Leading the News
Reports Predict “Echo Show” Could Launch Tuesday And May Feature Touchscreen, Video Calling.
Heavy coverage continued Monday regarding the coming launch of Amazon’s new Echo device, which MarketWatch (5/8, Stevens) and The Verge (5/8, Welc) indicate could be formally announced as early as today. For most outlets, the focus remained on the speaker’s updated touchscreen component and higher price point, while others considered how the device will fit into Amazon’s existing Echo line more generally. The Verge (5/8, Byford) also notes the device will be called the “Echo Show” – not the “Echo Knight” as previously rumored.
The Wall Street Journal (5/8, Stevens, Subscription Publication) highlights the new display feature’s potential tablet-like functionality, which along with allowing users to conduct web-based searches using both voice and a visual interface, could also offer video calling support. Citing the Journal, TechRadar (5/8, Pino) says that video calling component is more likely to be introduced “in stages” rather than with this first variant, but could eventually support multi-device intercom as well.
Most outlets cast the touchscreen, and video calling, as a positive for Amazon, particularly as more smart speaker rivals enter the market. International Business Times (5/8, Chiu) calls the “hybrid Echo” an effort to “stave off competition” from the Home, while the Daily Mail (5/8, Prigg) suggests the device may help Amazon to further “expand and improve” the Echo in more areas.
With 70.6 Percent Share, Amazon Boasts “Vise Grip” On Smart Speaker Market. A new research study by data firm eMarketer shows Amazon maintains a significant lead in the smart speaker space with a nearly 70.6 percent market share of the voice assistant market. Outlets portrayed the study as an exciting development for Amazon, which appears to be solidifying that lead despite an increasing slate of rivals.
DeVos Bans Rejection Of Grant Applications Over Formatting Errors.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (5/8) reports that after public criticism over reports that ED rejected “dozens of colleges’ Upward Bound grant applications based on minor line-spacing and font-size errors,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “has issued an order forbidding department officials from mandating any page or formatting rules in grant applications.” In a memo to top ED officials, DeVos wrote, “Effective immediately, program offices may only establish voluntary page limit and formatting requirements for grant applications and may not reject grant applications that do not meet those voluntary requirements.”
The New York Observer (5/8) reports that the memo “forbade department officials from mandating page length or formatting rules in grant applications” and comes “following an outcry in educational circles over the Department of Education denying Upward Bound grant applications from dozens of schools because of improper formatting.” The Observer reports, “many of the affected schools want DeVos to give their requests which were denied for grammatical reasons a second chance.”
Toyota Partnering With Texas College To Train Service Technicians.
The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram (5/8) reports Toyota is partnering with Texas’ Tarrant County College “to bring a state-of-the-art automotive training program to the TCC South Campus aimed at turning out highly skilled technicians for good-paying jobs with auto dealers.” Toyota has donated 37 new cars for students to use as learning aids, and students will work as interns at area dealerships.
Online “MOOCs” Evolve Into Career-Expanding Educational Offerings.
In April, the online education company edX announced the launch of 15 professional certification programs “on a range of subjects from virtual reality to front-end web development to project finance, all created either with universities or corporations,” U.S. News & World Report (5/8) reports. Also in April, Coursera unveiled an accounting master’s degree program with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and an innovation and entrepreneurship master’s degree program with Hautes Etudes Commerciales Paris. “These professional certificates are the latest development in the evolution of massive open online courses, or MOOCs – classes created by companies such as edX and Coursera along with well-known universities,” the article explains. In the early 2000s, students who learned through MOOCs typically could not receive certificates, but companies like edX, Coursera, and Udacity now offer students an easy and low-cost way to receive certifications, work towards graduate degrees, and gain specific career skills.
Higher Education Expert: Colleges Ignore Middle-Class Applicants.
