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

Leading the News

US Officials Looking For Balance When It Comes To AI Systems.

Various IARPA projects involving artificial intelligence, cryptography, and bio-engineered lifeforms received coverage Wednesday. Breaking Defense Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5) reports that despite the horror stories about artificial intelligence turning on humans, with Russia and China both investing in AI systems, abandoning AI “is not an option” for the US. The “challenge” is creating AI “that can earn the human’s trust, a AI that seems transparent or even human.” Officials are willing to give up performance for more trust when it comes to AI. For instance, the intelligence community is “keenly” interested in AI that can assist analysts in making sense of “mind-numbing masses of data,” but IARPA Director Matheny says the AI has to be able to explain its conclusions so that actual human analysts can brief their bosses. Said Matheny: “Compared to cutting edge but harder-to-understand software…we got a 20-30 percent performance loss… but these tools were actually adopted. They were used by analysts because they were explainable.”

IARPA Seeks To Develop Ease Of Use Cryptography. Government Computer News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Robinson) reports IARPA’s Homomorphic Encryption Computing Techniques with Overhead Reduction (HECTOR) program “could fundamentally alter the way secure applications are written.” The upcoming five-year program has a goal of creating “comprehensive set” of cryptographic tools, programming languages, design and verification tools that system architects and application developers “can use to take advantage of the latest and greatest advances in cryptography, without having to understand the nuances of those cryptographic concepts.” The framework, IARPA says, will allow developers “to explore the space of distributed applications, and explore possible compositions of different cryptographic techniques, while getting feedback on the feasibility of such applications and compositions given the currently known protocols, and on the resources that would be consumed by them.” IARPA is set to hold a HECTOR Proposer’s Day on July 26.

IARPA Seeks Tech To Identify Bio-Engineered Life Forms. Federal Computer Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Rockwell) reports in its “The Spec” blog that IARPA announced on June 19 that its Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) program is looking for technology capable of detecting human engineered changes to natural biological systems to spur “mitigation responses to unlawful or accidental release of organisms.” IARPA plans to hold a “proposers’ day” on July 27 before it releases a formal solicitation for the technology.

Higher Education

Gainful Employment, Borrower Defense Among Regulations On Administration’s Chopping Block.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Wheeler) reports on a number of areas in which federal agencies are complying with President Trump’s directive for “all federal agencies to create regulatory reform task forces to evaluate existing regulations and make recommendations to agency chiefs on repealing, replacing or modifying them consistent with applicable law.” The Hill reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “said her department had completed an initial canvas of its rules and found 150 regulations for further review.” The piece focuses in on five “rules that are now in the administration’s crosshairs” across several agencies, including ED’s gainful employment rule and the student loan borrower defense to repayment rule.

Significant Changes Could Be In Store For Student Loan Industry Under Trump Administration.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Yu) reports on a number of potential changes that could be coming to the student loan sector under the Trump administration, noting that Trump and Republicans in Congress have “set out to remake the complex business, potentially eliminating benefits and protections that borrowers…depend on.” The piece reports that private student loan originators and servicers “are emboldened by the Trump administration,” while “consumer advocates and student groups also are gearing up to fight any efforts to change the government’s role and student debtors’ rights.” Meanwhile, ED has already announced “plans to consolidate the number of federal loan servicing companies from nine to one,” even as administration officials have called for “moving the federal loan program from the Education Department to the Treasury Department.”

Analysis: Increase In Student Loan Rate Likely To Have Little Impact On Individual Borrowers.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Lane) reports in its “Student Loan Ranger” blog that there is “some bad news” for college students preparing to take out new student loans, since under the Higher Education Act, “federal student loan interest rates change each year on July 1.” This year, rates will rise by 0.69%, the piece reports. US News describes how such a change would impact a hypothetical individual borrower and concludes that “these interest rate increases won’t have a large effect on individual student loans.”

DeVry Students To Get $49 Million In Refunds Over Deceptive Advertisements.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Yu) reports that the FTC announced on Wednesday that “it will begin mailing 173,000 refund checks, totaling $49 million, to DeVry students to compensate for the school’s advertisements, which allegedly deceived students about the likelihood of finding jobs related to their majors.” The refund checks are part of a $100 million deal reached “last year after the federal consumer protection agency sued the school for its ads.” Deep in the article, USA Today reports that for-profit schools “could get a regulatory break from President Trump in their disclosures about students’ employment,” and ED recently “said it will delay the implementation of the so-called gainful employment rule by a year to July 1, 2018.”

