Leading the News
Caltech Opens Lab To Improve How UAVs, Robots Work With Humans.
The Los Angeles Times (10/24, Xia) reports the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) opened a new lab Tuesday aimed at improving the “ability of drones and robots to think and react independently.” The lab, known as the Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies, “brings together experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and multiple fields” – including aeronautics, machine learning, geology, planetary science and computer science – to build next-gen UAVs and robots capable of helping humans “gather big data, respond to disasters and explore space, the deepest parts of the ocean and other unreachable corners of the world.” Forbes (10/24, Ohnsman) reports that “currently, about two-dozen Caltech and JPL scientists are working directly at CAST, though it will draw on research done across the university and the NASA lab.” Forbes adds that the lab has also received “financial backing from defense and aerospace companies including Raytheon and Aerovironment.”
Advanced Mobility Lab Working On Autonomous Robots. The Orange County (CA) Register (10/24) reports that a subunit of the center housed in Caltech’s Gates-Thomas building, dubbed the Advanced Mobility Lab, is working on robot autonomy. The lab features “a bipedal robot saunters on a treadmill, while nearby students show off an intelligent prosthetic leg and a hopping contraption designed for a secretive partnership with Disney.”
AGs In 25 States Call On DeVos To Reject Student Loan Industry’s Request For Immunity.
Bloomberg News (10/24) reports that a bipartisan group of attorneys general in 25 states has written to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reject claims from student loan firms that they are immune from “state investigations into allegedly abusive practices by claiming they’re preempted by federal law.” The piece explains that groups representing the sector have asked ED “to issue formal guidance barring probes by states, arguing they duplicate federal efforts and needlessly expand regulations.” The state AGs counter that “state probes have been effective in returning tens of millions of dollars to borrowers in recent years.”
MarketWatch (10/24, Berman) reports the attorneys general “sent a letter to DeVos on Monday asking her to reject requests from the student loan industry to block state regulations governing the sector.” The trade groups have asked ED “to issue guidance stating clearly that the companies are overseen by the Department and not state regulators.” However, the state AGs “argue that Congress never gave the Department the authority to get rid of state consumer protections. It’s unclear on whose side the Department will fall.”
ED Announces Plan To Delay Borrower Defense Rules Until 2019.
The Washington Post (10/24, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED has posted a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on a plan for “another delay of an Obama-era overhaul of rules to erase the federal student debt of borrowers defrauded by colleges.” The plan “would give the agency until July 1, 2019, to implement updates to a regulation known as borrower defense to repayment.” The Post reports that under President Obama, ED “revised the regulation last year to simplify the claims process and shift more of the cost of discharging loans onto schools. Those changes were slated to take effect in July, but DeVos suspended them for a year” pending a rewrite of the rules.
The AP (10/24, Danilova) reports ED “is further delaying Obama-era protections for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, saying it needs more time to write new regulations.” The move “renewed criticism by Democrats and advocacy groups that the administration favors the interests of for-profit universities over students.” ED “estimated that postponing the rule will save taxpayers $46 million.”
Studies Call Into Question Value Of Education Certificates.
The Hechinger Report (10/24) reports policymakers have long promoted “certificates as a way of getting closer to a long-sought goal of boosting the proportion of the population” with some “educational credential after high school,” and colleges view certificates as “an increasingly important source of income.” As a result, 56 percent more certificates were awarded in 2014 than in 1995, according to ED, making “certificates the fastest-growing kind of postsecondary credential.” Burning Glass Technologies, however, found “out of 16 million job openings it reviewed over one year that did not require professional licenses, only eight-tenths of 1 percent, or about 130,000, asked for a certificate.” Michael Itzkowitz, a Third Way senior policy adviser and former ED official, similarly concluded a certificate “doesn’t necessarily guarantee an adequately good-paying job that allows you to pay down your loans,” and students are often left “without the ability to get a well-paying job and often with unmanageable debt.”
Research and Development
University Of Texas-San Antonio To Launch Cybersecurity Center.
