Leading the News
Waymo Is First To Submit Safety Report On Self-driving Cars.
Forbes (10/12, Ohnsman) reports that as Waymo posted “a 43-page report, ‘On the Road To Fully Self-Driving,’ Thursday with details about its sensors and software, its ‘Early Rider’ program in suburban Phoenix and approach to testing,” it may become a robot-car business with its Moonshot. Generating robot-car rides will be the largest step, to date, in the movement toward self-driving cars. According to the US Department of Transportation, “Just one month after U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the Automated Driving Systems (ADS): A Vision for Safety 2.0, Waymo today becomes the first company to make a voluntary safety self-assessment public.” The Washington Post (10/12, Laris) reports Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote to Chao Thursday, saying, “This overview of our safety program reflects the important lessons learned through the 3.5 million miles Waymo’s vehicles have self-driven on public roads, and billions of miles of simulated driving, over the last eight years.”
The Hill (10/12, Zanona) reports, “Google’s self-driving car company” Waymo “has submitted its first-ever safety report to” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation “about its technology, the company said Thursday.” The company said “We hope our Safety Report serves as a resource for anyone who wants to understand Waymo’s technology and commitment to safety, and that it contributes to the larger public conversation about driving safety.”
Waymo Campaign Intends To Convince Americans Self-Driving Cars Are Safe. Quartz (10/12, Hao) reports that “Waymo and Intel have caught on to something: Self-driving cars may be ready for the road, but they’re not very useful without willing passengers.” Waymo has started a campaign called “Let’s Talk Self-Driving” as “a response to US transportation secretary Elaine Chao’s appeal in June for the industry to ‘step up’ on educating the public about its driverless technology.” Chao’s June remarks in Detroit insinuated that the government would have less pressure to regulate self-driving if the industry could explain “how this technology can improve safety, decrease fatalities and help mobility.” Chao said her “challenge to Silicon Valley is in fact supportive of Detroit.” Chao also said “we don’t want to have rules that may impede future advances.”
In an analysis for Wired (10/12) Aarian Marshall states that when it comes to self-driving vehicles, “nothing now available or coming soon will let you nap or email or slap on a VR headset behind the wheel.” In an interview with Fox Business, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said “We have now self-driving cars.” Chao also said “They can drive on the highway, follow the white lines on the highway, and there’s really no need for any person to be seated and controlling any of the instruments.” Marshall writes that no one should “blame the secretary for her confusion. When it comes to this new breed of cars that can (kind of) drive themselves, just about nobody knows what they’re talking about.”
Waymo Sought $1 Billion In Damages From Uber. Reuters (10/12) reports that sources close to the case say that Waymo “sought at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber as conditions for settling its high-profile trade secret lawsuit against the ride-services company.” Waymo’s “self-driving car unit also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to ensure Uber does not use Waymo technology in the future,” the sources said, adding that Uber “rejected those terms as non-starters.”
University Of Arizona Engineers Build Desalination Plants For Navajo Reservation.
The Arizona Daily Star (10/7) reports students with the Arid Lands Resource Science Graduate Interdisciplinary Program at the University of Arizona have partnered with consulting firm Apex Applied Technologies to build “a desalination and water-purification system on a refurbished school bus and delivered it to the off-the-grid Star School, a charter elementary school located 25 miles east of Flagstaff near the southwest corner of the water-scarce Navajo Reservation.”
University Of Michigan Solar Car Team Takes Second Place In Australian Race.
MLive (MI) (10/12) reports the University of Michigan Solar Car Team finished “second in the world at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, an 1,800-mile race across the Australian Outback.” The team has placed third three times over the past five years in the competition.
Research and Development
Friends Of Bill And Melinda Gates Donate $30 Million Toward New Computer Science Building At University Of Washington.
Bloomberg News (10/12, Bass) reports Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos are part of a group of people, all friends of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who are “donating more than $30 million to the University of Washington in Seattle to name a computer-science building after philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates.”
Fortune (10/13, Bach) reports “the new facility will include a 3,000 square foot robotics laboratory, a wet lab space for molecular information system research, an undergraduate commons, and a 250 seat auditorium.”
