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

Leading the News

Delphi To Spin Off Powertrain Operations To Focus On Autonomous Vehicles, Data Networks, And Software.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3) reports on Delphi Corp.’s announcement that it “plans to spin off its vehicle powertrain operations into a separate publicly traded company,” continuing the spin offs from the former GM company since it became a separate company in 1999. According to the story, Delphi CEO Kevin Clark “denied that the powertrain unit was being jettisoned to make the rest of the company more attractive to investors who are attracted to its work on computing platforms and advanced safety and autonomous driving systems.” The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Snavely) reports Delphi “plans to spin off its $4.5-billion powertrain division into a separate publicly traded company by this time next year,” creating a company with “about 20,000 employees globally and 5,000 engineers.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Carey, Taylor) reports that whatever Clark’s claims about the reasons for the spin off, Delphi will turn its “focus on technology for electrically powered and self-driving vehicles, boosting its share price and highlighting the challenges for legacy auto industry players.” Delphi could be renamed as part of this transition toward electric and autonomous vehicles to capture more of the estimated $100 billion in annual sales in the industry. Clark believes that in-vehicle data networks and autonomous vehicles with over-the-air updates will become more mainstream in the next five years. Accordingly, Delphi plans on strengthening its partnerships with Intel and Mobileye, having also acquired one company that can do the over-the-air updates and another that specializes in building high-speed data networks.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Dawson, Subscription Publication) reports Delphi is competing more and more with auto industry parts and components makers in Silicon Valley.

Higher Education

Lawmakers Question ED, IRS CIOs Over Data Breach.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Chalfant) reports, “Lawmakers on Wednesday grilled information security officers at the Department of Education and IRS over a data breach of an information-sharing tool that potentially exposed the personal information of 100,000 Americans earlier this year.” IRS and DOE CIOs “came under harsh criticism from members of the House Oversight Committee for their handling of the situation, and defended themselves against charges that they may have violated the law by slow-rolling the notification of the breach to Congress.”

Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3) reports Republicans “excoriated IRS and U.S. Department of Education officials as ‘incompetent’ or ‘untruthful,’” quoting Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) saying, “It appears to me, at the end of the day, you’re either in denial of what happened or you’re incompetent or you’re just untruthful in what’s happening here.”

US Colleges Working To Assure International Students They Remain Welcome.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Binkley) reports that many US colleges are working to “reassure potential international students they will be welcome on campus despite what they see in the news.” Colleges are increasing outreach to foreign students amid declining applications and “to combat growing fears that President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration reflects a United States that is becoming less welcoming to foreigners.” The piece reports that schools have increasingly relied on revenue from international students in recent years, and says data indicate that international “enrollment figures at some schools could drop next fall.” The piece notes that ED officials “did not immediately comment.”

ED Gives New Contracts To Student Loan Collectors Dismissed Under Obama.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Douglas-Gabriel) reports Enterprise Recovery Systems and Pioneer Credit Recovery, “collection agencies fired by the Obama administration have accepted the Education Department’s offer of new contracts to recoup past-due student loans, but the agreements are in limbo as the government wades through a messy court battle.” In 2015, ED canceled the contracts of five such firms “after an audit showed them giving inaccurate information to people trying to get their student loans out of default. The companies said the evaluation was arbitrary and flawed for drawing conclusions based on excerpts from a handful of calls, and four of them took legal action against the department.”

Survey: College Freshman “More Politically Polarized Now Than” Ever.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Blake) reports that a UCLA Higher Education Research Institute “annual survey of American college students found freshman are more politically polarized now than any year in the poll’s 51-year history.” A little over 42% “of full-time freshmen surveyed last year described themselves to pollsters as politically middle-of-the-road,” which “is the lowest [number] pollsters have seen since the survey started in 1966, its authors acknowledged. ‘Today’s college freshmen are more politically divided and more interested in political engagement than their peers of the last 50 years,’ Kevin Eagan, lead author of the report,” said. Over 35% of college freshman “described themselves last year as liberal or far-left,” while a little over 22% “identified themselves as conservative or far-right.”