Former Chronicle of Higher Education editor Jeffrey J. Selingo, in a piece for the Washington Post (5/8, Selingo) “Grade Point,” writes that “much attention has been given recently to the struggles of low-income students,” but a higher education is becoming increasingly unattainable financially for middle-income students. Selingo calls the phenomenon “a socioeconomic ‘barbell’” with affluent students who can pay near or full price on one side, “and poor students who receive federal Pell Grants and max out their loan eligibility on the other end.” Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield stressed the need “to expand opportunity and aid policies,” but Selingo laments many college leaders “claim they can’t afford to dedicate the needed dollars to financial aid for both low-income and middle-income families.” Selingo warns the “pool of students at the lower and middle portions of the income scale are growing, while those at the top are shrinking,” so unless colleges accommodate middle-income families, their campuses will soon become “bifurcated by income.”
Research and Development
Oklahoma State Researchers Using Drones To Predict Tornadoes.
CBS This Morning (5/6) ran a segment highlighting research being done at Oklahoma State and three other schools into using unmanned aerial vehicles to improve tornado and severe storm forecasting. Jamey Jacob is shown discussing drones designed to fly into and analyze severe weather systems. Dr. Jamey Jacob, OSU Unmanned Systems Research Institute: “Meteorologists are very good at predicting…when and where a storm is going to develop, but not so good at determining when a storm is going to form a tornado at a particular place or particular time.” CBS reported, “They’re built to withstand rain, hail, and winds of at least 80 miles an hour. And they drop a device…that collects data from inside a potential tornado.”
NASA Crowdsourcing Efforts To Speed Supercomputer Program.
The New York Times (5/8, Fortin, Subscription Publication) reported that NASA is crowdsourcing its efforts to improve the speed of its Pleiades supercomputer’s FUN3D program, which is written in the decades-old computer language Fortran. The agency is offering cash prizes totaling up to $55,000. NASA executive Michael Hetle said, “This is the first time we’ve had a challenge like this.” He added, “And so far, we have quite a bit of interest.”
New IARPA Program Seeks To Maintain Capabilities On Imaging Circuit Chips.
IARPA officials have launched a new program, the Rapid Analysis of Various Emerging Nano-electronics (RAVEN), that the Military Embedded Systems (5/8, Iriarte) describes as a “multi-year research effort” aimed at developing a “prototype analysis tool” to “rapidly” image and reconstruct current and future integrated circuit chips. RAVEN program manager Carl E. McCants says that with each new generation of chips containing “smaller geometries and more transistors,” the “ability to quickly image advanced chips has become extremely challenging. Maintaining this capability is critical for failure analysis, process manufacturing verification, and identification of counterfeit chips in these latest technologies.” The article notes that IARPA has already awarded research contracts in support of RAVEN to groups including MIT and BAE Systems.
NASA Testing Model Of Lockheed Martin Proposed Quiet Supersonic Plane.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/8, Segall) reported that NASA Glenn Research Center in Brook Park is testing a model of Lockheed Martin’s proposed supersonic plane, the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator, which is part of an effort to create Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST). Clayton Meyers, deputy project manager for NASA, says, “The initial results look good, and the model is holding up well.”
Ford Plans Expanded Silicon Valley Workforce.
The Detroit News (5/8, Lynch) reports that by the end of the year, Ford Motor Co. “will inhabit a massive new workspace, and double its workforce to 300, in” Silicon Valley. The News says the expansion comes after the February announcement that “the company that appropriated the ‘Smart Mobility’ tag for its mobility-and-autonomy unit [and] said it would invest $1 billion in Argo AI to help develop the brains of self-driving cars.” Ford CEO Mark Fields said, “This new research center shows Ford’s commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem – anticipating customers’ wants and needs, especially on connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles.” Ford spokesman Colin Smith said the 150,000 square-foot new facility “will contain additional facilities for the research center, design studios, engineering labs, software engineering stations and an auditorium.”
Asia Seeing Increase In Smallsat Activity.