The San Antonio Rivard Report (10/24) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to the University of Texas at San Antonio to open the Center for Security and Privacy Enhanced Cloud Computing (C-SPECC), which “will bring together the science, engineering, education, and business colleges within UTSA to recruit students while still in high school, train them, and guide them into high-demand cybersecurity jobs in the public and private sector.” UTSA “has been widely recognized for its leadership in the cybersecurity field since it first began developing the program in 2001.” In fact, “The Ponemon Institute, which is dedicated to data protection and information security policy, identified UTSA in 2014 as the nation’s leading cybersecurity program.” UTSA Institute for Cyber Security founding executive director and computer science professor Ravi Sandhu will lead the new center. The “growing demand and high salaries in the cybersecurity field has also led Texas A&M University-San Antonio to invest in its cybersecurity program.”
On its website, WOAI-TV San Antonio (10/24) notes an online statement by UTSA that “says its science, engineering, education and business colleges will participate in the program. It will also create a partnership with Northside Independent School District to recruit students into the cybersecurity field.” The San Antonio Business Journal (10/24, Subscription Publication) reports the local cloud hosting company Rackspace is “expected to recruit high school students participating in the center’s programs for hackathons and internships.”
Tesla’s Autopilot 2.0 Woes Raise Doubts About Full Autonomy Promises.
The Verge (10/24, Hawkins) reports that despite big announcements and promises from Tesla for the future of autonomous driving, the company has “fallen behind in updating” Autopilot, “irking” its fans and “raising questions about Tesla’s ability to deliver on the promise of a fully self-driving car.” According to the article, Autopilot 2.0’s updates “have been infrequent and scattered,” and many of the features from Autopilot 1.0 “are still missing.” Ian Jordan, an electrical engineer in Seattle who owns a Model S, said the lack of progress “leaves you with no faith that they are anywhere” on the path to full autonomy, elaborating that “today they can’t reliably detect a speed limit sign, so it just seems like an enormous gap.” The Verge reports that a Tesla spokesperson acknowledged that the Autopilot updates have been lagging, and said the company was working diligently to correct that and add new features.
NASA Hopes New Technique Will Enable Curiosity Rover To Drill Again.
Fortune (10/24, Darrow) reports that NASA officials hope to enable the Curiosity Mars Rover to drill again on the red planet. Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, and “was able to dig out rock samples more than a dozen times between 2013 and 2016 when the drill mechanism stopped working.” During an October 17 test, NASA JPL technicians were able to lower the drill bit to the ground “for the first time in almost a year and hope they can get it working again using a modified drilling process, according to a JPL press release.” A new “feed-extended drilling” technique would push the drill bit into rock using the rover’s 7-foot robotic arm. JPL Chief Engineer Douglas Klein said, “This is the first time we’ve ever placed the drill bit directly on a Martian rock without stabilizers. The test is to gain better understanding of how the force/torque sensor on the arm provides information about side forces.”
McKinsey Report Recommends “Processes, Approaches” For Corporate Hackathons.
In an column for The Huffington Post (10/23), David Altounian and Sarah Sharif write about the “growing need for engineering and software developer talent,” and discuss the trend of “hackathons” for creating software prototypes, applications and products. They write, “The hackathon approach to solving corporate challenges has become a standard. McKinsey and Company has released a report on hackathons which provides recommendations for processes and approaches for corporate hackathons.”
Tuscaloosa Becomes First Alabama City To Participate In New Self-Driving Car Research Project.
Alabama Public Radio (10/24, AuBuchon) reports that “short-range radios installed at dozens of traffic signals throughout Tuscaloosa and Northport will be collecting data for research aimed at decreasing travel time, reducing vehicle crashes and laying the groundwork for eventually supporting self-driving cars.” Tuscaloosa is now the first Alabama city to participate in the project. Researchers at the University of Alabama, which includes “the Center for Advanced Vehicle Technology, the University Transportation Center for Alabama, the Center for Advanced Public Safety and the Alabama Transportation Institute” will collaborate on the research.
IBM Develops Way To Run Experimental AI In Memory.
