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

Leading the News

Puerto Rico Sees Power Outages Again Amid Slow Recovery.

ABC World News Tonight (11/9, story 7, 2:40, Muir) reported that over 80 percent of Puerto Rico is without power again after a major power failure. Eyewitnesses on the island had not seen inspectors arriving to investigate the problem as of the time of the report. The CBS Evening News (11/9, story 4, 2:10, Mason) reported that the outages are spread across the north side of the island, including San Juan. More than 2,200 people are still confined to shelters on the island.

BuzzFeed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Prakash) reports that a line failure “took out 25% of Puerto Rico’s power generation, which was at 43% capacity just before the failure, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).” Justo González, director of generation for PREPA, “said it was not yet clear why the line had failed.” The power line “is one of the major sections of the power grid that Montana firm Whitefish Energy was working on as part of its controversial contract with PREPA.” NBC News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9) reports that Whitefish spokesperson Chris Chiames said, “None of the issues reported today with the outage have anything to do with the repairs Whitefish Energy performed.”

CNN Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Santiago, Shah, Lopez) reports that according to PREPA official Fernando Padilla, “It was a mechanical issue on the line, could have happened at any line.” He added, “It’s being patrolled and repaired by PREPA.” Also reporting are The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Carter), Vox Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9), the Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Papenfuss), and the New York Daily News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9).

Energy Department Stops Releasing Outage Estimates For Puerto Rico. Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Ockerman) reports that the Energy Department has halted the release of outage estimates for Puerto Rico. On Thursday “the agency said Puerto Rico’s utility hasn’t been able to give estimates on actual customers without power,” and instead is “estimating the amount of electricity restored as a percent of the island’s peak load.” This percentage load may “be higher than the number of homes” with restored power.

Higher Education

Former For-Profit Students Sue ED Over Debt Forgiveness.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12) reports two former students of the for-profit Sanford-Brown Institute who say they were defrauded by the school “have sued the Education Department and a private loan servicer in a case their attorneys say could provide a new legal remedy for tens of thousands of students frustrated with the department’s inaction on claims seeking loan forgiveness.” The complaint “comes as the department begins work this week rewriting Obama administration rules designed to boost protections for students defrauded by their schools.” The lawsuit seeks to have the former students’ debt “erased,” citing “federal and state law that prohibits fraud as well as the contract they signed with their school. Previous lawsuits invoked the department’s own regulations in their search for loan relief.”

Universities Oppose GOP Tax Bill Over Endowments, Student Loans.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, Mitchell, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports US colleges and universities are intensifying efforts to defeat the Republican tax reform plan over plans to tax private-university endowments and other provisions targeting higher education.

Politico Morning Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10) reports the plan “would impose a new 1.4 percent excise tax on the earnings of endowments at private universities,” applying “only to private, not public, universities that have at least 500 students and endowment assets of at least $250,000 per student.”

House Version Could Cost Grad Students Thousands. Politico Morning Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10) reports that the House Republican tax plan “could hit some graduate students hard” because it “would eliminate tax breaks for university employees and graduate students who receive tuition reductions and scholarships. The Senate version keeps that in place.” The National Association of Graduate-Professional Students says “most doctoral programs in the United States, particularly in STEM fields, offer such tuition breaks to students working as teaching and research assistants, so many graduate students would see their tax bills jump — some by thousands of dollars.”

Study Casts Doubt On Link Between College Debt, “Boomerang Effect.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11) reports that despite the conventional wisdom that growing student debt is driving the increase in young adults moving back in with their parents, new research “found the opposite.” Jason Houle and Cody Warner of Dartmouth College and Montana State University, respectively, “found that so-called boomerangers had less student loan debt than young adults who didn’t return home.” Houle says the research supports the theory that “there is not so much a college debt crisis as there is a college completion crisis.”

From ASEE
Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase
Registration deadline approaching. The National GEM Consortium (GEM) and ASEE are hosting a Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase for doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and new faculty to display their leading-edge technical research and connect with potential agency sponsors and academic employers. The event is in Washington, DC, January 22-23, 2018. Watch this short video for more details.

Start Smart with “Smart Start”
Researchers and innovators will want to be in this two-week course to improve STEM education at all levels. Courses will be offered in the spring of 2018. Learn more and apply.

