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

Leading the News

VW Pins US Aspirations On SUVs, Electric Cars.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Rauwald) reported Volkswagen AG’s VW brand chief Herbert Diess on Friday “at an event detailing first-quarter performance” announced that the company’s namesake brand has begun “pivoting from damage control to competing harder against Toyota Motor Corp. and Tesla Inc., with a plan to increase its SUV lineup nearly tenfold and push sales of affordable electric cars.” Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Cremer) reported VW’s core brand also “pledged to end losses in the United States, Latin America and Russia by the end of the decade, counting on cost cuts and higher-margin new models as it tries to move beyond its diesel emissions crisis.”

In addition, a separate Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Cremer) article reported the VW brand is “targeting an operating margin at the upper end of a 2.5 to 3.5 percent range this year, with revenue expected to exceed 2016 levels by around 10 percent, the carmaker said on Friday.”

According to the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7, Boston, Subscription Publication), Diess asserted, “The U.S. is too big a market for us to be a niche player,” while the Financial Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7, McGee, Subscription Publication) reports Diess also asserted, “Anything Tesla can do, we can surpass.” However, the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Boston, Subscription Publication) in a separate article reported Diess acknowledged the company faces “significant risks” over the coming year and therefore its recovery “cannot be taken for granted.”

In an interview with CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5), Diess also conceded the company’s reputation will take “months, even probably years” to recover from its emissions scandal, though he “hope[s] that the worst is over.” In a separate CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5) interview, Diess described the company’s “very good first quarter” as the “first step of the recovery.”

NYTimes Analysis Highlights “VW’s Campaign Of Trickery.” In a nearly 2,800-word analysis titled “Inside VW’s Campaign Of Trickery,” the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6, Ewing, Subscription Publication) detailed Volkswagen’s “cover-up…after regulators first became suspicious” of its diesel emissions cheating, based upon its “interviews with dozens of participants and a review of internal Volkswagen documents and communications,” which show “the cover-up spanned years and lasted until days before the company’s lies were exposed.” According to the Times, “employees manipulated not only the engine software, but also generated reams of false or misleading data to hide the fact that millions of vehicles had been purposely engineered to deceive regulators and spew deadly gases into the air.”

US Consumers Buy About 3,100 Of Volkswagen’s TDI Diesel Cars In April. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Colias, Subscription Publication) reports that while Volkswagen pulled its TDI diesel cars from the US market 18 months ago, sales of the vehicle at US dealerships have surged since their return in April. According to a spokeswoman for Volkswagen of America, the company has less than 9,000 of the new diesel cars in stock after its US dealers sold about 3,100 of them last month.

Higher Education

Gender Gap In Missouri University Of Science And Technology Student Body.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/8, Jost) reports the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s student body “is about 77 percent male and 23 percent female.” Under S&T Chancellor Cheryl Schrader, the university’s first female leader, who is departing after this week, “the number of female leaders on campus has tripled.” During the early 1980s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics executive director Sandy Magnus attended the school as a physics major. She said, “It freaked some guys out because I was a physics major, and I played soccer. I broke a lot of stereotypes.” Magnus also “said the gender gap in her education, from undergraduate to doctorate, prepared her to work in a male-dominated career.” Still, she says, “We have a lot to do to mindfully and proactively encourage women to go into engineering and tech.”

Fannie Mae Makes Change To Help Student Loan Borrowers.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6, Harney) reports that mortgage investor Fannie Mae “has just made sweeping rule changes that should make it easier for you to purchase a first home or do a ‘cash-out’ refinancing to pay off your student debt.” The new policy could be a “game changer” for the “roughly 43 million Americans…carrying student debt – $1.4 trillion nationwide.”

University Of Houston Helps Professors Integrate Technology Into The Classroom.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7) reports University of Houston professors are “experimenting with ways to integrate life in the classroom with life on the screen,” and specifically on “how to mix online tools with in-person college classrooms” effectively and on a large scale so that “college stays relevant to a generation that has spent most of their lives on digital devices.” UH’s associate provost for educational innovation and technology, Jeffrey Morgan, said professors are now attending conferences and summer sessions to learn how to best use digital tools in the classroom.

