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

Leading the News

Pilotless Planes Could Follow Self-Driving Cars.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports that New Mexico State University Unmanned Aircraft Program Director Doug Davis said that pilotless planes could be the “next big transformation in the aviation industry.” Fast Company Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Locker) reports that “according to new research by investment bank UBS, pilotless planes would save the airline industry $35 billion a year and could lead to substantial fare cuts – that is, if airlines can convince people to actually fly in them.” Fast Company adds that “UBS asked people to reveal their deepest feelings about pilotless planes and 54% of respondents said they were unlikely to take a pilotless flight. Additionally, only 17% said they were likely to choose a plane with no one at the wheel.” Fortune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Nusca) reports that “the sentiment will change over time,” and that “much like the automotive industry, most passengers don’t realize that there are quite a few autonomous systems already in place on today’s aircraft – including those that land the plane.” Fortune also writes that “every major plane manufacturer is testing fully automated jetliners today.”

Higher Education

Purdue University Active Learning Center Merges Facilities For Science Disciplines.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) runs an article on Purdue University’s new Wilmeth Active Learning Center, which is intended to “marry two separate components of higher education to create a new type of learning atmosphere.” The center “fuses classroom and library space, with a goal of promoting group work and, as the building’s name denotes, active learning in which students are engaged with the material, rather than simply listening to a professor preach.” The facility “houses the new Library of Engineering and Science, which merges formerly separate libraries for six disciplines — chemistry, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, engineering, life sciences, pharmacy, nursing and health sciences, and physics.”

National Science Foundation Gives University Of Hawai’i $1 Million To Support Women, Minorities In STEM.

Big Island (HI) Now Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Hawai’i a $1,099,959 grant “to support women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at seven local community colleges.” The funding will “support a project aimed at identifying and addressing challenges in retaining and progressing diverse women in STEM careers.”

National Science Foundation Gives Tuskegee Grant To Support Materials Science Students.

WLTZ-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Columbus, GA (8/7) reports the National Science Foundation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program has given Tuskegee University a $2 million grant “to prepare undergraduate students for careers in materials science engineering.” The grant “aims to bolster science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs at the HBCUs that already award a large share of bachelor’s degrees to African-American students. NSF’s HBCU-UP seeks to help meet the nation’s accelerating demands for STEM talent and ensure more rapid gains in STEM degree completion among underrepresented minority populations, who ultimately will fill vital roles in the nation’s STEM workforce.”

Colorado Governor Calls For Bipartisan Support For Postsecondary Job Training.

Chalkbeat Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), speaking Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, said, “Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.” The piece quotes Hickenlooper saying, “Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability. We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Harvard ART Institute Freezes Admissions In Response To Debt Load Criticism.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Haigney, Subscription Publication) reports many “young actors” who graduate from Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater, or ART, Institute “leave with a median of $78,000 in debt in exchange for a master of liberal arts degree from the Harvard Extension School,” even though the program is “at the world’s wealthiest university.” In comparison, Yale School of Drama master of fine arts graduates typically owe $14,000, and Julliard graduates owe about $27,000. The ART Institute’s “steep repayment burdens have been a straitjacket on students and their career aspirations,” and in January, it halted its admissions for a year in response to criticism from ED. In July, the ART Institute extended the freeze to three years, triggering worry among students and alumni about the subsequent impact on “the institute’s name and the value of their degrees.”

Norman Fortenberry Letter in Washington Post
ASEE’s ED challenged the Post (and other media outlets) to properly distinguish between engineers and scientists when appropriate.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.

Research and Development

Amazon Patents UAV Stations For Rail, Air, And Sea Travel.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/6, Price) reports that as Amazon invests heavily in UAV technology, “public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon’s engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech.” For example, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent filing last week which could help solve the issue of how to “keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible.” According to BI, the answer could be “An ambitious fleet of mobile maintenance facilities based on trains, in vehicles, and on boats.” The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/6, Liptak) also reports on the patent filing, describing it as being “for a network of mobile workstations based on boats, tractor trailer trucks, trains, or other vehicles, which can be driven to areas of high demand.”

GM Sponsors Tech Incubator 500 Startups.