Harvard Law To Allow Deferred Admissions, Hopes To Attract STEM Majors.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Olson, Subscription Publication) reports that Harvard Law School announced Wednesday that it is “expanding a pilot program for Harvard undergraduates,” and will “allow juniors accepted from any college to defer admission as long as they finish college and spend at least two years working, studying or pursuing research or fellowships.” The program was started “to encourage students to gain work experience before entering law school and to encourage those studying science, technology, engineering or math to pursue the legal profession.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Svrluga) reports that Harvard Law officials say they “particularly hope to lure students interested in science, technology, engineering and math fields to consider the law, since advanced technical knowledge and skills are in demand.” The piece quotes Associate Dean for Admissions and Strategic Initiatives Jessica Soban saying, “It’s incredibly valuable to have your attorney understand the underlying biology or the underlying coding systems or the underlying physics that are driving the legal questions.”

Lisa Benson Named Editor of Journal of Engineering Education
Benson, a faculty member at Clemson University, succeeeds Michael Loui as editor of the scholarly journal. Read the announcement here.

Stephanie Farrell Elected President-Elect
ASEE members elected Rowan University’s Stephanie Farrell to the position of President-Elect in our recent Board elections. She will serve one year in this role and assume the presidency in June of 2018.

ASEE Elects Seven Officers to its Board of Directors
The board members will begin their terms at the society’s annual conference in June in Columbus.

Research and Development

NC State Researchers Develop Technology That Could Improve Acceleration In Electric Cars.

The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3) reports NC State researchers have “developed a material that uses atom-thin water layers that could deliver energy faster and could lead to more efficient batteries.” Researchers say this could “lead to faster acceleration in electric cars.” The paper quotes assistant professor of materials science and engineering Veronica Augustyn saying, “The idea of using water or other solvents to ‘tune’ the transport of ions in a layered material is very exciting. The fundamental idea is that this could allow an increased amount of energy to be stored per unit of volume, faster diffusion of ions through the material, and faster charge transfer.”

Virginia Tech Researchers Working On Energy-Harvesting Backpack For Army.

WTKR-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Norfolk, VA (5/2) reports researchers at Virginia Tech are working on “innovative technology designed to capitalize off all the walking soldiers do.” Associate professor of mechanical engineering professor Lei Zuo is director of the Energy Harvesting and Mechatronics Research Lab in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, and has received a $344,000 grant from the US Army “to develop an energy-harvesting backpack.” The pack features a device that “captures energy using the up and down motion of walking, which can be used to charge batteries,” meaning “fewer heavy batteries for soldiers to haul around on long trips for things like GPS equipment or communication devices.”

Cal Poly Aerospace Engineering Freshman To Attempt Solar Land Speed Record.

The Santa Maria (CA) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/2) reports Cal Poly freshman Lacey Davis, who is majoring in aerospace engineering, “will race across the Mojave Desert at the end of June in an attempt to set the international land speed record for the world’s fastest solar-powered vehicle.” Davis’ ultra-lightweight vehicle “essentially runs on the power it takes to run a toaster.” Davis and over 40 other students working at Cal Poly’s Prototype Vehicles Laboratory, or PROVE Lab, “collaborated to build an ultra-lightweight car out of carbon fiber composites, equipped with over 100 square feet of solar panels and electric wheel motors.”

Virginia Tech Students Working On Food Waste Generator.

Feedstuffs Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3) reports, “Mechanical, civil and environmental engineering students at Virginia Tech are converting leftover food waste to produce electricity through a biogas generator as part of a senior design capstone project.” Students use dining hall refuse to “fuel the generator that produces enough electricity to power a typical home.”