Louisiana First State To “Ban The Box” On College Applications.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5) reports that college applicants in Louisiana who have a criminal record “no longer have to choose between lying and risking rejection” because the state is now the first in the union “to prohibit public colleges from asking applicants about their criminal history, with some exceptions.” The piece reports that observers say the bill’s near unanimous passage is “indicative of a growing recognition across the United States that improving access to higher education for formerly incarcerated people can benefit not only ex-offenders, but society at large.”

ASEE Annual Conference Video Highlights
Good Day Columbus broadcast LIVE from our exhibit hall. (Click the picture to play the video)

Interview with NSF Director France Córdova.

The Conference “Living Wall.”

Members on the next big thing in engineering education.

VIDEO – 2017 Global Colloquium in the Azores
This event, September 16-18 (in conjunction with the SEFI Annual Conference), links engineering educators across international borders and brings together lecturers, researchers, and corporate colleagues for an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and perspectives.

Research and Development

Significant Progress Made In Engineering Digestive System Tissues.

EurekAlert Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/4) reports, “Researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have reached important milestones in their quest to engineer replacement tissue in the lab to treat digestive system conditions – from infants born with too-short bowels to adults with inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, or fecal incontinence.” The article says that the research team reported on Wednesday in Stem Cells Translational Medicine that they have “verified the effectiveness of lab-grown anal sphincters to treat a large animal model for fecal incontinence, an important step before advancing to studies in humans. And last month in Tissue Engineering, the team reported success implanting human-engineered intestines in rodents.”

Tesla Conducts Tests With Bosch Autonomous Software.

BBC News (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5) reports online that Bosch is supplying Tesla with autonomous software to test out. Bosch systems engineer Xavier Vagedes explained that “the idea” behind Tesla’s so-called Automated Mode “is to give you confidence in the system,” particularly for people unaccustomed to the feel of semi-autonomous driving. Vagedes adds, “This is not a system that is meant to help you win a race. … If you look away [from the road] for too long, because you want to check what’s going on in your fridge and so on, [the system] will actually see that you are looking away, and then it’s going to let you know that you should be focusing on the road ahead.”

Engineers Develop Evaluation Methodology For “Green Infrastructure.”

Science Daily Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5) reports that “researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are using a mathematical technique traditionally used in earthquake engineering to determine how well green infrastructure works and to communicate with urban planners, policymakers and developers.” Researchers said “the primary goal of this research is to facilitate communication between scientists, policymakers, developers and the general public about the financial risk and environmental benefit of taking on such an expense,” Science Daily adds.

Researchers Working To Develop Power Source From Body Energy.

The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Chen) reports the North Carolina State University hosts a research consortium – the Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) – “dedicated to making low-powered, battery-free electronics for healthcare.” According to The Verge, this research team is “funded by the National Science Foundation and has already created a prototype for health tracking.” ASSIST director Veena Misra says this “body heat-powered device consists of a large orange wristband and a patch on the chest.” The wristband uses friction to “monitor indicators like humidity, temperature, and even organic compounds in the air,” and the “patch tracks heart rate, movement, and respiratory rate.” The researchers are hoping to use harnessed, body-generated energy to someday power smartphones.

Researchers Develop Implantable “Brain Mesh” Probe.

The Daily Mail Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Borkhataria) reports researchers from Harvard University have developed an “injectable brain mesh that can directly record changes in electrical signals in the brain, down to the level of a single brain cell.” According to the researchers, “the mesh probe could have a wide range of applications, including brain-machine interfaces, cyborg animals and could also provide insight on how memory and learning evolve with age and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.” Dr. Charles Lieber, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University and co-author of the research, said that, “by designing a mesh probe that can be implanted precisely, with properties similar to neural tissue, ‘we eliminate chronic immune response that is found with all other probes and medical implants, which are more like thorns in your tissue.’”

Global Developments

Cal Poly, Harvey Mudd Researchers Help Discover World War II Era Plane Off Malta.

Television Malta Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/4) reports that archaeologists from the University of Malta, in partnership with researchers from Harvey Mudd College and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, have used sonar to take a photo which “clearly shows the remains of an airplane” believed to have gone down during World War II in 1943. Details of the plane’s structure “can be seen from the three-dimensional visual which was created by special equipment.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Citing “Market Realities,” EPA Proposes Lowering Biofuel Mandates.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Wolfgang) reports the EPA yesterday “proposed to lower the amount of renewable fuels that must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply next year, saying ‘market realities’ have informed its decision and leaving the door open for a much broader overhaul of the entire Renewable Fuel Standard in the near future.” EPA Administrator Pruitt said in a statement “the decision was made because of ‘challenges’ in getting more advanced biofuels into the marketplace,” and added, “We are proposing new volumes consistent with market realities focused on actual production and consumer demand while being cognizant of the challenges that exist in bringing advanced biofuels into the marketplace. Timely implementation provides certainty to American refiners, the agriculture community and broader fuels industry, all of which play an important role in the RFS program.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Prentice, Renshaw, Shepardson) says “the proposal marks the first plan for US biofuels usage announced under President Donald Trump, who has promised to cut regulations on industry.” Reuters adds that “the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has become a battlefield between entrenched corn and oil interests,” with “petroleum companies” saying “the biofuel targets are impossible to meet and add billions in costs” whereas “the law has been a boon to agriculture, supporting economies across the corn belt.”

