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

Leading the News

Symantec: “Sophisticated” Hacking Campaign Targeting American Energy Sector.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Chalfant) reports DHS “is reviewing a report by a leading cybersecurity company,” Symantec, “that identifies a sophisticated hacking campaign targeting the U.S. energy sector.” Symantec “attributed the campaign to a hacker group codenamed ‘Dragonfly,’ which has been linked by others to the Russian government.” Department spokesman Scott McConnell is quoted saying, “At this time there is no indication of a threat to public safety. … We continue to coordinate with government and private sector partners to look into this activity and, through our National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, we have released multiple information products to the critical infrastructure community to provide detection and response recommendations to help them secure their networks.”

Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Greenberg) reports that Symantec “is warning that a series of recent hacker attacks not only compromised energy companies in the US and Europe but also resulted in the intruders gaining hands-on access to power grid operations—enough control that they could have induced blackouts on American soil at will.”

CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Ng) reports, “The campaign, which started as early as 2011, included malicious emails sent to targets who worked in the energy industry, Symantec said. The first attacks quieted down in 2014, but started back up again in December 2015, with a phishing email disguised as a New Year’s Eve party invite.”

The Daily Beast Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Poulsen) reports, “The finding is potentially worrisome, because Dragonfly is one of very few hacking groups to evince expertise in power-grid control networks.”

Mashable Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Williams) reports, “The group is thought to be tied to the Russian government, but there’s no proof beyond speculation and a few lines of Russian code strings in the malware discovered by researchers. Some code strings were in French, however, so Symantec is wary of language being used as a false flag to throw researchers off the trail of the attackers’ origins.”

ZDNet Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Palmer) reports, “Over two dozen energy companies and utility providers in the US and Europe have been attacked.”

Gizmodo Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Jones) says in its report, “Hacking the power grid is one of the holy grails of hacker prowess.”

Reporting similarly were CBS News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Pegues), USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Weise), the Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Blake), the Financial Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Kuchler, Subscription Publication), Fortune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Hackett) reports, and The Guardian (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Hern).

Higher Education

ED Ceases Cooperation With CFPB On Student Loans.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Hayashi, Subscription Publication) reports that, in a move that caught financial regulators off guard, the Education Department said it plans to stop sharing information on student loans to the CFPB, calling the bureau “overreaching and unaccountable.” The Education Department notified the CFPB late last week that it planned to end agreements between the agencies that allowed them to share consumer complaints. The Journal notes that other regulators have had disagreements with the CFPB in recent months – earlier this summer, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika confronted CFPB Director Richard Cordray over the latter’s regulation prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses. Noreika eventually chose not to intervene on the proposed regulation.

MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Berman) explains that under the agreements between the Education Department and CFPB, “the two agencies were required to share information regarding borrower complaints they received about both federal and private student loans.” However, in their letter to the CFPB, “Kathleen Smith, the acting assistant secretary of the office of postsecondary education, and Wayne Johnson, the director of the office of federal student aid, alleged that the consumer bureau undermined the Department’s efforts to help students and borrowers.” The CFPB “is using the Department’s data to expand its jurisdiction into areas that Congress never envisioned,” the letter said. Analysts believe the decision reflects the ways in which President Trump’s Administration differs from former President Obama’s when it comes to overseeing the student loan industry.

From ASEE
ASEE Board Reorganization – Feedback Needed
ASEE ED Norman Fortenberry presents rationale on a proposed reorganization of the ASEE Board of Directors. Please leave your feedback (ASEE member login required). 

FREE Action on Diversity Webinar: Empathy in Engineering — Why it Matters
Tune in 9/20 at 2:00 PM, ET for a FREE 90-minute webinar on empathy in engineering! Drs. Jo Walther and Nicki Sochacka will explore how faculty can encourage empathetic thoughts and actions in the classroom, and why empathy should be a core skill for future engineers. Dr. Shari Miller will offer her unique perspective on empathy as an expert in the field of social work Register today.


VIDEO: ASEE President Bev Watford on Priorities for 2017-2018
A brief interview from the ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition

Research and Development

MIT Researchers Take Inspiration From Beetles For 3D-Printed Robot Skin.

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) reports that researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory looked to nature when they were “tasked with creating 3D-printed robot skin,” and found inspiration “in the form of a color-changing golden tortoise beetle.” The piece says, “observing this small insect helped grad student Subramanian Sundaram and his team not only overcome their hurdle but develop a solution that could change the look, feel, and shape of electronic surfaces forevermore.” The piece quotes Sundaram saying, “In nature, networks of sensors and interconnects are called sensorimotor pathways. We were trying to see whether we could replicate sensorimotor pathways inside a 3D-printed object. So, we considered the simplest organism we could find.”

Iowa State Researchers Seek To Emulate Owls To Reduce Drone Noise.