Education Expert: How Traditional Higher Education Institutions Can Implement Online Learning.

In Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter’s (5/7, Kim) “Technology And Learning” blog, Dr. Joshua Kim of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning outlines theories on how traditional higher education institutions can effectively increase their online learning programs. Kim explains that the impact of distance learning “may be greatest at our most traditional residential colleges and universities,” and not at exclusively-online schools. He recommends integrating online learning into the institution’s values and mission, ensuring “that any new online program must play to both the strengths of the institution, and be developed in the area where the institution is making investments for the future,” and introducing distance learning in an economically sustainable manner.

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Research and Development

Unmanned Air Force Space Plane Returns From Fourth Classified Mission.

NBC Nightly News (5/7, story 7, 0:20, Snow) showed footage of the X-37B, an experimental unmanned Air Force “space plane,” landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NBC’s Kate Snow reported that the spacecraft spent nearly two years in orbit, and that it was returning from its fourth classified mission, “conducting unspecified experiments.”

Retired UC Berkeley Computer Professor Heading Up Google’s Tensor Processing Unit.

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6) reports that David Patterson, who retired last year from his 40-year tenure at UC Berkeley, “joined Google in July to work on an ambitious new chip that’s designed to run at least 10 times faster than today’s processors and is sophisticated enough to handle the intensive computations required for artificial intelligence. It’s called the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), and Patterson has emerged as one of the principal evangelists.” Just ahead of his retirement, Patterson “spoke to about 100 students and faculty members at the Berkeley campus on Wednesday” about the project.

Milwaukee School Of Engineering Students Win Top Honors At SAE Formula Hybrid Competition.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7) reports that at the SAE Formula Hybrid competition at Dartmouth College, the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s hybrid racing vehicle team “won the top honor overall, and took first place in several categories, including an autocross race.” It was also the first team in the competition’s history to “complete all 44 laps of the endurance test, plus it had the fastest car in that event.” The undergraduate students on the racing team “are on career paths ranging from electrical engineering to business administration.” The Journal Sentinel notes SAE Formula Hybrid “challenges college students across the U.S. and overseas to design, build and compete high-performance hybrid and electric vehicles.”

Wisconsin Engineering Students Test Prototype Race Car In Modine Wind Tunnel.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6, Brines) reported University of Wisconsin-Madison mechanical engineering students are testing their prototype race car at Modine Manufacturing Co., one of its racing team sponsors. Modine “provided its 1941 wind tunnel this week for the student team.” If the students are successful at Modine, then their “car gets its chance to compete against more than a hundred teams from around the world at the Formula SAE” at Michigan International Speedway this week.

Virginia Researchers Use Brain Computer Interface Technology To Improve Prosthetics Control.

The Charlottesville (VA) Daily Progress Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6) reported Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center researchers in Virginia are exploring ways that brain computer interface, or BCI, technology can improve wounded veterans’ lives by allowing them to more seamlessly control their prosthetics. The National Science Foundation awarded the researchers with a nearly $1 million five-year grant that they will use in the second phase of the study. In that phase, the researchers will focus on making the technology more user-friendly.


Xero Data Scientist Calls For Role Models For Young Female Engineering Students.

In commentary for Fortune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6), Kathryn Hempstalk, a senior data scientist at Xero, writes about the relative dearth of female engineers at US tech firms, saying, “while we have seen some positive change in more recent years, the reality is that there still aren’t enough female engineers at the top.” Hempstalk argues that if there are more women in leadership roles, more women “will recognize their own ability to do the same.” She says young female students need role models, and “the more visibility they have to female engineers, the easier time they’ll have envisioning themselves in similar careers.”

Global Developments

Vector Institute Co-Founders Discuss Decision To Open In Toronto.

