Leading the News
California Issues Permit To Apple For Driverless Car Testing On Public Roads.
On Friday, California’s DMV issued a permit to Apple to start testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads, a major milestone for the company that garnered extensive coverage in national print dailies, wires and tech outlets.
The front page of the Wall Street Journal (4/14, Mickle, Higgins, Subscription Publication) reports the awarding of the permit shows that Apple is making progress with its top-secret autonomous vehicle development. Apple joins Alphabet, Tesla, and others in being able to test its vehicles in real-world conditions. According to the story, the permit applies to three Lexus SUVs and six human operators, who are required to be ready at the wheel.
Bloomberg News (4/14, Gurman) reports “software tests will start soon with existing vehicles, according to a person familiar with the matter” who “asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public.” USA Today (4/14, Snider, Weise) reports online that Apple’s “rumored” Project Titan “has never” been “confirmed” until Friday. According to USA Today, “Apple is the 30th company to be approved by the state for autonomous vehicle testing.”
Reuters (4/14, Resnick-Ault) reports ever since reports of “a five-page letter last November from Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, to NHTSA, the company was under increased speculation that they would enter into the competitive self-driving space.” The AP (4/14, Liedtke) reports, “with $246 billion in cash, Apple also could easily afford to buy technology that accelerates its development of self-driving cars,” and there has even “been recurring speculation that Apple might eventually acquire Tesla, which has a market value of about $50 billion.”
South Dakota Governor Attends Official Opening Of Renovated School Of Mines Building.
The AP (4/15) reported South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard helped officially open the South Dakota School of Mines’ renovated chemistry and chemical and biological engineering building. The $6.6 million renovation resulted in “new laboratory spaces, modernized classrooms for teaching and research, improved office space for faculty and staff, new elevators, and upgraded student lounge areas with new windows and a third-floor deck overlooking the Quad.” The renovation was particularly important because the School of Mines requires all students to enroll in a chemistry class, so all students will at some point have a class in the building.
University Of Idaho Students Hospitalized After Rocket Fuel Explosion.
The Washington Post (4/14, Svrluga) reported that on Thursday night, rocket fuel ignited and set off an explosion at the University of Idaho. Four students were hospitalized for injuries sustained in the explosion. University spokeswoman Jodi Walker said they received overnight surgeries and were in good condition the next day. The students were members of the Northwest Organization of Rocket Engineers. The incident prompted FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents to launch a non-criminal investigation.
Texas A&M Moves Small Reactor.
The University of Texas A&M Battalion (4/16) reports following a two-year planning process “A&M securely moved a 60-year-old” AGN nuclear reactor from the former Zachry Engineering Building to the Nuclear Science Center. The reactor has been operating “since 1957 and has a power of five watts.” The school also has a one megawatt reactor, started in 1961. The AGN reactor is offline and it’s fuel “is separated from the reactor components and is stored in the NSC with strict regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
DeVos Suspends Obama Plan For Student Loan Management.
The New York Times (4/14, Cowley, Silver-Greenberg, Subscription Publication) reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “thrust the future of the government’s system for managing federal student loans into confusion” when she signed an order on Tuesday “rescinding key parts” of an Obama Administration plan to pick “a single vendor to build a new system for servicing its student loans, in what was expected to be one of the largest federal contracts outside of the military.” The Education Department issued a statement saying that “the guidance from the last administration resulted in a process that involved a moving deadlines, changing requirements and a lack of consistent objectives.” According to the Times, by signing the order, DeVos has now “cast doubt on the entire project, raising the question of whether the department she runs will scrap the idea of a single portal.”
In a column in the Chicago Tribune (4/14), Gail MarksJarvis writes that the “Trump administration doesn’t look like it’s going to coddle federal student loan borrowers. In fact, it’s rolling back Obama-era reforms that would have made it easier on borrowers.” She writes that ED under President Obama “discovered through numerous studies that people with student loans were getting awful service — even incorrect information” from student loan servicers, leading many frustrated borrowers to walk away from their loans.
NYTimes, Brooks Skeptical Of Cuomo’s Free Middle Class College Plan.
In an editorial, the New York Times (4/14, Board, Subscription Publication) discusses Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support for a bill that makes New York “the first state in the nation to make tuition at its public universities and colleges free for all residents.” The Times says the Excelsior Scholarship was created for “families making up to $125,000 a year (by 2019) who attend the State University of New York or the City University of New York.” However, the Times says “questions on free college have begun to multiply,” maintaining that there was not enough time to think this through, hold hearings or run extensive studies. The Times argues that it is not clear what the impact will be on private colleges and universities or how SUNY and CUNY will be financially impacted. The Times concludes, “this is one program for one slice of the middle class.”
