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

Leading the News

IBM’s Distributed Deep Learning Code Breaks Accuracy Record For Image Recognition.

TechRepublic Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Reese) reports IBM Research’s new deep learning model Distributed Deep Learning on Tuesday “made big strides in the field: It achieved a record for image recognition accuracy of 33.8%.” According to IBM, “the model, which used a massive data set of 7.5 million images, achieved ‘record communication overhead and 95% scaling efficiency on the Caffe deep learning framework over 256 GPUs in 64 IBM Power systems’… in just seven hours.” According to ZDNet Share to FacebookShare to
Twitter (8/8, Condon), the new “research tackles one of the major challenges of deploying deep learning: Large neural networks and large datasets help deep learning thrive but also lead to longer training times.” ZDNet adds that “training large-scale, deep learning-based AI models can take days or weeks.”

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Moorhead) contributor Patrick Moorhead says IBM’s “groundbreaking Distributed Deep Learning (DDL) software…is one of the biggest announcements I’ve tracked in this space for the past six months.”

Higher Education

As Male Numbers Decline, Colleges Ramp Up Efforts To Boost Enrollment.

The Hechinger Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Marcus) that colleges around the country are seeing declining percentages of men on campus, citing ED statistics showing that “this fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide.” Colleges “reeling from a years-long decline in overall enrollment” are “suddenly paying new attention to bolstering the number of men who apply.” The piece reports that “the problem has its origins as early as primary school, only to be fueled later on by economic forces that discourage men from believing a degree is worth the time and money.”

Signs: Tuition Increases Could Be Nearing Peak.

The NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8) “NPR Ed” blog reports that despite decades of steady increases in tuition rates at US colleges, “there are signs that the decades-long rise in college costs is nearing a peak.” Over the last 12 months, tuition “rose in line with inflation,” whereas “from 1990 through 2016, tuition grew at a rate more than double that of inflation, year after year.” The article points to factors leading to decreasing college enrollment over the past decade, explaining that “lower demand can lead to deeper discounts, especially from private, nonprofit colleges.”

UC Irvine Admission Episode Illustrates Difficulties In Predicting Enrollment Numbers.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Watanabe, Xia) reports on the recent incident at UC Irvine in which the school received a bumper crop of acceptances from prospective students, leading the school to rescind offers to hundreds of hopefuls. The Times reports that experts say such cases “underscore the vagaries of enrollment prediction — a discipline that aims to meld the science of data analysis with the guesswork of anticipating teenage whims.”

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

US Military Grows Closer To Using Laser Weapons, Railguns.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Brown) reports that the US military is showing increasing interest in lasers and railguns. The former fires “pure energy bursts” while the latter uses “electromagnets to fire projectiles at supersonic speeds.” The US Navy test-fired a railgun for the first time in 2012, while two years later, the Navy “mounted and tested a laser on the USS Ponce.” A US Army Apache helicopter more recently successfully tested a mounted laser. Despite the successful tests, Bob Freeman, a spokesman for the Office of Naval Research, said the two weapons are not currently optional, and that the laser aboard the Ponce is “not the final product.”

California Startup Focused On Developing “Modular Pods” For Group Transport.

The San Francisco Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Salian, Thadani) reports that “a San Jose startup is rethinking the way groups travel: Picture a long string of connected pods that can drive themselves.” The Chronicle adds that the startup, Next Future Transportation, “says it’s developing a modular transportation system, consisting of individual pod vehicles that connect and disconnect with one another to get people from place to place.” The article says that “CEO Emmanuele Spera imagines a string of pods starting off at an airport, collecting passengers who are assigned seats based on their final destinations,” and then the pods would drop off their riders “following an algorithmically determined route.” The Chronicle also writes that “the company is trending on startup database Crunchbase because it has been generating buzz in the Middle East from media outlets and potential partners.”

Cubesats Cannot Be Used For Some NASA Applications.

Space News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Foust, Subscription Publication) reports that NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center chief technologist for the applied engineering and technology directorate, Michael Johnson, presented materials at the 31st Annual Conference on Small Satellites on Sunday. Johnson warned that the lack of assurance about cubesat reliability will prevent NASA from using the cubesats for some applications.

California Energy Commission Offers $44.7 Million In Microgrid Grants.

In continuing coverage, Power Engineering Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8) reports the California Energy Commission is offering $44.7 million in grants for microgrid programs, in an effort “to develop microgrid designs that can be put into continual service, and drive down future development costs.” Projects must be located within the service territories of Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, or Pacific Gas & Electric.

Wyoming Welcomes New Supercomputer.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Gruver) reports that “one of the world’s fastest supercomputers is helping scientists better understand the sun’s behavior and predict weather months in advance but also got touted Tuesday as an important tool for diversifying Wyoming’s economy, which has seen better days.” The AP says “the new supercomputer named Cheyenne, located at a National Center for Atmospheric Research facility on the outskirts of Wyoming’s capital city, is the world’s 22nd fastest.” Gov. Matt Mead said at a dedication for the new machine Tuesday that “the facility also is an important tool for research into hydrology, ways to trap carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and other science important to Wyoming.”