 

Research and Development

Companies Race To Develop Self-Driving Trucks.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/13, Dougherty, Subscription Publication) reports on the rapid advancement of self-driving trucks. According to CB Insights, companies and investors are on pace to invest over $1 billion in self-driving and other trucking technologies this year, which is 10 times more than three years ago. The article notes that unlike autonomous cars, trucks spend most of their time on highways and while the adoption of self-driving cars will depend on individual drivers, “logistics companies are unemotional operators that will upgrade their fleets the moment it makes financial sense.” The article mentions that Tesla, Waymo, Uber, along with others, are racing to develop self-driving cars. However, the article notes, “Companies have a lot to get through before they can start legally operating trucks without drivers.” In addition, self-driving trucks are likely to have “economic ripples, affecting insurance premiums, truck stops, vocational schools and the roads themselves.”

Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/13, Davies) similarly reports on self-driving trucks. The article adds that self-driving trucks operated by Embark are “hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California.” Embark’s runs aim to “test logistics as well as the safety of the technology.”

NASA Delays Launch Of Ionospheric Probe.

Spaceflight Now Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, Clark) reported that NASA has delayed the planned launch of a satellite which would “study the behavior of plasma in Earth’s ionosphere” until early next year to give “engineers time to resolve concerns with the separation system on its air-launched Pegasus XL booster.” The NASA Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) was set to launch aboard an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket December 8, but NASA announced on November 3 that the mission will not take off until at least early 2017. The “ICON spacecraft itself is healthy and ready for final pre-launch processing,” but NASA Heliophysics Division Chief Scientist Elsayed Talaat said last month that the mission would be delayed “pending resolution of concerns about the launch vehicle bolt cutter assembly reliability.” The component in question “is used in systems to jettison the Pegasus XL’s payload shroud during its climb into space and separate the ICON spacecraft once in orbit.”

Amazon Opens Cambridge Development Centre For Product Research.

The Guardian Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11, Gibbs) reports that Amazon “has reiterated its commitment to the UK by opening a new so-called Development Centre in the heart of Cambridge – three storeys of premium office space housing 400 employees dedicated to research for products from Amazon’s AI-assistant Alexa to the brave new field of Prime Air drone deliveries.” The facility “joins Amazon’s original Castle Park building in Cambridge to house an interdisciplinary team of engineers, scientists and researchers – dubbed Amazon Research Cambridge – dedicated to ‘pure innovation’, according to Amazon’s UK boss, Doug Gurr.”

Column: “Talking” Vehicle May Have Prevented Crash In Las Vegas.

In the Road Warrior column for the North Jersey (NJ) Media Group Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12), John Cichowski states, “It wasn’t hard to poke fun at the technology in the driverless shuttle bus that was rammed on its maiden voyage in Las Vegas last week.” The shuttle bus’ technology did not prevent the crash, but the crash could have been prevented had the vehicles been able to communicate with each other. Cichowski states that “this is a fact that the U.S. Department of Transportation has recognized for more than a decade as it pursued a $1 billion research and development plan to mandate vehicle-to-vehicle technology in all cars starting next year.” Cichowski also states that White House Office of Management and Budget decided to abandon the mandate days before the crash in Las Vegas, which “was also opposed by the cable and technology industries, which have been lobbying for the lion’s share of the 5.9 GHz wireless spectrum, which Congress set aside for transportation technologies in 1999.”

IBM Touts 50 Qubit Milestone.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10) reported Dario Gil, the head of IBM’s quantum computing and artificial intelligence research division, on Friday announced the company “successfully built and measured a processor prototype with 50 quantum bits, known as qubits.” Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, Kahn) reported that a “machine this size is believed to be close to the threshold at which it could perform tasks beyond the reach of conventional supercomputers – a major milestone in computer science that researchers in the field refer to as ‘quantum supremacy.’” According to the Daily Mail Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, Prigg), Gil said that this is the first time any company has built a quantum computer of this size.

Autonomous Cars Expected To Improve Mobility For Elderly People In The Future.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Phelan) reported that “self-driving cars will change millions of people’s lives for the better by providing independence and mobility to those who can’t drive because of physical limitations or age. The technology will allow more people to live on their own terms and participate in what the most of us consider everyday life.” In the future, autonomous vehicles could transport the elderly and children. Eric Noble, President of Product Development at The Carlab, said, “Autonomy is good for society. It will extend the time of driving and independent living for the largest generation ever: The Baby Boom. The technology aligns perfectly with our demographic needs. Baby Boomers had to take the keys when their parents could no longer drive. Autonomy allows them to postpone that moment in their own lives, and extends their working life.”

Scientists Propose Sweat-Based Smartphone, Smartwatch Authentication.