Cornell University Researchers Develop Shape-Shifting Membrane Inspired By Mimic Octopus.
The Washington Post (10/12, Guarino) reports on research conducted at Cornell University that “with the aid of octopus expert Roger Hanlon, successfully mimicked the mimic [Thaumocotopus mimicus] using sheets of rubber and mesh” in the form of “a thin membrane that contorts into complex 3-D shapes – much like the shape-shifting skin of an octopus.”
The Atlantic (10/12) reports that the technology focuses on the creature’s ability to instantly transform the texture of its skin, reporting that the team of Cornell’s Robert Shepherd “has created a material that can change its shape in a similar way. From a starting position as a flat sheet, it can quickly mimic a field of stones, or the rosette of a succulent plant.” The piece reports that the Army Research Office funded the research, noting that there are “obvious benefits to having materials that can adaptively hide the outlines of vehicles and robots by breaking up their outlines.”
USPS To Add Semi-Autonomous Vehicles To Fleet, Raise Prices.
In continuing coverage, the Memphis (TN) Business Journal (10/12, McDermid, Subscription Publication) reports that USPS plans to add semi-autonomous vehicles into its fleet within seven years. According to a plan released by USPS’s Office of Inspector General, the trucks will be launched on rural routes as soon as 2025. The article mentions that USPS plans to also increase prices next year. However, the article notes that there is a limit to how much USPS can increase prices and it will need approval from the Board of Governors, which currently has no members.
The Car Connection (10/12, Miller) also reports on USPS’s autonomous vehicle plans.
Aerospace Industry Looking Toward Autonomous Planes.
NBC News (10/11, Falk) reports that “the aviation industry is pushing to make autonomous passenger aircraft a reality — and sooner than you might think,” with Airbus developing a prototype “tilt-wing, multi-propeller” air taxi called Vahana. Boeing also “has hinted that such a craft might be on the way. At the Paris Air Show last summer, Mike Sinnett, the company’s vice-president of product development, said ‘the basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available.’”
NYTimes Analysis: After Years Of Being Hailed As Saviors, Tech Giants Face Criticism.
In an analysis that appeared on the front page of its printed Friday edition, the New York Times (10/12, Streitfeld, Subscription Publication) observes that US tech giants, once seen as a source freedom and progress, now “are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them” – evidenced most recently by heightened criticism of Facebook, Twitter, and Google over “how their ad and publishing systems were harnessed by the Russians” during the 2016 presidential election. Beyond the election, tech companies also are the subject of growing concert for accruing “a tremendous amount of power and influence.”
The changing tone of media coverage of the social platforms in the news cycle tended to support the Times’ point and was heavily negative in several instances. TechCrunch (10/12, Lomas), for example, reports that “Twitter has blundered into yet another moderation crisis” by temporarily suspending the account of an actress who was speaking “out against sexual harassment of women in the wake of sexual abuse allegations now coming out against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.”
The Washington Post (10/12, Shaban) reports Twitter also faced criticism over the issue of blocking a Republican House member’s ad on its site for “inflammatory” content. The criticism was from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who said “the question is: should divisive political or issue ads run? Our answer is yes.”
CNN (10/12, Byers) reports on its website that Sandberg faced her own criticism and would “not say whether her company has identified similarities in how Russian agents and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign used the social media platform ahead of the 2016 election.” CNN says Sandberg also “dodged several questions…including one on whether or not Facebook owed the American people an apology.”
CNET News (10/12, Carson, Nieva) reports, however, that Sandberg on Thursday said, “Things happened on our platform in this election that should not have happened. … We know we have a responsibility to do anything we can to prevent that.”
Fast Company (10/12, Guthrie Weissman) didn’t seem satisfied with Sandberg’s response, writing that she “has the uncanny ability to appear like she’s answering a question head-on while obfuscating the subject at hand.”
GeekWire (10/12, Nickelsburg) devotes a piece to a Seattle tech figure, Ed Lazowska, lighting into social media companies over Russia. Lazowska, who chairs the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering School, said in the embedded video, “You can’t wash your hands of this.” He added that “unlike Microsoft, ‘Facebook has nothing to sell except what they know about you and ads.’”