Universities Of Connecticut, Rhode Island Receive $1.3 Million US Navy Grant.

The Hartford (CT) Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8) reports the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research awarded the University of Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island a $1.3 million three-year grant “to create a community of students, faculty, government and industry leaders that will strive to expand the Navy science and technology workforce.” The universities will divide the grant “to establish joint programs, making it possible to educate and train workers who will be a pipeline to the naval community, which is vital to the economic livelihood of the region.” The region hosts the Naval Submarine Base, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and Raytheon, “where a dramatic increase in hiring is expected.” The grant is expected to link “those institutions, plus the two universities, to create the Southeast New England STEM Coalition,” through which the two universities “will launch a new concentration in naval science and technology.”

Washington University In St. Louis To Establish Neurotechnology Hub With NSF Grant.

The St. Louis Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Subscription Publication) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $2.6 million grant to Washington University in St. Louis to create establish a NeuroNex neurotechnology hub. Yehuda Ben-Shahar, a biology professor, is the lead investigator, and will focus on how neuroscience applies to animal behavior research.


After Dismissal, Google Memo Author Files NLRB Complaint.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Weise) reports that James Damore – the Google software engineer who authored the controversial memo that has drawn praise and criticism and that resulted in Damore’s firing on Monday – filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Google on Tuesday, according to the agency’s website. Jason Geller, a partner with management-side employment law firm Fisher and Phillips, said that while “it’s impossible to know exactly what Damore is alleging, in general these types of filings tend to involve claims that the former employee was engaged in what’s known as ‘concerted protected activity’ under the National Labor Relations Act.”

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Wakabayashi, Subscription Publication) reports on Damore’s firing, saying his “contentious” memo “enraged” advocates “of greater diversity in the technology industry” and “served as a rallying cry for conservatives and the alt-right who view Google – and Silicon Valley – as a bastion of groupthink where people with different opinions are shamed into silence.” Damore “said he had not expected this type of reaction when he shared his missive last week,” but added that he has received “many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude.” The Times highlights Damore’s “impressive academic background” and statements by his critics.

In a front-page article, the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, A1, Nicas, Koh, Subscription Publication) reports that Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email on Monday to employees that the memo pushed “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” and he added that the suggestion that “colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Industry News

Concerns Emerge Over Autonomous Cars Living Up To Investment Hype.

While car manufacturers continue to pursue autonomous vehicle technology, Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Taylor, Lienert) reports on “a concern that robocars may not live up to the profit expectations that drove an initial investment rush.” The article adds that “carmakers are increasingly looking to forego outright ownership of future autonomous driving systems in favor of spreading the investment burden and risk,” which amounts to a shift from a year ago when carmakers were eagerly pursuing “standalone strategies” in developing the technology. Reuters adds that “dozens of companies – including carmakers and tech firms like Google and Uber – are vying for a market which, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, will only make up about 10 to 15 percent of vehicles in Europe by 2030.” The article quotes BMW Vice President for Autonomous Driving Projects Klaus Buettner saying, “Everybody is investing billions. Our view was that it makes sense to club together to develop some core systems as a platform.” Reuters also points out that “Ford and General Motors are investing at least $2 billion each to develop self-driving vehicles for urban ride-sharing fleets beginning in 2021, competing with incumbents and start-ups.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Research Identifies Solar Power Supplier Cyber Vulnerabilities.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Sobczak, Subscription Publication) reports, that “Willem Westerhof, a security researcher with Amsterdam-based cybersecurity firm Insite Security BV, uncovered 17 vulnerabilities in products from a German solar power supplier while working as an intern last year.” Westerhof “says the flaws in SMA Solar Technology AG inverters and power management platforms could be exploited to disrupt electricity on Europe’s increasingly solar-reliant grid, in an attack scenario he called ‘Horus.’” He presented his findings at the SHA2017 hacker conference. He said, “I’m trying to show that this is a very serious problem across the sector. … The scale at which I could do this surprised me, and the fact that it’s secured so poorly.” He also said, “You could do the same research on other devices as well, and I think you’d get the same result. … It would be a different kind of attack, but the kind of actors that are going to do this scenario are well capable of finding these vulnerabilities.”

South Carolina Sues DOE Over SRS Plutonium Removal.

The Aiken (SC) Standard Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Biles) reports that “the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit Monday [in the Court of Federal Claims] against the federal government to recover $100 million the U.S. Department of Energy owes the state for failing to meet its promise to remove one ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site this year.” The report explains that the state also “sought the 2016 payments in the pending case before the federal court in South Carolina, but Federal Judge Michelle Childs ruled that the state should file the claim in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.” The Standard says “the State intends to pursue the 2016 money when that matter concludes.” The federal government cannot “renege on its obligations” and “leave South Carolina as the permanent dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in the complaint.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Kinnard) also explains that “President Barack Obama’s final executive budget allocated money to begin shutting the project down.” Meanwhile, “in a budget proposal released in May, the Trump administration followed the Obama administration’s lead, proposing to mothball the project and pursue an alternative disposition method for the plutonium.”