David Brooks writes in his New York Times (4/14, Brooks, Subscription Publication) column that Cuomo’s free college education plan is “the worst public policy idea of the year.” Brooks says “Cuomo could have done many things to improve New York’s higher ed system,” including putting more money into tuition assistance and funding programs to help students get ready for college. He criticizes that if Cuomo “runs for president, this will be an outstanding talking point. Unfortunately, the law will hurt actual New Yorkers.”
CFPB Investigating Discrimination In Student Loan Servicing.
The Washington Post (4/14, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced it has launched an investigation into “whether loan servicing companies are making it difficult for people with past-due student debt to work out a solution because of their race, ethnicity, gender or age.” CFPB Office of Fair Lending director Patrice Alexander Ficklin said, “We’re looking at disparities in outcomes…and we believe there may be some.” The Post says Ficklin indicated her team identified the possibility of “substantial risk of credit discrimination” in student loan servicing, though the article also indicates she “would not explicitly say how the CFPB reached that conclusion.” The Post reports that the move comes “days after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked federal guidance issued by the Obama administration to strengthen consumer protections in student loan servicing contracts.”
Research and Development
SpaceX Invites New Teams To Second Round Of Hyperloop Pod Competition.
Fortune (4/15) reported SpaceX announced that it will open the second round of its Hyperloop pod prototype competition to new teams. SpaceX originally selected about two dozen teams from its first round of competition at Texas A&M University last year. Fortune posits that the second round is seemingly focused “on giving existing squads a chance to refine their existing prototypes.” It also seemingly “suggests an expanded role for SpaceX in Hyperloop development,” because its release hinted that SpaceX is considering a potentially larger role in the emerging Hyperloop market. If true, that focus “strikes a different tone than Elon Musk took” in 2013, when he made clear “that he was just putting the idea out there to be explored by others, since he had plenty of work on his plate at SpaceX and Tesla.”
University Of Minnesota Engineering Students Develop Prototype Device To Extract Peanut Oil.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (4/15) reported the nonprofit Compatible Technology International is collaborating with six University of Minnesota engineering students to design an inexpensive device that Malawi peanut farmers can use to extract peanut oil. The production of groundnuts, as peanuts are commonly called in sub-Saharan Africa, accounts for about 25 percent of Malawi’s agricultural revenue; however, “the dependence on manual labor is a major barrier to producing and marketing farmers’ crops.” The students were tasked with designing a machine that could be directly purchased at between $50 and $280. “After months of tests, the students developed a prototype,” and “CTI will further research the market, eventually testing the product in Malawi, and gathering data on how to proceed.” CTI and the engineering students are hoping that their device can help Malawi peanut farmers increase their revenue, help strengthen the Malawi economy, and improve “food security and nutrition among the rural poor in Malawi.”
Navy, University Of Rhode Island Formalize Partnership.
The AP (4/15) reported the US Navy’s Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport and the University of Rhode Island’s Business Engagement Center formalized a partnership on Thursday through which they will “help small businesses grow, conduct research and commercialize their technology.” Prior to the partnership, the two entities were separately working with local businesses. URI’s business center executive director, Katharine Hazard Flynn, said through the collaboration, the two parties will more effectively help small and medium defense companies grow because they have different connections, research capabilities, patents, and labs. The Navy said the partnership will allow its warfare center engineers learn emerging proprietary research and development.
Two Florida Universities To Participate In NASA Research Initiatives.
The Tallahassee (FL) Democrat (4/15) reported NASA is establishing two Space Technology Research Institutes focused on biological engineering in space and next-generation materials. Over the next five years, Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Initiative and the Florida A&M University–Florida State University College of Engineering will, along with other partner universities, contribute a total of $15 million to each institute. The National Science Foundation designated HPMI as an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. Scientists at both HPMI and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering “will specifically work on the development of carbon nanotube-based structural materials that can help create next-generation space vehicles, power systems and potentially even habitats.” The US Air Force Research Lab is participating in NASA’s initiative as a collaborator, and Nanocomp Technologies and Solvay are participating and industrial partners. Other participating universities include the “University of Utah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado and Virginia Commonwealth University.”
University Of Texas At Arlington Develops Parking App For MetroLab Network Project.
Dallas Innovates (TX) (4/12) reported the University of Texas at Arlington, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Texas at Dallas are participating in MetroLab Network, a nationwide effort launched by the White House in 2015 “to solve lingering urban problems by pairing university researchers with cities and counties seeking solutions.” Since MetroLab Network’s launch, 34 cities, 44 universities, and three countries were “organized into 30 regional city-university partnerships.” At UTA, professor John Priest and 13 industrial engineering students began developing a smartphone app to help students, faculty, and staff locate and reserve available parking spots. The app “would receive data collected by lamppost-mounted high-resolution cameras, which would then feed that information” to users.