Energy Department May Revise Air Compressor Rule.

Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Subscription Publication) reports the Trump Administration has given signals that it may “rewrite an energy efficiency rule because of concerns from some small businesses about its ‘economic burden.’” The Energy Department “is requesting more information about the standards for air compressors, saying it thinks ‘certain issues and information may not have been considered during the original rulemaking.’” The rule “covers test procedures for the appliances, which power industrial equipment.” The agency “said that it would not enforce those test procedures until December, and that it could make changes.” Chris Granda, an Appliance Standards Awareness Project analyst, “said firms largely support the compressor standards as written.” Last month, in a letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, “the Compressed Air & Gas Institute said the rule benefits consumers and does so with ‘little regulatory burden.’” The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Adragna) also provides brief coverage of this story.

Illinois Commerce Commission Engages Utilities To Reshape The Grid.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Subscription Publication) reports the Illinois Commerce Commission has received wide-ranging comments from various sectors regarding their vision of the 21st-century electric grid as part of its NextGrid proceeding. Naturally, many of the recommendations “aligned closely with the interests of companies and groups submitting them.” As the Midwest’s largest electric utility, Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co. will likely play a major role in upgrading the grid in Illinois. ComEd said its vision includes a “two-way, networked grid of the future includes not only a proliferation of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar and battery storage but also the grid serving as a platform for customers, third parties and perhaps even entire communities.”

Texas Wind Power To Be Hurt By Sweltering Weather This Week.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Sullivan, Collins) reports temperatures in Texas are on the rise, and that is “bad news for the state’s wind power generators.” Wind farms “are forecast to generate significantly less electricity this week as the heat builds and keeps turbines from spinning.” According to grid operator ERCOT, “wind generation may peak at about 5,900 megawatts on Thursday and 6,900 megawatts Friday, less than two-thirds of what they totaled a week earlier.” The drop “in power supplies may hit just as Texas needs them most.”

However, the Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Handy) reports, research by meterologist Chris Coleman has “found that hotter weather can lead to more wind in West Texas, a finding that contradicts conventional wisdom, but presents an auspicious sign for both the part of the state producing the most wind energy and consumers, who may end up with lower prices.” Coleman stated, “More times than not, if it’s really hot, we have a lot of wind.” If his “research holds up, and better forecasting allows the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to bring more of this wind into the power mix, it would relieve some of the pressure on the Texas grid, which is most desperate for electricity when temperatures peak in the summer months.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Students With Disabilities Learn Tech Skills At Virginia Robotics And Cyber Academy.

The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Young) reports that 24 high school students with disabilities took part in the Virginia Robotics and Cyber Academy at the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired in Henrico County last week. Students at the five-day academy “used their new coding skills to program robots to do a variety of activities,” ranging from climbing hills to telling jokes. The event was hosted by Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities, which “hosts academies throughout the year to help individuals from across Virginia gain experience in fields such as technology and manufacturing.”

Memphis Students Learn Coding At GenCyber Boot Camps.

Chalkbeat Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/5, Carefoot) reports that area high school students took part in a recent free cyber “boot camp” at the University of Memphis. This is the second year the school has offered the GenCyber Boot Camp, intended to “show middle and high school students the ropes of coding with Java through games and simulations. Funded jointly by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation, the GenCyber camps aim to train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.”

Oakland USD Expands Use Of Math Skills Video Game.

EdSource Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/4) reports that Oakland Unified School District has increased the number of schools using Spatial-Temporal Math games, which ask “students to solve puzzles to help JiJi, an animated penguin, cross the screen.” The number of schools using the program was boosted from 41 to 84 after the district found “that it helped students understand math concepts at 13 elementary and middle schools that began using it three years ago.” The program starts off teaching math “without the use of words, symbols or numbers” and “introduces numbers and symbols later in the games.” The piece explains that the program is particularly beneficial for “students learning English, students with some learning disabilities and those who learn better visually.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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