Iowa Public Radio Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) reports that as the use of drones increases, a team of Iowa State University engineers is “trying to get ahead of likely complaints about drone noise. Anupam Sharma, an aerospace engineering professor at Iowa State, takes inspiration from owls to design noise-reduction strategies for airplanes and wind turbines because owls are naturally nearly-silent fliers.” Sharma hopes to replicate “the tiny comb-like structure on the edge of an owl’s leading-edge wing feather” to address the issue.

NSF Gives Kansas State Grant To Research Physics Teacher PD Tool.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the physics department at Kansas State University a $1.5 million grant “to improve an online professional development tool for physics teachers.” Physics professor Eleanor Sayre “is working on a research project that investigates how an online tool called PhysPort affects teaching practices in physics classes.”

New Water-Based Lithium-ion Battery Poses Reduced Explosion And Fire Risk.

Daily Mail Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Wills) reports Researchers at the University of Maryland and the US Army Research Laboratory have developed “a special gel, which keeps water from reacting with graphite or lithium metal and setting off a dangerous chain reaction,” for use in lithium-ion batteries that will reduce the risk of explosions and fires. The batteries were reportedly punctured by nails during testing but continued to supply energy. The water-based nature of the aqueous battery makes it much safer than the highly flammable organic solvents used in non-aqueous batteries.

Global Developments

Australian Research Develop New Way To Build Quantum Computers.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Wagstaff) reports a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales said that they have invented a new chip designed based on a new type of quantum bit, known as a qubit. The new design would allow a silicon quantum processor to overcome “the need for atoms to be placed precisely” and would allow “them to be placed further apart and still be coupled.” Reuters notes that Google and IBM are among a group of technology companies that are currently using various approaches to develop quantum computers.

Avionics Market In “Transition” Toward High-Bandwidth, Integrated Systems.

ADVANCE Magazine (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) reports that a new Frost & Sullivan study finds that the global avionics market is undergoing a “transition from a ground-based system to a satellite-based air traffic control system and is headed towards more compute-intensive, high-speed and high-bandwidth avionics.” Frost & Sullivan Aerospace Research Analyst Priyanka Chimakurthi said, “A shift toward Internet of Things (IoT) will also affect avionics suppliers. Through sensorization, new platforms will be able to record and deliver important sets of data that will lead to major changes in how modern aircraft are maintained and repaired.” The study suggests that large suppliers begin a “strategic acquisition program to shortlist and evaluate targets due to intense industry consolidation,” while all companies in the sector should push “continued product development” and “development of value packages and innovative maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) solutions, capturing both out-of-warranty and end-of-service platforms.”

Industry News

Bloomberg: Harvey Mudd Practices Could Help Stem Gender Disparity In Tech.

Bloomberg View Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) editorial describes the growing gender gap in the tech sector, lamenting that women “haven’t been shown in a consistent and forthright way why they should want the jobs. This can change.” The article cites the example of Harvey Mudd College, “an elite science and engineering school in Southern California, which has managed to boost the female share of computer-science majors to 50 percent in the past 15 years.” The piece explains that the school “expanded the female faculty and made the curriculum more inviting to talented students with limited exposure to computer science.”

GE Partners With Ohio Community College To Create 3D Printing Jobs.

The Dayton (OH) Daily News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) reports that Cincinnati State Community College is partnering with GE Additive “to create jobs in a field many experts say will revolutionize global manufacturing.” The partnership will promote “a new training program in the rapidly growing additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, industry. With technical assistance from GE, Cincinnati State’s Workforce Development Center, which operates out of Middletown and Evendale, will use a nearly $400,000 grant from the federally-funded LIFT Institute to develop a training program for additive technicians that will fill a skills gap in the 3-D printing industry.”

Huawei To Invest $500M In Boosting Cloud Capabilities, Services.

ZDNet Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Yu) reports Huawei Technologies announced Wednesday at its annual conference that it plans to devote $500 million over five years to expanding “its cloud capabilities and infrastructure,” including “plans to develop cloud-focused professional services” and create “a certification programme.” Huawei President of Technical Services for Enterprise Business Group Sun Maolu said, “With the emergence of a ‘cloud only’ era… Our services strategy centres on the concept of ‘grow with the cloud’ and becoming an industry cloud enabler.” The company plans to boost “investment in its Global Service Centers, which provided professional services including network operations, network performance management, and benchmark and service quality management,” and “increase its annual investment in research and development of industry clouds by 50 percent and establish a certification programme to train architects, developments, and industry-specific skillsets.”

Smartwatch Market Predicted To Gradually Grow Despite Limitations Of Technology.