On its website, CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6) reported the Vector Institute opened in March as an independent artificial intelligence research facility. The institute received $180 million from the Canadian government and from corporations to establish “a hybrid structure, which gives researchers the flexibility to do research while pursuing commercial business opportunities like consulting.” Co-founder Jordan Jacobs told CNBC that the decision to open the Vector Institute in Toronto was largely geopolitically based. He explained “people contacting us have said ‘I don’t want to live in the U.S.’” CNBC says President Trump’s immigration policies aren’t “the only reason AI experts are ready to call Toronto home.” According to Jacobs, Toronto is “culturally diverse” and the cost of living is more affordable than in Silicon Valley. Co-founder Raquel Urtusun added, “Robotics, natural language, machine learning, deep learning, or what some call AI technology is our core focus,” and “Toronto’s deep roots in AI has brought talent to the area for years.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Uber Facing New DOJ Investigation Over Software Used To Avoid Regulators.

NBC Nightly News (5/5, story 6, 1:50, Holt) reported the Justice Department is looking into whether Uber’s “use of software to evade local regulators was illegal,” which NBC says is just “the latest black eye for the company’s beleaguered CEO.” Correspondent Pete Williams said the software, known as Greyball, “would identify city employees based on their location and even credit cards to steer clear of them … A city inspector who launched the app to hail an UberX car would get an altered display showing no cars available, or the ride would be canceled.” Uber has insisted it no longer uses this software, though it does admit that for a two-week period in 2014 it did use it in this way.

WPost: Trump’s Offshore Drilling Expansion Order Not As Bad As Critics Claim.

In an editorial, the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7) says that while President Trump’s statement about reducing energy costs, creating “countless” jobs, and increasing America’s security as he signed an executive order to expand offshore drilling “overstated” its importance, so too have environmentalist critics “exaggerated the strength of their case.” While their “intriguing” legal argument is relatively strong, their best argument is that a country “cannot fully exploit its oil wealth if it is to take climate change seriously,” according to the Post. Otherwise while the US refuses to drill oil, it “arrogantly benefits from an efficient global oil market in which others take the risks.” Furthermore, Trump’s provisions for oversight will still be more stringent than many other oil-producing nations, and the Administration’s policy could eventually give the country economic benefits through jobs and revenue. The Post concludes that critics have “ample reason,” however, to disagree with the order’s endangerment of protections for marine sanctuaries.

Opinion: DC Should Focus On Smart Infrastructure Development.

In a Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7, Ahuja) op-ed, author and engineer Anil Ahuja suggests that the Washington DC Department of Transportation should “focus on smart and sustainable infrastructure to improve roads,” and provide alternative transit options to cut traffic and pollution. She concludes, “For the US economy to be the most competitive in the world, we need a first-class infrastructure system,” and suggests that making these improvements DC “can lead the way in smart city advancement and sustainability.”

Colorado Lawmakers Propose Pipeline Mapping Bill In Wake Of Firestone Home Explosion.

The Denver Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Osher) reported that in response to the Firestone, Colorado home explosion, lawmakers “are pushing a bill that would require oil and gas companies to inform the state where their pipelines are located and for the state to create an online mapping database for the public.” Though industry groups oppose the measure, Gov. John Hickenlooper “earlier this week backed the idea of mapping.” The AP Share to FacebookShare to
Twitter (5/7) reports state records show that Colorado has only three people assigned to review the safety of pipelines running from 54,000 active oil and gas wells. The Denver Post said that since 2016, an inspector has checked about 400 pipelines and an engineer has audited company records for inspections at about 2,800 wells. A 2014 report by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said pipelines were the source of half of the equipment failures that caused spills in the state.

