different task, ranging from “artist, data analyzer, and safety team leader” among others. The roles integrate “a number of subjects, such as English, mathematics, science and arts” into their learning experience, US News writes. Having grown the project in America, Chase now “is planning to extend it worldwide, likely to Australia next.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Ford To Hire 400 Engineers For Canadian Connected Car Development.
• ED: Student Loan Forgiveness Approval Letters May Not Be Valid.
• Vanderbilt University Research Center Exploring How Robotics Could Help Children With Autism.
• Former Amazon Executive Hired By Comcast To Lead Engineering Team.
• H-1B Visa Application To Launch Without Trump’s Changes.
• Ohio District Partners With UC Davis Aerospace Engineer On Robot Math Curriculum.