Digital Trends Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, Furness) reported that a research team led by University at Albany chemist Jan Halámek “has proposed an unexpected use for sweat – as a biomarker to better secure” electronic devices, such as smartphones and smartwatches. Sweat “is complex but individualized,” so Halámek’s described method would allow users to build a profile based on the number of amino acids present in their sweat. Users would swipe their sweat onto the device, which would analyze sweat content and compare it to the established profile prior to granting access. Halámek “hopes this approach would boost security by adding another check to make sure the person accessing a device is the device owner.”

Research Team Creates Wi-Fi Strength Boosting Reflectors.

Entrepreneur Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, Krishna) says that Dartmouth College researchers have reportedly found that “3D printed signal reflectors, consisting of a thin layer of metal and plastic, can drastically and cheaply improve the wireless signal around a home.” After analyzing a given space, the team could reportedly develop a reflector tailored for the area “that would optimize the Wi-Fi signal in that room.” Benefits reportedly include controlling both where a Wi-Fi signal goes and doesn’t go, ensuring it’s present where needed, but providing security otherwise. Reuters says creating such reflectors from material other than 3D printed plastic is the “next step,” with the eventual goal to create reflectors that adapt and change shape should their room’s layout change.

Case Western Reserve, Cleveland Sate Partner To Explore Role Of Technology In Manufacturing.

Crain’s Cleveland Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12, McCafferty) reports that researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University have received “a Smart & Connected Communities planning grant from the National Science Foundation of close to $100,000” to explore the connection between small manufacturers that adopt new technologies and their surrounding communities. The article adds that “the new project grew out of Case Western Reserve and Cleveland State’s ‘Internet of Things’ partnership, which was formalized in the spring and started from a $200,000 planning grant from the Cleveland Foundation earlier this year.” The foundation “wants Northeast Ohio to play a leadership role in the Internet of Things, which refers to the growing trend of traditionally lower-tech objects being connected to the internet,” and the new research project “will see faculty at both universities working with manufacturing economic development organization Wire-Net.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Federal Coal Mine Health Study Suspended.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11, Virtanen) reported a new $1 million federal study “was supposed to provide the most comprehensive review to date” on the health impacts of coal mining, but the Trump Administration “suspended it three months ago, citing budget reasons.” The goal of the scuttled study by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine “was a consensus from experts in various fields on potential short- and long-term health effects, focused on West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.” The Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement said officials were reconsidering grants over $100,000 largely for budget reasons, but “academies spokesman William Kearney said the mining study was the only project stopped, with the group having five others underway.”

NYTimes Analysis: Nations Step Up To Fill US Void On Climate Change.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12, Friedman, Subscription Publication) reports that when President Trump announced in June that the US would withdraw from the Paris agreement, “America officially ceded its global leadership on climate change.” Since then, “others have taken up the climate leadership role,” including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In addition, American governors, mayors and business leaders “have forged their own coalition, even taking over the United States pavilion at United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, this week.”

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12, Wolfgang) reports “the liberal governors of California, Washington and Oregon took the place of President Trump Sunday at an international climate change conference in Germany,” and they “told world leaders that the White House’s refusal to combat global warming means nothing to them.” According to the Times, the governors “essentially acted as America’s representatives at the summit and cast themselves as the country’s leaders on the environment.”

Also among the Americans in Bonn, Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12, Siders, Holden) reports, are “several Democratic US senators” who “began meeting last week with officials from other countries, seeking to minimize Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.” The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/10, J.f. Meils) reports Senate Democrats on Friday signaled “that they are going to continue to participate in global climate talks, even though President Donald Trump won’t back the Paris Climate Agreement.” Sen. Ben Cardin on a conference call said, “We are here because it’s our responsibility to be part of the global community. … We’re here because it’s in our national security interests to deal with climate change.”

US States, Cities Pledge Commitment To Paris Accord. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11, Jordans, Thiesing) reports that on Saturday at a global climate conference in Bonn, Germany, California Gov. Jerry Brown, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and representatives from other US states, cities, companies, and universities “said they are still committed to curbing global warming even as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is walking away from the Paris climate accord.” While the alliance, dubbed “America’s Pledge,” has a collective economy exceeding that of Japan and Germany combined, it cautioned in a report that “we cannot underscore strongly enough the critical nature of federal engagement to achieve the deep decarbonization goals the U.S. must undertake after 2025.” Also on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed “in her weekly podcast that every country needs to pitch in to keep global temperatures from rising.” The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11, Greenwood) reports “the group consists of 20 U.S. states and more than 50 major cities.” USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11, Miller) reports Bloomberg said, “The American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us.”