Via Satellite (5/8) reports North America “is currently the clear market leader for smallsat activity, according to Northern Sky Research (NSR), but within eight years the field will change.” Asian players “have been active in developing and deploying smallsats, and commercial activity is now growing.” One example is that “Thales Alenia Space has a joint lab with NTU Singapore, named S4TIN, the Smart Small Satellite System Thales in NTU,” that “aims to combine academic space concepts, research findings, practical experiences and real business needs with potential commercialization projects, riding on the small satellite segment.”
Facebook Job Openings Signal Preparations Continue For Venture Into TV.
Quartz (5/8, Rodriguez) reports Facebook is recruiting for a movie producer, film software engineer, and production lead “as it prepares a foray into TV,” based on recent job listings on the company’s career page. Quartz cites Business Insider reporting that Facebook is looking to roll out two dozen shows starting in June, and that the social network has been accepting pitches for five- to 10-minute web series as well as for longer, bigger-budget series that would run up to 30 minutes. Quartz says Facebook released video apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung Smart TV in March, which “could open the door for longer-form viewing – possibly even features.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Conference Of Mayors Creates Infrastructure Task Force To Work On Trump’s $1 Trillion Plan.
The Hill (5/8, Zanona) reports the US Conference of Mayors has created an infrastructure task force to work with President Trump on his $1 trillion plan. The group will push for “a broad range of transportation projects, including water, ports, energy and broadband, as well as other priorities such as tax-exempt municipal bonds and direct funding for cities.” The Hill notes that mayors have also “met with key transportation leaders” including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster. Engineering360 (5/8) reports Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will chair the task force.
Biotech Executives Meet With Government Officials At White House To Discuss Biomedical Research.
Bloomberg News (5/8, Edney) reports biotech executives met with Vice President Mike Pence and other government officials at the White House to discuss biomedical research. Managers from Regeneron, Vertex, and Celgene were among those in attendance. Also participating were HHS Secretary Tom Price and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.
On its website, CNBC (5/8, Tirrell) reports Collins said after the meeting that drug pricing was not discussed at the meeting. STAT (5/8, Facher) reports Collins also said that the Trump Administration’s proposed cut to NIH funding was not discussed at the meeting. The Scientist (5/8, Grens) and Fierce Biotech (5/8, Taylor) also cover the story.
NextEra Energy Asks Texas Regulators To Reconsider Acquisition Deal.
Reuters (5/8, Dinapoli) reports that NextEra Energy is asking Texas regulators to “reconsider a decision that threatens to kill its roughly $18 billion bid to acquire bankrupt Energy Future Holding Corp., the majority owner of Oncor.” NextEra Energy claims that regulators “went beyond the scope of their powers” when they decided the merger was “not in the public interest and was too risky for ratepayers.” The Wall Street Journal (5/8, Brickley, Subscription Publication) reports that in its filing with the Public Utility Commission of Texas, NextEra Energy “took aim at what it says was an error-riddled series of findings that killed the deal.” Bloomberg News (5/8, Collins, Martin) reports that Texas regulators previously demanded NextEra “have no control over who would be on Oncor’s board or how much money, if any, NextEra could extract from the company.” NextEra said before that it would not buy Oncor “unless it could control the board.” The Dallas Morning News (5/8, Mosier) and Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram (5/8, Collins, Martin) also provide coverage.
Utility-Scale Solar Power Growing Quickly.
The Houston Chronicle (5/8, Handy) reports “large scale solar power” has “rapidly” grown in recent years “as falling solar panel prices, tax incentives and government policies aimed at boosting renewable energy encourage the development of major solar projects.” The “installed capacity of so-called utility-scale projects” has risen an average of over “70 percent a year between 2010 and 2016 to about 21,500 megawatts, with about half that capacity coming online in the last two years.” However, utility scale solar “still accounts for a tiny share of the nation’s electricity production.” In 2016, “it represented less than 1 percent of the country’s utility power generation capacity.” The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says that utility-scale solar makes up the majority of the solar power produced in Texas. Fuel Fix (TX) (5/8) reports “California is the leader for solar energy capacity, followed by North Carolina and Arizona; Texas is seventh.”