Researchers Create Device To Pull Drinking Water From Air.
Fortune (4/16, Morris) reports researchers at UC Berkeley and MIT have developed a prototype of a new device that “promises to bring clean drinking water to remote areas by drawing it directly from the air.” The device, created through a collaboration between chemist Omar Yaghi and mechanical engineer Evelyn Wang, “relies on a special material combining zirconium and adipic acid into what’s known as a metal-organic framework.” In beginning tests, the creation “has been able to produce nearly three liters of water over 12 hours for every kilogram of the zirconium-acid material, even in very dry regions.” If proven sustainable, the device could provide “a solution to the problem of water access,” which “could unleash massive growth in regions where it’s still a problem, both at home and abroad.”
Lucid Motors Poised To Take On Tesla.
USA Today (4/13, Bomey) highlights startup Lucid Motors, which is attempting to shake up the auto industry after displaying its sleek luxury electric sedan, the Lucid Air, at the New York Auto Show. Lucid Motors, whose chief technology officer is former Tesla Model S engineer Peter Rawlinson, created a “buzz among industry watchers after announcing in 2016 that it would construct a $700 million plant in Arizona beginning in the second quarter of 2017.” Though there is skepticism that the company could compete with other established startups, and though AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan said “Lucid’s prototypes ‘have a more production-intent feel’ and ‘their management team feels more cohesive,’” he stated, “Long-term chances for success are likely to be small because just as Lucid intends to start production, the U.S. and German manufacturers will open the floodgates on all of their electric vehicles.”
Mashable (4/13, Wong) reporter Raymond Wong details and praises the EV Lucid Air model, which “has been billed by many as a Tesla ‘killer’ that’s more high tech and luxurious than the Model S.” Wong says the company built the model “to be the most luxurious and spacious electric car.” Rawlinson said: “[The Tesla Model S] is a great product — a landmark — and I was thrilled to be involved with it, but there are certain things it didn’t do.” According to Consumer Reports (4/13, Plungis), Lucid Motors “claims its batteries are more energy-dense than its competitors and possibly more reliable.” Additionally, the base model will tout 240 miles of range and 400 horsepower, and “the company expects to offer versions with up to 400 miles of range and 1,000 horsepower, along with all-wheel drive.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Tech Start-Ups Urge Pai Not To Alter FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules.
The Hill (4/14, Breland) reports Silicon Valley start-ups Y Combinator and Techstars, along with startup advocacy group Engine, “circulat[ed] a letter asking FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to leave in place the net neutrality rules passed under former Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, formally known as the Open Internet Order.” In the letter, the groups wrote, “We are concerned by reports that you would replace this system with a set of minimum voluntary commitments, which would give a green light for Internet access providers to discriminate in unforeseen ways.” They also argued that the move could threaten start-ups, saying, “The success of America’s startup ecosystem depends on more than improved broadband speeds.”
Media Advocate: Google, Facebook Should Not Be Face Of Net Neutrality Fight. News Media Alliance President and CEO David Chavern writes in the Washington Post (4/14, Chavern) that with the Administration’s bill to “put Internet service providers on a path to being able to monetize online users,” Google and Facebook are now “facing new competition to their online business models.” Chavern says these companies will argue “that ISPs should not be able to prioritize and price the flow of online content.” He says that they “increase or reduce users’ exposure to news content based on whether publishers … agree to play by their rules.” Chavern argues “it would be hypocritical for Google and Facebook to be the faces of this fight, given their business models.”
Perry Orders Study Of Electric Grid To Boost Coal, Nuclear.
Bloomberg Politics (4/15, Dlouhy, Jacobs) reports Energy Secretary Perry on Friday ordered a study of the electric grid focused on “examining whether policies that favor wind and solar energy are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants critical to ensuring steady, reliable power supplies.” Perry’s chief of staff Brian McCormack will be responsible for the evaluation, which will also explore “whether wholesale energy markets adequately compensate some of the attributes that coal and nuclear plants bring to the table, such as on-site fuel supply, that strengthen grid resilience.” Bloomberg suggests the order, as well as Perry’s prior statements opposing coal regulations, indicate that “the administration may be looking for other ways to keep coal plants online.”
Renewable Energy May Grow, Despite Trump Opposition. The New York Times (4/15, Alster, Subscription Publication) suggests that renewable energy investments may be “quite good,” despite the Trump Administration’s pro-fossil fuel position. The Times details positive developments in the wind and solar industries, including the doubling of total solar output last year. The piece also quotes analysts who suggest “the presence of wind and solar production in red states could splinter the G.O.P. on Trump’s plans.”