Amazon, Microsoft Partner To Offer New AI Platform.
Investor’s Business Daily (10/13, Deagon) reports Amazon and Microsoft are teaming up to offer a new AI platform called Gluon, which they say will allow developers of all skill levels “to prototype, build, train and deploy sophisticated machine learning models for the cloud, devices at the edge and mobile apps.” IBD adds that the platform will run on Amazon Web Services.
ZDNet (10/12, Gagliordi) reports the companies “claim is that Gluon is a more concise, easy-to-understand programming interface compared to other offerings, and that it gives developers a chance to quickly prototype and experiment with neural network models without sacrificing performance.” The article reports Swami Sivasubramanian, VP of Amazon AI saying, “Today’s reality is that building and training machine learning models requires a great deal of heavy lifting and specialized expertise.” Eric Boyd, corporate VP of Microsoft AI and Research added, “Machine learning has the ability to transform the way we work, interact and communicate. To make this happen we need to put the right tools in the right hands, and the Gluon interface is a step in this direction.”
Venture Beat (10/12, Hanley Frank) reports, “Gluon is currently compatible with Apache MXNet, AWS’s preferred machine learning framework, and Microsoft is working to enable its compatibility with its Cognitive Toolkit.” The article reports that this announcement comes within days of another announcement saying “companies, including Intel, Qualcomm, AMD, and ARM, are working with the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) project to help create a shared representation of one popular form of machine learning.”
TechCrunch (10/12, Lunden) reports Microsoft and AWS have previously worked together on AI initiatives. It is reported, “The two work together in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. And last September, Amazon and Microsoft – along with Facebook, Google and IBM – announced the Partnership on AI to collaborate more on research and best practices in this newly emerging area.”
TechCrunch (10/12, Miller) reports Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are nonetheless fierce competitors, but says that “the cloud has a funny way of driving companies together because it’s all about the customer in the cloud.”
CNBC (10/12) reports, “Google open-sourced the TensorFlow AI framework in 2015, and it has since become very popular among researchers – considerably more popular than the Cognitive Toolkit and MXNet;” however, “Google is not among the companies promoting Gluon at this point. … People who wish to use TensorFlow might find it easier to do that with a Google-backed Python API called Keras.”
MIT Technology Review (10/12, Condliffe) reports TensorFlow “started off as an obscure piece of in-house software but is now used by the likes of Airbnb, eBay, Uber, Snapchat, and Dropbox to power their AI development.” The article says that TensorFlow is a major part of Google’s business plan.
Engineer: US Must Invest In Future Of Manufacturing.
In a piece for the Conversation (UK) (10/12), University at Buffalo engineer Kemper E. Lewis writes that the US “needs to figure out what the country should make tomorrow – and invest heavily in it. Whether we do depends on our willingness to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, a new era that is beginning and is destined to be just as pivotal as the previous three.” Lewis describes the nature and impact of the first three industrial revolutions, and says the “fourth industrial revolution focuses on artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things and other emerging technologies that fuse the physical, digital and biological worlds.”
Engineering and Public Policy
FAA Orders Inspections Of Airbus A380 Engines.
The Wall Street Journal (10/12, Pasztor, Subscription Publication) reports that the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive requiring airlines to inspect Airbus SE A380 jet engines after an engine came apart during an Air France flight last month. Reuters (10/13, Freed) reports that the “GP7200 engines account for 60 percent of the global market share of engines that power Airbus A380 superjumbos currently in service, according to Corrine Png, the CEO of transport research firm Crucial Perspective.” The Hartford (CT) Business Journal (10/12, Daddona) reports that the FAA also said in its directive that the parts needed to fix the issue “may be installed on as many as 991” planes, “estimating the total cost to comply with the order at more than $13.6 million.”
Lawmakers Press Perry On FERC Directive.