MIT Technology Review (10/24) reports that IBM Research has developed a way to run AI algorithms in memory using a gird of a million memory devices, “which are all based on a phase-change material called germanium antimony telluride.” MIT reports that when the alloy is “hit by an electrical pulse, its state can be changed—from amorphous, like glass, to crystalline, like metal, or vice versa.” By changing “the size and duration of the electric pulses, it’s possible to change the amount by which that crystallization changes” and that, in turn, “can be used to represent a number of different states, not just regular 0s and 1s, which can be used to perform calculations rather than just store data.”
How Will ‘Really Big One’ Earthquake Shake Out? Researchers Run 50 Simulations.
The Oregonian (10/24) reports a University of Washington research project ran 50 simulations on how a massive earthquake could disrupt the Northwest. The simulations used combinations “of three factors: The quake’s epicenter, how far inland it would rupture and which parts of the fault would produce the most intense shaking, according to the university.” Erin Wirth, a postdoctoral researcher who led the project, explained in a statement, “There had been just a handful of detailed simulations of a magnitude-9 Cascadia earthquake, and it was hard to know if they were showing the full range. With just a few simulations you didn’t know if you were seeing a best-case, a worst-case or an average scenario. This project has really allowed us to be more confident in saying that we’re seeing the full range of possibilities.”
Hyundai Invests $5 Million In American Center For Mobility.
Automotive News (10/24, Frank) reports that Hyundai’s research and development arm is investing $5 million in the American Center for Mobility located near Ann Arbor, MI. According to the article, Hyundai will join the non-profit’s “government-industry team, which will work to create government standards and regulations,” and will also be allowed to test its own connected vehicle technologies on the site. Automotive news reports that Hyundai plans to test sensors, communications between vehicles and infrastructure, and how connected vehicle systems react to inclement weather.
MLive (MI) (10/24, Haynes) reports Hyundai is joined as a sponsor by Ford, who made a previous investment in the center. Hyundai America Technical Center president Andy Freels said, “As a founding member, we will help set the direction for CAV (connected and autonomous vehicles) standards and test advanced technologies in a safe environment for the North American customer.”
Michigan State University Researchers Create Transparent Solar Panels.
NBC News (10/24) reports online that Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University, led a team of researchers who “created a transparent luminescent solar concentrator that could generate solar energy on any clear surface without affecting the view.” NBC News explains, “In theory, it could be applied to cell phones, windows, buildings, and cars.” When used effectively, the “transparent solar panels have the potential to generate just as much solar power as rooftop solar panels” and “could at full implementation provide 40 percent of electricity in the U.S.”
Observatory In Puerto Rico Employed In Hurricane Relief Effort.
The AP (10/24) reports “a massive radio telescope,” the Arecibo Observatory, was “built in 1963 in the mountains of central Puerto Rico.” Unlike “the vast majority of Puerto Ricans” left in a “technologically deprived state without power and poor communications” because of Hurricane Maria, the observatory emerged “almost unscathed.” While the observatory “plays a dramatic role” of “potentially saving the planet from outright destruction” under a NASA program, its “more Earthbound properties that have made it relevant” in the wake of the hurricane. The observatory “has its own power supply and water well,” so it is now “distributing 14,000 gallons of drinking water a day.” Meanwhile, “FEMA is using its helipad to drop off food and other critical supplies. The police and power authorities are piggybacking on its radio repeaters.” The AP notes the National Science Foundation, the primary source of the observatory’s funding, “is proposing to cut its budget from $8 million to $2 million over the next five years.”
Wind Technician Is Fastest Growing Occupation In U.S.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (10/24) reports that wind technician is the fastest growing occupation in the nation “with an expected growth rate of 108 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” According to the Energy Department’s 2017 report, solar generation employed 378,807 while wind came in second with 101,738 workers. Coal generation ranked third with 85,035 workers.
Delphi Automotive Announces $450M Acquisition Of Autonomous Vehicle Startup NuTonomy.