Appalachia Coal Country Struggles With Economies Of Scale.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5) reported on the geological differences between coal mines in Appalachia and Wyoming, and the resulting impact on local economies. The “huge western mines” in Wyoming’s Powder River basin “produce 45 percent of the country’s coal, but only employ 10 percent of coal-mine worker” while the surface mines in Appalachia are “smaller and less productive,” and “employ 56 percent of coal workers, but produce 24 percent of the coal.” The Post concludes that while “Trump administration policies may boost the coal industry, experts say that probably won’t be enough to make less productive mines worth the effort.” Instead, “entire areas that depended on underground mining may need to come up with a post-coal plan.”

NV Energy To Shut Down Last Coal-Fired Plant In Nevada.

The Omaha (NE) World-Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6) reported that the last coal-fired power plant in Nevada will be demolished in about 18 months. Berkshire Hathaway’s NV Energy does not appear to have escaped the broader industry trends that have shut down coal power plants across the country, or state legislature passed in 2013 “requiring utilities in the southern portion of the state to eliminate 800 megawatts worth of coal-fired electricity generation.”

Utilities Surveyed Say Trump Executive Order Unlikely To Save Coal Industry.

ClimateWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5, Subscription Publication) reported that in a survey of 32 utilities, 20 of those said that President Trump’s executive order aimed at supporting fossil fuels would not influence their investments. A majority of those utilities have already invested billions of dollars aimed at transitioning away from coal in response to trends such as “low natural gas prices, plunging renewable energy costs, and state-level regulations and laws, as well as the possibility that the executive order may be challenged in court.” Basin Electric Power Cooperative in North Dakota was the one utility to say the executive order would prolong operations at one of its coal plants. According to BEPC spokesman Dale Niezwaag, “We’re in the situation where the executive order takes a lot of pressure off the decisions we had to make in the near term, such as whether to retrofit and retire older coal plants.”

Atlanta, Abita Springs Commit To Run Fully On Renewable Energy.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/5) reports lawmakers in Atlanta “approved a resolution on May 1 committing the city to transitioning toward running entirely on renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, by 2035.” The measure was approved unanimously by the city council, “which will first transition all city buildings by 2025.” In a statement city council member Kwanza Hall said, “We know that moving to clean energy will create good jobs, clean up our air and water and lower our residents’ utility bills. … We never thought we’d be away from landline phones or desktop computers, but today we carry our smart phones around and they’re more powerful than anything we used to have. We have to set an ambitious goal or we’re never going to get there.”

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6) reports the Town Council of Abita Springs in Louisiana has adopted a resolution that commits it to run the town “totally on renewable energy” by the year 2030. The town “is the first municipality in Louisiana — and the 25th in the entire country — to commit to 100 percent renewable energy.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Virginia High School Students Developing Orbit-Bound Satellite.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/7, Balingit) reports NASA’s CubeSat program approved in February a satellite proposal submitted by Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The school became “the first to build a successful CubeSat” in 2013, and it is now “working on its second, a satellite dubbed TJ REVERB,” which the students hope to launch into orbit next year. The students “partnered with nano-satellite company Ragnarok and Emergent Space Technologies, which is offering mentors and materials.” NASA’s CubeSat program grants high school students “a rare opportunity” to “glimpse at the complexities of managing a massive project, with more than 80 students on various teams working on a device that will be no more than 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters.” It was launched last year and is expected to continue until 2019, when the orbiting satellite is expected to disintegrate.

Maine CTE School Models Classrooms After Workforce.

The Bangor (ME) Daily News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (5/6) reported the United Technologies Center in Bangor, Maine, partnered with local businesses for about seven different projects aimed at teaching career and technical education students “the skills that they won’t learn when they’re solely focused on a single trade.” Through the projects, students work on teams and “focus on a goal, from building a car to crafting strategic plans for real organizations such as the Maine Multicultural Center.” National Research Center for Career and Technical Education director James Stone explained CTE schools were once negatively perceived because “parents heard the message that if your child doesn’t go to college, they’re doomed.” Businesses also stressed that they needed workers with communication and teamwork skills. As a result, more and more CTE schools are now structuring their classrooms like a business. Stone commented, “It’s becoming more broadly understood that this is the strategy we need to build into all CTE classrooms.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

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