The Hill (10/12, Cama) reports during a Thursday hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subpanel, lawmakers criticized Energy Secretary Rick Perry for “his recent proposal to prop up coal and nuclear plants with higher payments for their electricity.” One Republican and several Democrats on the committee “said the plan would be unnecessarily disruptive to energy market and prop up power plants that aren’t competitive.” Rep. Frank Pallone said “killing off competitive electricity markets just to save generation assets that are no longer economical will lead to higher prices for consumers.” Rep. Pete Olson added “the proposal doesn’t align with Perry’s free-market energy policies from his time as Texas’s governor.” The AP (10/12) reports Perry said that the goal of the of the proposal is to build “an energy supply that’s strong ‘if the wind quits blowing, if the sun quits shining’ or natural gas transmissions lines fail.”
The Washington Examiner (10/12, Siegel) reports Perry didn’t “defend the proposal as aggressively as in his prepared remarks in which he said the plan ‘is just a first step’ in his efforts to ensure the reliability of the nation’s electric grid, suggesting he could take additional action in the future.” He said to lawmakers, “I want to hear both sides of this [debate] and have a very robust and open conversation. … I don’t have any idea if there are better options. I am not saying my [proposal] is the be-all-end-all. But obviously, it’s been very successful in getting a conversation started.”
Reuters (10/12, Gardner) reports the Energy Secretary “said the federal government had disregarded nuclear power for decades at a risk to national security.” He said, “If we lose our supply chain, if we lose our intellectual chain of supply of bright scientists because we basically pushed the nuclear industry back, then we’re going to lose our role as a leader when it comes to nuclear energy in the world.” The Dallas Morning News (10/12, Benning, Bureau) and CNBC (10/12) also provides coverage of Perry’s testimony.
Perry Mistakenly Calls Puerto Rico A Country. The “Fix” blog of the Washington Post (10/12, Blake) reports that also during the hearing, Perry “mistakenly referred to Puerto Rico as a country while talking about how to repair its energy grid.” The Fix blog writes that “in fairness to Perry, immediately before his flub, he did call Puerto Rico a territory. So it was clearly a momentary slip of the tongue rather than his not knowing the difference.” The Houston Chronicle (10/12, KamathChron.com /, Chronicle) reports Perry made the mistake “when Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida asked him about plans for building a more distributed energy grid.” The New York Daily News (10/12) also provides coverage of this story.
First Solar Bucks Industry, Favors Import Tariffs.
Bloomberg News (10/11, Martin) reports that First Solar Inc. has become involved in a “trade case that threatens the $29 billion U.S. solar industry, and it’s supporting tariffs on imports.” First Solar CEO Mark Widmar “said U.S. solar manufacturers face ‘unfair competition’ from rivals in other countries that ‘underscores the need for a fair and effective remedy,’ in a letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission.” That position places the largest US solar manufacturer in “opposition to the Solar Energy Industries Association and most of the rest of the industry.” The company had “refrained from taking sides even as the trade group fought vigorously against tariffs, saying they would drive up panel prices and lead to 88,000 job losses.” First Solar “criticized the trade group, of which it’s a member, saying it has ‘not engaged constructively’ on the tariff issue.”
Bloomberg Argues Against Tariffs On Solar Panels. In an editorial, Bloomberg View (10/12) wrote that the solar industry in the US is threatened by President Trump’s “eagerness to punish supposedly unfair trade practices.” The US International Trade Commission, “having unanimously ruled that American solar-panel makers are harmed by competition from Asian and other rivals, will recommend what tariffs or other import penalties the president should impose.” But the “commission and the president need to understand that punishing Asian panel makers would do more than damage trade relations: It would also cripple the thriving U.S. solar-energy business.” Most solar panels sold in the US are made in Asia, but most of the 260,000 jobs in the American solar business are not in manufacturing, but in installation and project development. This “remarkable growth in solar installations and jobs can continue – but not if tariffs raise prices too high for homeowners, businesses and utilities.”
Trump Administration’s Changes To Clean Power Plan Unlikely To Change Ohio Coal Plant Plans.
The Columbus (OH) Dispatch (10/12, Gearino) reports that despite the Trump Administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, coal-fired plants in Ohio are expected to close as planned given the market and price of coal. American Electric Power spokesperson Melissa McHenry said “our long-term strategy for our (power) generation fleet will not change with changes in the Clean Power Plan.” Ohio’s largest coal-fired plant, the General James M. Gavin plant, produced “more than 10 million megawatt-hours from January to July, according to the Energy Information Administration.”