Bloomberg News (10/24, Coppola) reports, “Delphi Automotive Plc agreed to acquire self-driving startup NuTonomy Inc. for $450 million, speeding up its plans to supply carmakers with autonomous vehicle systems.” The acquisition will “roughly double Delphi’s team developing autonomous driving software.” In addition, “Delphi is in the process of splitting into two companies by early next year, with one producing powertrains and the other developing self-driving systems and other newer technology,” and it plans “to use NuTonomy to hasten the introduction of an autonomous robotaxi test fleet in Singapore by a year, to 2019, and expand driverless testing to more cities, Delphi Chief Technology Officer Glen De Vos said.” It quotes De Vos saying, “While we were really happy with the assets that we have, we recognize that to win in the market, we need to move fast. We’re getting larger fleets deployed earlier – we see that as a critical enabler.” Fortune (10/24) reports that NuTonomy’s staff include “highly sought after engineers and scientists,” and “once the transaction is complete, Delphi will have autonomous driving operations in Boston, Pittsburgh, Singapore, Santa Monica, and Silicon Valley.” In addition, Fortune writes, “Delphi will have 60 self-driving cars on the road across three continents by year-end, with the goal to further accelerate global fleet expansion and technology development, the company said Tuesday.”
Engineering and Public Policy
GAO Says Climate Change Is Costing Government Billions.
In continuing coverage The Hill (10/24, Cama) reports that a Government Accountability Office report has found that “the effects of climate change are already costing the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars.” The GAO, in a report released on Monday, “tallied the total cost of disaster assistance and flood and crop insurance losses at $350 billion over the last decade, not including the most recent hurricanes and wildfires.” The Los Angeles Times (10/24, Halper) reports the report “presents a bleak picture in which the economic costs of climate change spiral ever further upward in the coming decades. While the report finds that coordination among federal agencies in confronting climate change has long been inadequate, it now comes at a time when the White House is making an unprecedented retreat on environmental protection.” The U.S. News & World Report (10/24) and the ABC News (10/24) also provide coverage of this story.
Trump’s “Energy Independence” Order Leads To Rollback Of Obama-Era Regs.
E&E Publishing (10/24, Subscription Publication) reports that this month, the Trump administration “hit two milestones in their wide-ranging examination of Obama-era rules” that could be considered burdensome to U.S. energy producers. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “formally proposed a repeal of the Clean Power Plan” just days after the Bureau of Land Management “unveiled its plan to postpone key parts of a rule the Obama administration introduced to limit venting, flaring and leakage of natural gas from energy operations on public and tribal lands.” President Trump is also credited with disbanding “an interagency working group that focused on the social cost of carbon and related tools that put a dollar amount on the impacts of carbon, nitrous oxide and methane.”
Democrats Call For Investigation Of $300 Million Contract For Firm With Ties To Zinke.
ABC World News Tonight (10/24, story 7, 2:10, Muir) reported, “Tonight, your money at stake: $300 million in FEMA disaster funds.” A “Montana company [was] given the contract to get the power back on” in Puerto Rico “with just two workers when it landed that contract.” ABC (Thomas) added, “Whitefish Energy, a private Montana company with just two full-time employees, awarded a $300 million contract by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The company showcasing its work on Twitter,” but “some Democrats are already calling for an investigation into that contract” to Whitefish Energy – a firm from the “hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.” Rep. Luis Gutierrez was shown saying, “Look, I’ve been at this for 25 years, and this does not pass the smell test.” Zinke’s office is “telling ABC News he knows the owner because they both live in a small town, adding that the Secretary’s son worked a summer job at the company construction site. But…his office was emphatic. ‘Neither the secretary, no anyone in his office, have taken any meetings or action on behalf of this company.’” NBC Nightly News (10/24, story 6, 1:50, Gutierrez) also reported the story, and showed Ken Luce, a Whitefish Energy spokesperson, defending the company, “Others were just not willing to take the risk and get an plane to go ask for business.”
The New York Times (10/24, Acosta, Healy, Subscription Publication) reports “the House Committee on Natural Resources said on Tuesday that it was looking into the contract.” Parish Braden, the panel’s communications director, “said that members of the panel would travel to Puerto Rico this week to seek more answers about the details of the contract and how it was reached.” Moreover, “Sen. Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the circumstances surrounding Whitefish’s contract.”