ClimateWire (5/8, Subscription Publication) reports that although “the U.S. solar market is going gangbusters,” solar firms in America “are struggling to keep their heads above water.” A record-breaking year, “which saw U.S. solar installations soar to new heights, has been followed by a series of bankruptcies and slumping stock prices.” Analysts believe that “a market saturated by low-cost panels, shifting business models and rapidly changing technology” is the cause of the trend and “perhaps the greatest challenge of all: It’s difficult to keep up with an industry growing by leaps and bounds.”
GOP Under Pressure As Senate Considers Methane Rule Repeal.
The AP (5/9, Daly) reports that Republicans from energy producing states are under pressure from a coalition of groups with ties to the fossil fuel industry and the Koch Brothers to overturn an Obama-era regulation to restrict methane emissions from wells on public lands. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins have said they will oppose the repeal, while Sens. Cory Gardner and Dean Heller have not announced their vote. Environmental groups are cautiously optimistic they can preserve the rule despite a Republican-controlled Congress and White House.
CRA Repeal Of Methane Regulation May Come To Vote This Week. E&E Publishing (5/8, Skibell, Subscription Publication) reports that as time expires for Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to repeal Obama-era regulations, “methane standards are the last major target of the Republican majority.” The repeal of the methane rule hit unforeseen opposition within the Republican party when several members trying to leverage the vote to pass a waiver on seasonal restrictions on the sale of ethanol in gasoline. However, Sen. John Barrasso said that he is confident a vote will happen this week.
Girl Scouts CEO Encourages Girls To Pursue STEM Careers.
On its website, CNBC (5/8) profiles Girl Scouts of the USA interim chief executive Sylvia Acevedo. Acevedo has an industrial engineering degree from New Mexico State University and a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford University, but “a degree in engineering wasn’t an obvious path.” She said “girls like me weren’t even graduating from high school, much less going on to college,” and “when I would tell people I wanted to be an engineer, they didn’t believe it.” Acevedo now “encourages other young girls to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and advises them not to be daunted by the fact that you could be the only girl in the classroom.” In a recent appearance on CNBC’s “Mad Money,” Acevedo told host Jim Cramer that “she aims for Girl Scouts to not only instill the mission of leadership into girls but to become more technology-focused and learn how to code.”
STEM Professional Development Leader Discusses Texas’ Computer Science Initiatives.
THE Journal (5/8) interviews Carol Fletcher, the deputy director of the Center for STEM Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. Fletcher leads WeTeach_CS, a program aimed at increasing the number of certified computer science teachers in the state through ongoing professional development. She expressed surprise at “how many teachers actually really want to learn” computer science “and are willing to put in the hard work it takes.” Fletcher described the Texas Regional Collaboratives model as “essentially a collective impact model for which the backdoor organization is UT Austin, but it is a network of now 80 different projects that we fund and coordinate around the state in either math, science or computer science to do teacher professional development.” From a policy perspective, Fletcher explained, Texas is “doing better than most states because we have well-defined standards for CS courses,” but “I feel like what we have with a lot of STEM careers is a marketing problem.”
Monday’s Lead Stories
• VW Pins US Aspirations On SUVs, Electric Cars.
• Gender Gap In Missouri University Of Science And Technology Student Body.
• Unmanned Air Force Space Plane Returns From Fourth Classified Mission.
• Xero Data Scientist Calls For Role Models For Young Female Engineering Students.
• Vector Institute Co-Founders Discuss Decision To Open In Toronto.
• Uber Facing New DOJ Investigation Over Software Used To Avoid Regulators.
• Virginia High School Students Developing Orbit-Bound Satellite.