NASA Releases Video Animation Of Cassini’s First Dive.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3) reports that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has released a new video animation of Cassini’s first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26. The agency already has released raw images taken during the maneuver. The video “shows exactly where, when, and how the spacecraft filmed the unprecedented string of images during its ‘first fantastic dive,’” including the “shield to ram” position in which its antenna is pointed down to protect instruments behind it. Cassini Project Science Engineer Jo Pitesky said, “After almost thirteen years in orbit, Saturn continues to amaze and astound us.”

Vanderbilt Professor: Alphabet Plan To Track 10,000 People Could Drive Wearables To Next Level.

Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Biomedical Engineering, Radiology, Image Science, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Bennett Allan Landman writes for the Conversation (UK) Share
to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/4) that Alphabet life sciences research arm Verily’s Project Baseline – via which the company plans to “track the health of 10,000 people” by collecting “biometric data such as heart rate and activity level on a Study Watch” – also includes a “plan to collect thousands of medical images.” He says Project Baseline and similar projects help “open up new opportunities in health care, both for the researchers working with big data and for consumers who want more sophisticated ways to track their health.” He argues the project “stands to break new ground in medical research that tracks people over time is in its use of wearable devices” and could help Alphabet transition “Google’s wearable devices from general wellness products” – unregulated by the US FDA – “to medical devices that capture specific information, with their safety and benefits proven to the FDA.”

NIAS To Test UAV Traffic Management Systems Later This Month.

Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Adams) reports that the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) – the largest of the FAA’s seven UAV test sites – is planning to participate in a “Technical Capability Level” evaluation later this month at its Reno facility. Wired reports that the evaluation will include tests of various “traffic management systems on fixed-wing airplanes and multirotor copters, with flights up to 1,200 feet altitude and across several miles of approved airspace.” Researchers will conduct package delivery, long-distance aerial survey, emergency response missions, and will also test ground-based sense-and-avoid systems.

New York County Hosts UAS Technical Interchange Meeting. The Rome (NY) Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Guzewich) reports that the Oneida County Department of Aviation hosted a FAA UAS technical interchange meeting recently, which the agency use as a change to “provide updates to the seven unmanned aircraft system test sites and discuss common areas of research interest.” County Aviation Commissioner Russel Stark said that the two-day event also gave the county “an opportunity to showcase not only our airport, but also our UAS…operations center and infrastructure to the representatives of the FAA UAS Integration office and those from the other six UAS test sites from around the country.”

Industry News

Uber Faces Waymo Lawsuit That Threatens Self-Driving Ambitions.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Somerville, Levine) reports Uber Technologies Inc was scheduled to face a US judge Wednesday “to fight for the right to continue work on its self-driving car program” amid allegations by Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, that former Waymo engineer and current Uber executive Anthony Levandowski stole “technical secrets from Waymo” and used them “to help Uber’s self-driving car development.” If Waymo can prove “that Levandowski and Uber conspired in taking the information, that could have dire consequences for Uber, say legal and ride-hailing industry experts.”

CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Reardon) reports the parties were in court Wednesday to determine “whether Uber should halt development of its self-driving program while the lawsuit winds through the courts.” Alphabet is seeking an injunction barring Uber “from using any of the technology it claims Levandowski stole from Waymo.” CNET explains that such an injunction “could prove devastating to Uber, since the company has pinned its hopes for the future on the technology.”

According to the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Isaac, Subscription Publication), the “bare-knuckled brawl between Uber and Waymo is coming to a head” in court. The two companies “clashed” Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco in what “was expected to be the final court session before a federal judge decides whether to temporarily shut down Uber’s work on self-driving cars.” Waymo ‘s lawyers reportedly “argued that Mr. Levandowski had reached an understanding with Uber before he left Google” and then colluded to cover the theft by hatching “a plan for Mr. Levandowski to create a self-driving-car start-up named Otto, which Uber would then acquire.” Uber’s attorneys “said there was no evidence that any stolen Waymo files had touched Uber’s servers.” Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court is expected to issue a ruling this week.

Sources offering additional coverage include the San Francisco (CA) Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3), the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Nicas, Subscription Publication), and Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3).