State Lawmakers Discuss How To Respond To Drones.

The State House News Service (MA) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Metzger, Subscription Publication) reports that “the question of how far a homeowner or law enforcement can go to stop a pesky drone came up Monday as state lawmakers from across the country, lawyers and a Federal Aviation Administration official discussed the emerging unmanned aircraft system (U.A.S.) technology.” Marke “Hoot” Gibson, a retired major general in the US Air Force, “said the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have some ‘limited capability’ to take down dangerous drones, and Congress is interested in expanding the government’s authority to protect the public from threats posed by drones.” The report says “the drone discussion took place at a panel organized by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is meeting at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this week.”

DOE Warns Of “Uncertain” Future For Wind.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Martin) reports that “America’s booming wind energy sector faces questions over its long-term growth prospects as federal incentives are scaled back amid weak natural gas prices and modest electricity demand, according to the Department of Energy.” According to reports released by DOE Tuesday, “the U.S. wind industry added more than 8,200 megawatts of capacity in 2016, representing 27 percent of all energy additions.” Meanwhile, “in 2016, wind supplied about 6 percent of U.S. electricity, with Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma and California leading the way among individual states.” The DOE said, “At the same time, the prospects for growth beyond the current production tax credit cycle remain uncertain, given declining federal tax support, expectations for low natural gas prices and modest electricity demand growth.”

Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Marshall, Subscription Publication) also reports that DOE said “forecasts after 2021 show a downturn because of the PTC phaseout, low natural gas prices, modest electricity demand growth and less of a push from state renewable portfolio standards.” However, the report said, “At the same time, the potential for continued technological advancements and cost reductions enhance the prospects for longer-term growth, as does burgeoning corporate demand for wind energy.”

Report Says Closing Indian Power Plant Could Lead To NYC Blackouts.

The Daily Caller Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Pearce) reports that a new study from the Manhattan Institute claims that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “is risking the stability of New York City’s electrical grid by closing a nearby nuclear plant that supplies a quarter of the city’s total electricity.” The Cuomo administration aims to provide half of the state’s electricity through renewables by 2030, however, the study says Cuomo has “narrowed” options for alternative sources of energy by “blocking construction of new natural gas pipelines, effectively cutting off gas generators as a cheap substitute.”

Environmentalists Oppose Biomass Subsidies At Massachusetts Energy Resources Hearing.

The Greenfield (MA) Recorder Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Christensen) reports that “more than 70 people gathered at Holyoke Community College on Monday for the state’s last public hearing on plans to designate the burning of fuel derived from trees as eligible for clean-energy subsidies.” The Recorder says that “as part of a 2014 law backed by the logging industry, the state has included biomass boilers in its ‘Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard,’ along with geothermal, solar thermal and other technologies.” The Massachusetts “Department of Energy Resources is now drafting regulations to implement that law.” The report says “proponents of the rules say that when combined with sustainable forestry practices, biomass can be a renewable energy source that can compete with fossil fuels.” However, environmentalists “cite research that shows biomass can produce more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

School Districts Around The Country Weigh Benefits, Risk Of Having School On Day Of Solar Eclipse.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Strauss) reports that “school districts across the country that are beginning the 2017-18 school year in early to mid-August” are having “to decide whether to let students stay home – or come to class – on the day of the Great American Eclipse” on Monday, August 21. Many districts are deciding for safety reasons that it would be better to let students stay home, whereas in other areas officials are deciding to keep students in school that day for the same reason. For example, “in Georgia, some school districts are extending the school day so that students can watch it under adult supervision, each of them with free protective glasses.”

California Schools, Museums Prepare Educational Events For Solar Eclipse. EdSource Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/7, Jones) reports on that with the approach of the August 21 North American solar eclipse “coinciding with the start of school for thousands of California students, teachers around the state will be using the rare solar spectacle to ignite students’ interest in science, showing them first-hand evidence that the earth rotates around the sun, the moon spins around the earth, and all three of them are undeniably round.” Science museums around the state will also be hosting various educational events to celebrate the eclipse.

Arizona Charter School Board Member Outlines Recent Successes.

SySTEM Schools board member Francine Hardaway, in a piece for Phoenix Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/8, Subscription Publication), outlines the recent successes observed at SySTEM Schools, a charter school founded by Angelica Cruz to prepare inner city children “for the careers we know will be available in the future – those requiring science, technology, engineering and math, in addition to reading, writing and the arts.” The school just started its fourth academic year this week, and after three years of less-than-desirable results, SySTEM has “achieved product-market fit with the right reagents.” Hardaway says student test performances have gained “a year and a half for every year they stay at SySTEM.” She adds that enrolled students have expressed desires to “find cures for diseases, become award-winning authors, explore outer space, become white hat hackers, and invent apps that help solve worldwide problems like hunger and poverty,” leaving school leaders “in awe of their excitement for STEM and project-based learning.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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