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Ohnsman) reports “a handful of high-level engineers from General Motors’ R&D division” attended tech incubator 500 Startups’ Demo Days earlier this month “to hear dozens of two-minute pitches from tiny tech startups eager for early-stage funding. The GM crew wasn’t there to invest in or buy any of those companies, at least not directly, but to identify a few promising ones to work with as a mentor.” Gary Smyth, executive director of GM’s Global R&D Laboratories, told Forbes that the relationship with 500 puts “scouting on steroids – and we’re learning a lot about startup culture too.” Smyth said, “These early stage companies are very fragile. You’re watering them, you’re feeding them, but you have to be careful and let them grow.” He added, “What we’ve learned is the big factor is the founders – will they be successful? 500 has a strong capability of not just finding [companies] but looking at the founders of companies very differently.”

Study Finds Graffiti Can Cause Autonomous Cars To Crash.

The Daily Mail Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Pettit) reports researchers from the University of Washington have published “a worrying study that found autonomous vehicles can be easily confused into misreading road signs that would appear normal to human drivers,” as “placing stickers or posters over part or all of a sign could be used to trick smart cars into ignoring stop sign or suddenly braking in the middle of the road.” The Daily Mail adds that the researchers “said changes that trick an AI’s learning algorithms can cause them ‘to misbehave in unexpected and potentially dangerous ways’” and warned “if hackers are able to access the algorithm, they could use an image of the road sign to create a customised version of the sign capable of confusing the car’s camera.” According to the Daily Mail, “The team said they hoped their research would help autonomous car makers to build better defence systems into their vehicles.”


Google Asserts Commitment To Diversity After Staff Engineer’s Criticisms.

NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports that “Google executives say their company is committed to inclusion, after an engineer’s criticisms of its diversity efforts sparked conversations outside the company this weekend..” NPR adds that “in a 3,300-word document that has been shared across Google’s internal networks, an engineer at the company wrote that ‘biological causes’ are part of the reason women aren’t represented equally in its tech departments and leadership,” as well as “men’s higher drive for status.” NPR also writes that “the engineer’s criticism of Google’s attempts to improve gender and racial diversity has prompted two Google executives to rebut the lengthy post, which accused the company of creating an ‘ideological echo chamber’ and practicing discrimination.” The article quotes Google Vice President of Diversity Danielle Brown saying, “Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company.”

Industry News

Analysts: Apple Watch Series 3 LTE Connectivity Likely Still Won’t Mean Widespread Adoption.

Motley Fool Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Niu) contributor Evan Niu asserts that, although the Apple Watch Series 3 can be expected to come with LTE connectivity and won’t be tethered to an iPhone, the upgrade “is unlikely to be the silver bullet that Apple is looking for” as “LTE connectivity still won’t be the killer feature that catalyzes mainstream adoption.” Niu cites two main issues the feature could present – battery life, especially as this was reportedly why the Series 2 didn’t feature LTE connectivity and also because the current model already requires almost daily charging, and the cost associated with connecting yet another device to a data plan. The article adds that it’s still unclear how much data daily use the Watch would require or how it would be charged – whether through wireless carriers (the four major ones in the US already saying they will carry the Series 3), or through Apple as an upfront premium as with iPads.

Apple Watch Rumored To Have “All-New Form Factor.” BGR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Heisler) also reports that the Series 3 will boast LTE connectivity, but it says that in discussing this, John Gruber of Daring Fireball also referenced “the all-new form factor that I’ve heard is coming for this year’s new watches.” Gruber reportedly said the suggestion of a new form factor for the Series 3 came from and “unconfirmed little birdie,” but “tends to have a pretty solid track record when it comes to Apple rumors.” BGR also says that analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, who is also known for accurate Apple predictions, also claimed in a 2016 research report that the Series 3 would have a new form factor. BGR also says it could sport improved battery life as well as micro-LED display technology.

Engineering and Public Policy

Despite Grid Study, DOE Bets On Natural Gas.

Tina Casey writes at CleanTechnica Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Casey) reports that despite the Energy Department’s new grid study that seems “pre-wired to support the coal industry,” the DOE “has announced a $20 million funding opportunity for next-generation technology aimed at accelerating the trend away from coal-fired power plants.” Casey says that memo ordering the new grid study from Energy Secretary Rick Perry was loaded with language and economic analysis favoring coal. However, Casey writes that Perry’s actions have been consistently in line with “Obama era policies that support renewable energy and distributed generation.” Meanwhile, the new $20 million funding opportunity in support of natural gas comes under the Energy Department’s ARPA-E office for supporting next-generation technology and had been dubbed “INTEGRATE for Natural-gas Technologies for Efficiency Gain in Reliable and Affordable Thermochemical Electricity-generation.” Casey explains that “the aim is to increase the conversion efficiency of distributed…electric generation systems fueled by natural gas.”