Tennessee Coal Plant Lawsuits Highlight Dangers Of Coal Ash. The New York Times (4/16, A11, Schlossberg, Subscription Publication) reports details two lawsuits in Tennessee that accuse the Gallatin Fossil Plant of contaminating groundwater with coal ash, a byproduct of its operations. The Times details the issues, and notes that while “more than 100 million tons of coal ash is produced every year,” the substance “gets far less attention than toxic and greenhouse gas emissions” despite causing health and environmental problems. The Times also mentions that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Pruitt decided to delay a rule on coal ash to 2018, and may reconsider the regulation entirely.
UWF Receives $1.3M NSF Grant For STEM Teachers.
The Pensacola (FL) News Journal (4/14) reported that the University of West Florida (UWF) received a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation “to support students who are pursuing teaching careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” The grant will “fund the cost of educating 18 Robert Noyce Scholars during their junior and senior years at UWF,” the News Journal added.
High Schools Teams To Face Off In AFRL Challenge Competition.
The Rome (NY) Sentinel (4/14) reported students from eight high schools will take part in the ninth annual AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) Challenge Competition throughout the upcoming week. The STEM event will be held at the Griffiss Institute and will feature three judges, including BAE Systems software engineer Joseph Stanton.
Retired Dentist Grants $50,000 For Oklahoma Science And Engineering Fair.
The AP (4/15) reported retired dentist James Young granted $50,000 to the Oklahoma State Science and Engineering Fair. The event, which consists of six regional fairs and one statewide fair, was slated for termination in 2018 after $38.2 million in public funding for public school activities was eliminated. The fair is “a 47-year-old tradition for Oklahoma science students,” and Young’s contribution will allow it to continue for at least another year.
California Educators Hope New Science Standards Will Close Achievement, STEM Diversity Gap.
EdSource (4/13) reported California adopted the new Next Generation Science Standards in 2013 and has slowly began implementing them. California educators expressed hope that the new standards not only will instill “a love of science and boost test scores among African Americans and Latinos, and ultimately lead to a more diverse STEM workforce,” but also narrow the achievement gap on Common Core exam scores. Obstacles such as teacher preparation program deficiencies and fewer resources in schools that serve low-income students, however, “stand in the way of narrowing the science achievement gap” nationwide. Oakland Unified elementary science coordinator Laura Prival said how well those standards are implemented and how well schools are funded will determine, at least in part, how well students representing all demographic groups perform academically. “We need to close the gap in resource allocation and the gap in opportunity before we can close the achievement gap,” Prival explained.
Indiana Robotics Teams Advance To FIRST Lego World Championship.
The South Bend (IN) Tribune (4/16) reports two teams from the Ethos Science Center’s Granger Exploration and Robotics Studio in Indiana are advancing to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) world championship in St. Louis, Missouri. Team “FlufflePuff,” comprised of students from grades five to nine, qualified for the FIRST Lego League world championship after winning the Indiana State Championship. Team “Toxic,” comprised of four high school seniors, qualified for the FIRST Tech Challenge world championship after winning the North Super Regional.
Delaware Middle School Robotics Students Qualify For VEX World Finals.
The Selbyville Middle School robotics team known as “The Rocketeers” qualified for the VEX World Finals in Kentucky after receiving “Excellence” honors last month at the Delaware state competition, reported the Sussex County (DE) Post (4/15). Without any blueprints, “the students assembled an initial clawbot robot, which then became a scissor-lift and ultimately Apollo 11 – a scooper lift robot.” Selbyville technology education teacher Jon Casto and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math teacher Tommie Morrison are The Rocketeers’ coaches.
California Home-Schooled Students Improve Bot Ahead Of FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship.
The Simi Valley (CA) Acorn (4/14) reported a team of seven California students from Trinity Pacific Christian School’s home-school program qualified for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge world championship in Houston. In “a gutsy move” just days before the world championship, the students decided to deconstruct the bot “that won them a regional robotics competition in Washington state last month,” and redesigned it for greater speed and enhanced scooping and shooting capabilities. Their team, dubbed Brain Stormz, will compete against about 140 others in the “Velocity Vortex” challenge.
Friday’s Lead Stories
• GM Announces 1,100 Jobs, $14 Million Investment In California Self-Driving R&D Facility.
• University Of Michigan Engineers Unveil 1,500-Pound Rubik’s Cube.
• MIT Scientists Engineer Rubber Gloves With Potential Diagnostic Properties.
• Analysis: Tech Companies “Balk At Transparency” Of Gender Pay Data.
• Infosys Says It Expects Lower Revenue Due To H-1B Visa Scrutiny.
• Cisco’s Vulnerabilities Highlight Concerns With Government Cybersecurity.
• AAAS CEO Warns Against Trump’s Proposed Funding Cuts To NIH, FDA.