Engineering and Public Policy

New Study Suggests Safety Benefits To Fuel Economy Standards For Cars.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Harvey) reports that supporters of Obama-era fuel standards are pointing to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that suggests “a reduction in the overall average weight of the vehicles on the road may actually result in fewer fatalities” from car crashes. Noting that automakers can improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles just by reducing the weight of the automobile, the study’s co-author Antonio Bento said, “if nothing else, from a safety reason, you have a reason to move forward with the standards.”

Conservative Groups Push Senate To Reverse Interior Department Methane Rule.

The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Siciliano) reports conservative and free-market groups sent a letter to all senators calling for them to act on a House-passed bill to roll back an Interior Department methane emission rule for the oil and natural gas industry. The deadline for the reversal under the Congressional Review Act comes next week. Part of the delay may be that Republican senators supporting ethanol fuels want to link their votes on the matter to “a bill to eliminate a restriction on selling higher blends of gasoline and ethanol in the summer.”

WSJournal A1: SEC Investigating Solar-Energy Companies Over Cancellation Disclosures.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Grind, Subscription Publication) reports the SEC is investigating whether California-based solar-energy companies Sunrun Inc. and SolarCity Corp. adequately disclosed how many customers have canceled contracts after signing up for a home solar-energy system, according to a person familiar with the matter. Investors use the cancellation metric as one method of gauging companies’ health, and while the companies recently have disclosed in public filings and earnings calls that increasing numbers of customers are canceling, they have not specified the tally or their impact on business. Customers complain that they pay more for utilities, not less, and that they have been sold expensive systems they cannot afford, according to information that the consumer watchdog group Campaign for Accountability obtained through FOIA requests.

Elementary/Secondary Education

National Science Foundation Gives Morehead State STEM Teacher Scholarship Grant.

The Ashland (KY) Daily Independent Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3) reports the National Science Foundation has given Morehead State University a $1.2 million grant to “provide 34 scholarships, up to $10,000 for up to two years, for junior and senior MSUTeach students. The grant supports MSU’s program ‘Preparing Secondary Teachers of Mathematics and Science in Rural Districts,’ aimed at recruiting undergraduate majors in biology, chemistry, earth science, mathematics, or physics to prepare them to become secondary science and mathematics teachers.”

Increasing Diversity In STEM Workforce Requires Greater Exposure Of Young People To STEM Jobs.

Dr. Marcus Bright, political commentator and executive director of Education for a Better America, writes at Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Bright), on the lack of diversity in the STEM workforce, which he attributes to “an inept outreach to HBCUs and other producers of qualified STEM workers” as well as “a lack of large numbers of people of color in the STEM pipeline.” He recommends “more exposure for students at the K-12 level” as a remedy, and as a means of making “the requisite math courses needed for many STEM careers more relevant to students.” In college, he says students in relevant fields of study need “consistent exposure to opportunities in the STEM economy.”

Students Compete At VEX Robotics And SeaPerch Aquatic Robotics Competitions.

The Valencia County (NM) News-Bulletin Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Fox) reports on the VEX robotics and SeaPerch aquatic robotics competitions, at which School of Dreams Academy students “recently became state champions.” The VEX competition was at New Mexico State University, followed by the VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky that included teams from Canada, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, South Korea, and the USA. At that competition, the teams “designed, built and programmed their remote-controlled robot to lift objects and toss them over a barrier.” For the SeaPerch competition, students “built a submersible robot and then this year, we had to maneuver an obstacle course under water” explained one competitor.

Ohio High School Holds After School Robotics Program From Second Grade Through High School.

The Youngstown (OH) Vindicator Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/3, Wier) reports on after school robotics programs in Austintown’s Fitch High School that “allow students to get hands-on experience with robots as early as second grade.” The programs “are self-funded and raise about $30,000 a year” and “work with the national organization FIRST” (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). They begin in the elementary levels with “pre-programmed Lego sets” and then advance to building “120-pound robots that can perform tasks such as shooting basketballs or climbing ropes.” The program is led by volunteer teachers.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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