Mark Bergen writes at Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Bergen) that as the Trump Administration advocates pulling funding from ARPA-E, Google and other tech companies are also struggling to make money on green energy ventures.

Texas Environmentalists Battle Border Wall, LNG Facilities.

The Brownsville (TX) Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Zazueta) reports that “with the wheels already in motion for the construction of a border wall on a local wildlife refuge and in other areas, local environmentalists are positioning themselves for a fierce battle with the federal government.” Meanwhile, “at the other end of the Rio Grande Valley, environmentalists are also engaged in an effort to prevent the construction of liquefied natural gas facilities along the Port of Brownsville.” The Herald says that fight over the LNG facilities, “which began more than two years ago in March 2015, was prompted after Texas LNG Brownsville LLC and Annova LNG LLC, both of Houston, filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build facilities that would liquefy domestic natural gas for shipment overseas, largely to smaller Asian markets.” The report says “backers…tout economic benefits to the region” but “environmentalists argue that any economic payoff would fail to outweigh the cost to the environment, tourism and public safety.”

Michigan Utility Asks Supreme Court To Decide Air Permitting Fight.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Reilley, Subscription Publication) reports that DTE Energy Co. filed a petition with the Supreme Court “July 31 seeking to overturn an appeals court’s decision that favored U.S. EPA in the long-running fight” over whether “upgrades at DTE’s Monroe power plant were ‘major modifications’ that should have triggered additional regulations.” E&E says that “as part of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program, a utility must make a projection of whether a proposed upgrade to an existing facility will increase emissions.” Meanwhile, “DTE had argued that the upgrade at the Monroe plant was routine maintenance and didn’t require a New Source Review permit” but “EPA disagreed with DTE’s projections and sued the company. A district court initially sided with the utility in a summary judgment ruling.”

Utah Power Company Seeks Rate Increase For Rooftop Solar.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports that Utah “utility regulators are poised to consider raising rates for people who have rooftop solar panels and sell their extra back to the power company, a proposal that solar-panel companies say could deal a blow to their burgeoning industry.” The AP says “Rocky Mountain Power researchers argue that rooftop solar customers are not paying their fair share for their service while being paid the full retail price for the solar power they produce.” Meanwhile, “a Salt Lake City think-tank’s analysis found that rooftop solar customers save the company’s $1.3 million annually without the need for new generation facilities and through lower transmission cost.” The AP reports “the Utah Public Service Commission is planning two hearings on the issue to get public input and consider the proposal.”

Wisconsin Schools Raised $217 Million For Green Projects Using Law That May Be Repealed.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Richards, Oxenden, Crowe) reports that “under a law that Republicans might eliminate in the next budget, Wisconsin school districts raised more than $217 million in new taxes for energy-related projects since 2009 – all of it outside revenue caps and without going to referendum.” Meanwhile, “Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP senators have proposed eliminating the law in the next budget.” The Journal Sentinel explains “critics say it violates the spirit of fiscal restraint and accountability and that districts shouldn’t be able to raise so much money without a referendum.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Indiana University Northwest Hosts STEM Camp For High Schoolers.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, McCollum) reports that Indiana University Northwest hosted a camp for some 50 Gary , Indiana high school students “to do hands-on activities and experiments in biology, chemistry, computer information systems and geology.” Students launched rockets with air pressure and filtered strawberries to isolate DNA.

Florida School District Incorporates Coding Toy In Kindergarten Classrooms.

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports the Pinellas County School District in Florida purchased 100 “Bee-Bots” in its new initiative to encourage children to get “familiar and interested in coding – an expanding and lucrative career.” According to the Bee-Bot website, the learning toy is a “friendly little robot” that teaches “sequencing, estimation and problem-solving,” which are key skills for more complicated computer coding tasks. Some teachers attended coding sessions in preparation for the Bee-Bots’ arrival, but the bees will not be used as a basis to grade students or implemented into the everyday curriculum at this time. The Times notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 33 percent increase in computer-related occupations, such as systems analysts, by 2024.

Minnesota High School Robotics Team Introduces Younger Students To STEM.

Hometown Life (MI) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7) reports that in late July, more than 80 children in Minnesota participated in two summer Robocamps, which hope “to get campers interested in STEM subjects, or science, engineering, technology and mathematics, and by that measure, the camps were a success, said Rachel Reiz, the camps’ robotmaster and a third-year Robostangs member.” Reiz and his fellow “robotmasters” are part of Northwood High School’s Robostangs team, which is “part of the international FIRST Robotics program.” The Robocamps are a key annual fundraising drive for the Robostangs, and this year, they raised about $8,700.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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