Shell Making Bet On Electric Vehicles With NewMotion Purchase.
The Financial Times (10/12, Sheppard, Campbell, Subscription Publication) reports Shell is betting on electric vehicles by purchasing NewMotion, an EV-charging company which provides more than 30,000 private home electrical charging points and 50,000 public sites. Reuters (10/12, Schaps) reports Shell has starting providing EV charging points for retail stations, and said the acquisition would help offer a full range of EV services. Matthew Tipper, Shell VP for new fuels, said, “Today’s announcement is an early step toward ensuring customers can access a range of refueling choices over the coming decades.” The Hill (10/12, Henry) reports Shell will use NewMotion to help implement EV charging stations at many of its 45,000 service stations. Tipper went on to say, “This move provides customers the flexibility to charge their electric vehicles at home, work and on the go. When you add this customer offer to our current roll out of fast charging points on Shell forecourts, we believe we are developing the full raft of charge solutions required to support the future of EVs.” The AP (10/12) reports the acquisition is following CEO Ben van Beurden’s promise to examine “very aggressive scenarios” to remain competitive in a lower carbon future. CNN Money (10/12, Egan) reports NewMotion CEO Sytse Zuidema said the deal will help speed growth by providing access to Shell’s corporate clients and industry contacts. He said, “We are here not to fuel cars with petrol, but with electricity.” MarketWatch (10/12, Walker) reports Shell said NewMotion will operate as part of the enlarged group, and that both companies will work to maximize synergies and opportunities. Investor’s Business Daily (10/12, Rich) reports Shell did not disclose the terms of the deal, but NewMotion will operate as a subsidiary.
Tesla Begins Construction On Solar Arrays To Power San Marcos Schools.
The San Diego Union-Tribune (10/12, Brennan) reports that on Thursday, Tesla Motors began construction on work “to introduce solar arrays at most of” the campuses in the San Marcos school district in California. Under an agreement inked last December, “Tesla will install, operate and maintain the equipment, and the district will purchase power at reduced rates, saving an estimated $30 million over the 20-year contract.” Officials said that “once the solar facilities are installed district-wide, they will produce an estimated 10.1 million kilowatt hours – more than 80 percent of the schools’ annual usage of 11.4 million kilowatt hours.”
Michigan CTE Programs See Higher Enrollment, Low Completion Rates.
MLive (MI) (10/12) reports that enrollment in CTE program sin Michigan is growing after several years of declines, with the number of students “climbing by nearly 5,000 students since 2015.” However, state officials say that “the completion rate for CTE programs in Michigan remains relatively low,” with “less than a third of students enrolled in one of the programs” completing it. Completion numbers are up from the previous year, but “the state wants to see the number increase further.”
NSF Gives University Of Montana $300,000 Grant To Increase STEM Access For Native American Students.
THE Journal (10/12) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Montana a $300,000 grant intended to “launch a pilot project to encourage American Indian participation in STEM fields. The American Indian Traditional Science Experience (AITSE) will be based at the Flathead Indian Reservation.” The program will “combine after-school, hands-on learning opportunities and long-term educational programming, to generate better cultural awareness around the STEM fields.”
Code/Interactive Trains Texas School District Teachers In Computer Science Education.
The McAllen (TX) Valley Town Crier (10/12, Moreno) reports that Mission CISD in Texas, “in partnership with Mission Economic Development Corporation and” the not-for-profit Code/Interactive, “is taking the first step in implementing an immersive computer science education in Mission schools.” The article describes how “this summer Code/Interactive trained 16 elementary school teachers, four junior high school teachers and three high school teachers from Mission CISD to implement coding curriculum into computer science classes in a meaningful way.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• UC San Diego Computer Engineering Professor Wins MacArthur Award.
• VA Drops Plans To Suspend Law Barring Employees’ Ties With For-Profit Colleges.
• Panasonic Plans Debut Of Self-driving System By 2022.
• Alibaba Plans To Invest $15B In R&D Projects.
• Pro-Trump Energy Group Criticizes Perry Plan To Aid Coal, Nuclear.
• Montana District Raising Money To Expand STEM Instruction In Elementary Schools.