The International Business Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Victorino) reports that US research firm Strategy Analysts says by 2022 the world’s smartwatch market will grow from this year’s 29.7 million units to 100 million units. Furthermore, Tuesday saw “industry watchers” tell South Korean outlet the Investor that they project the growth will be slow. Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade researcher Kim Jong-ki is cited explaining, “The slow growth is simply because smartwatches have no killer apps, functions or content to make consumers – who already own smartphones – open their wallets.” The lack of smartwatches that are standalone in their abilities is another cited limitation for the market.

Engineering and Public Policy

Federal Investigation Finds Engine Fires In Smart Fortwo Cars.

AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) reports that “A nearly nine-month investigation by U.S. auto safety regulators has found 27 reports of engine fires in tiny Smart Fortwo cars, including one that caused an injury.” The high amount of fires caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to perform an engineering analysis in addition to its preliminary investigation. NHTSA said it will “continue to investigate the high frequency and increasing trend of non-crash engine compartment fire incidents in the subject vehicles.”

Fox Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) also reports the Associated Press story.

Analysis: Deepwater Oil, Gas Development Face Cost Increases.

Wood Mackenzie Research Director Caitlin Shaw writing for Offshore Engineer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6) analyzes how the “Global deepwater oil and gas development has been plagued for a decade by cost creep in equipment and services.” As some major exploration and production companies are reassessing deepwater operations, some companies, such as OneSubsea, TechnipFMC, and GE-Baker Hughes, are collaborating and consolidating efforts to save money and increase recoveries.

US Air Force “More Comfortable” Using SpaceX Rockets For Sensitive Payloads.

The Orlando (FL) Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Santana) reports that Thursday’s planned launch of an X-37B space plane on one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets shows that the US military is “getting more comfortable launching things into space on the Falcon” rockets, according to former NASA Glenn Research Center Director Ray Lugo. “They are willing to put something like the X-37, a crown jewel, on one of those. If you lost one of these, you’ve lost half the fleet.”

Florida Utilities Prepare For Hurricane Irma.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Subscription Publication) reports Florida Power & Light is “warning of widespread power outages” in the state and “eyeing taking both of its nuclear plants offline as potentially catastrophic Hurricane Irma barrels toward the Sunshine State.” All of the state’s “major utilities have taken a range of steps to harden the grid after back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 left the state shaken.” E&E adds “Hurricane Matthew was supposed to be FPL’s first serious test, but the storm jogged to the northeast at the last minute in 2016.” Utilities in the state are “now facing a ‘second chance’ that it may be ready for but doesn’t really want to take.”

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Klas) reports that in Florida “high rises are now required to have at least one elevator operate on generator power. Gas stations and convenience stores, which fended off legislation that would have required them to buy generators, must now have access to a back-up power supply if they have fuel but no electricity.” Utility companies in the state “say they are more prepared than ever for a monster storm” after investments they have made.

Wind Energy Provide Boost To Rural Communities.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Ailworth, Subscription Publication) reports that wind developers such as BP are making huge contributions to rural, Midwestern counties. Wind developers in Benton County, Indiana have made $17 million in payments to the county and spent $33 million on infrastructure. Moreover, the wind farms in Benton County created 110 permanent jobs and hundreds more temporary construction positions.

Rural Communities Embracing Solar.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Subscription Publication) reports that Washington County, Iowa, is a “hotbed” of enthusiasm for solar power. “The local utility, Farmers Electric Cooperative, keeps selling out of it. Every time that Warren McKenna, the general manger, makes a new offering of shares in what he calls a ‘socialized garden,’ they get snapped up.” The Iowa county “isn’t the only deep-red community with a strong demand for solar.” E&E adds that in a surprising “turn of events, some of the most rural and conservative parts of the country are where solar adoption is growing the fastest, brought about by a liberal-sounding sales structure called community solar.” And “rural electric cooperatives love it, which is ironic” because they “fought for years against being lumped into state renewable energy portfolios, but now realize that solar could aid in their stability — and even their survival.”

Clean Energy Job Growth Continues In Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/6, Moore) reports that an annual report released yesterday found that in Pennsylvania “clean energy jobs totaled 70,000 people in Pennsylvania in 2016, representing a 6 percent increase from the year before.” Allegheny County led Pennsylvania “with 8,100, though the Philadelphia metro area had more than the greater Pittsburgh region.” The report “is a yearly employment snapshot that clean energy advocates hope will encourage policymakers, businesses and others to lessen the energy industry’s dependence on fossil fuels. The report notes that, by its count, clean energy employs twice as many Pennsylvanians as the fossil fuel industry.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Plan To Open State-Run STEM School Advances In California Legislature.

EdSource Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/5) reports that plans in California “to set up a state-run school with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum” advanced out of a state Senate panel last Friday, “though the proposed school continues to face significant resistance.” The language included “amendments intended to mollify union and school district critics but including others that could intensify the opposition.” The school “would be the first state-run school not serving disabled students.”

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