FERC Chair Says Decision On DOE Grid Proposal Will Be Made By Dec. 11.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Osborne) reports speculation that a decision on the Department of Energy’s “controversial” proposal to support coal and nuclear plants will be delayed abated somewhat Thursday after Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair Neil Chatterjee confirmed that “a decision will be made by Dec. 11, meeting the statutory deadline for such proposals.” He stated, “We remain on that trajectory. … I don’t want to have plants shut down while we do this longer term analysis.” Meanwhile, “members of Congress from both parties have urged FERC to hold off on a decision out of concern it could negatively impact other power generators, namely natural gas plants and wind and solar farms.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Traywick, Kern) reports that the “interim solution” that Chatterjee suggested “echoes a proposal devised by utility FirstEnergy, which has urged the commission to take quick action to secure extra compensation for so-called baseload plants.” In comments to the agency, FirstEnergy said, “‘This issue is too important, too pressing, and too critical to the nation’s security and grid reliability to leave to the never-ending vicissitudes of’ the stakeholder process.” E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9, Kuckro, Subscription Publication) and Platts Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/9) also provide continuing coverage of the proposal.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Michigan’s Quarkmine Space Provides A Home For STEM Activities.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12, Urban) reports that “every stem needs a place to grow and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) now has one under the pyramid at Logan’s Landing,” in Michigan. It adds, “Local robotics mentors John Gilligan and Philip Leete started Quarkmine in September of 2016 and added Space to its name on Oct. 14, opening almost 4,000 square feet of space as a regional hub to make, play and learn.” Gilligan is quoted saying, “We’re kind of a gym for your brain: A maker space, tech, robotics and gaming facility. We’re a place where all kinds of things happen, everywhere from robotics teams of elementary through college kids come here to practice.” The AP adds that “Gilligan said there is a definite growth in the area of school robotic teams, especially before students reach high school.”

Virginia Middle School Hosts Wind Turbine.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12, Truong) profiles Lanier Middle School in Northern Virginia. The school “uses curriculum from the Virginia Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University, which manages the federal Wind for Schools program in Virginia.” So far, the center has helped about 10 Virginia schools host wind turbines, according to curriculum coordinator and associate director Remy Pangle. Pangle explained that renewable energy jobs are “growing by leaps and bounds,” and quickly replacing jobs at traditional power plants. She added that the first wind farm in the state is expected to be installed next year. “Lanier’s location, she said, is distinct in that it’s sometimes difficult to install wind turbines in Northern Virginia” because of local restrictions. Nonetheless, it received a hybrid turbine and solar panel – a $15,000 Air Silent X model produced by Primus Wind Power – in September, becoming one of only three schools in the nation “to have that kind of energy producer.”

McNeese State University, Citgo Collaborate To Introduce STEM To Louisiana Elementary Students.

The Lake Charles (LA) American Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12) reports McNeese State University and Citgo have partnered in an effort “to take STEM education to over 900 students in 23 area elementary schools” in Louisiana “through the national Engineering is Elementary program.” The EiE program was designed by the Museum of Science in Boston “to engage elementary school students in STEM education in creative ways, said Nikos Kiritsis, dean of McNeese’s engineering college.” The dean “said he discovered EiE three years ago when he was looking for a way to spark the interest of his son, then a third-grader, in the science, technology, engineering and math areas.” After learning about the EiE program, Kiritsis “partnered with mechanical engineering professor Ning Zhang and initiated a 15-week after-school program that met at the SEED Center in 2015 and involved 25 third-graders.” Kiritsis introduced the EiE program to the Calcasieu Parish school system, and he hopes to expand it across all 35 elementary schools.

Oklahoma Education Leaders Emphasize Career, College Readiness At Summit.

The Oklahoman Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/12) reports Oklahoma is experiencing “a shortage of skilled labor and a large number of high school students enter college needing to take remediation courses.” The state Department of Education “wants to increase individualized academic plans for students and have more students enroll in concurrent and dual enrollment courses that offer college credit and career certification before high school graduation.” On Thursday, it hosted the New Skills for Youth Stakeholder Summit in Oklahoma City to examine “ways for schools to partner with businesses to establish student internships and mentorships.” The Oklahoman notes that the state DOE “has placed an emphasis on career and college readiness in its new public school plan called Oklahoma Engage,” which it recently submitted to ED for final approval. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is partially funding the state’s effort with a $2 million grant.

Wisconsin Students Compete In FIRST Lego League Regional Competition.

The Wisconsin State Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/11) reported Huegel Elementary School students competed Saturday in the FIRST Lego League regional competition, hosted by Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin. Ben Senson, the president of BadgerBOTS, a local group that mentors students interested in the science and technology fields, sponsored the qualifying competition, “said the organization and the FIRST Lego League engage elementary- and middle school-age youths because that’s when students may start turning away from those fields.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

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