The AP (10/24, Daly) reports PREPA’s executive director Ricardo Ramos told reporters that Whitefish it was the first company “available to arrive, and they were the ones that first accepted terms and conditions for PREPA.” He added, “The doubts that have been raised about Whitefish, from my point of view, are completely unfounded.”
WPost: Contract “Deserving Of More Scrutiny.” The Washington Post (10/24) editorializes that in contrast to the situation in Texas and Florida, “more than a month after Maria made landfall on” Puerto Rico “roughly 8 out of 10 residents are still without power.” While “the sorry, preexisting state of Puerto Rico’s power system…clearly accounts for some of the delay…that doesn’t excuse the bad planning and questionable decisions that have marked the response to a calamity that was so clearly anticipated.” To the Post, “giving a no-bid $300 million contract to a company that had just two full-time employees on the day Maria struck is, at best, curious and deserving of more scrutiny.”
Governor Slams Army Corps Of Engineers. NBC Nightly News (10/24, story 6, 1:50, Gutierrez) reported that amid the continuing power outages, Puerto Rico’s governor “slammed the Army Corps of Engineers response so far.” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was shown saying, “There’s no sense of urgency.” NBC added, “The Army Corps insists it’s working hard to meet the governor’s goal to restoring power to 95 percent of the island by mid-December.”
Wind Energy Developers Move Forward On Offshore Projects In New Jersey.
Bloomberg News (10/24, Ryan) reports, “after years of being sidelined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, wind farm developers are dusting off plans for massive offshore turbines that may someday generate more electricity than a nuclear reactor.” As governor, Christie “effectively blocked wind farms off his state’s coast by never fully implementing a program that would subsidize the projects.” Bloomberg writes that Christie’s departure “presents a potentially rich market for offshore wind,” with low power prices and a geographical position “midway between offshore wind development sites in New England and the Southeast, making the state a potential hub for ferrying supplies to build projects in other states.” The article quotes US Wind Director of Project Development Paul Rich, “New Jersey has all the classic elements for offshore wind to work. The time is right, and the market is ripe.”
New Mexico Student Wins $25,000 In National STEM Competition.
The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (10/24, Last) reports that on Tuesday at the seventh annual Broadcom MASTERS, “a prestigious science, technology, engineering and mathematics competition for middle school students” sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public, 15-year-old Santa Fe High School freshman Faris Wald “was announced as winner of the Samueli Foundation Award for Innovation and a $25,000 cash prize.” Wald “entered the competition last year while still an eighth-grader at Capshaw Middle School,” and “was among 30 students from 17 states, and the only one from New Mexico, to be selected as a finalist by a panel of scientists and engineers from across the country.” Wald’s project examined the “correlation between solar coronal hole occurrences and the formation of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones.” The Journal notes nearly 2,500 students had entered the competition.
Cleveland School District Awarded NSF Grant To Expand Computer Science Education.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (10/24) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a three-year, $1 million grant to Cleveland State University and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to expand CSforAll, an initiative that “seeks to train high school teachers in the main concepts of computer science to ensure that all students in the district can receive training in the discipline.” One key focus of the program “is to ensure that the courses are available to every student, regardless of learning ability or demographic constraints, CSU said.” CMSD currently offers computer science education at about a third of its high schools, “and the initiative will expand training to the remaining high schools in the district.” CSU has also partnered with the Microsoft TEALS program, the RITE Board, and BioEnterprise to further the goals of the initiative.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Puerto Rico Still Dealing With Widespread Outages.
• ED Announces Further Delay Of Borrower Defense Rules.
• National Science Foundation Gives Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professors Grant For Robotic Snake.
• Former Twitter Engineer Says Lawsuit Means To Prove Firm Blocks Women’s Advancement.
• Edmunds Report Ranks Tesla Highest For Autonomous Safety Feature Availability.
• Government UAV Advisory Group Wrestles With Dysfunction, Distrust.
• Kentucky Nonprofit Introduces Drone Technology Education Into Schools.