Leading the News
Tesla’s Electric Semi Trucks Include Automatic Breaking And Nuke-Proof Glass.
NPR (11/17) reported Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk introduced the company’s new electric Semi trucks, touting “the utility and efficiency of what he called a game-changing truck.” The truck “has a 500-mile range on one charge even if it’s fully loaded at a gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds. It also comes with a million-mile guarantee on its powertrain. Musk said it will be able to maintain a speed of 65 mph while going up a 5 percent grade.” Production of the truck “is expected to begin in 2019; Musk said customers who order now would get the vehicles in two years.”
Automobile Magazine (11/17) reported Tesla confirmed the truck “uses four Model 3 electric motors – one for each rear wheel – and that it can hit 60 mph from a standstill in 5 seconds unloaded, or 20 seconds when towing.” Musk “said the drivetrain is guaranteed for 1 million miles.” The Tesla Semi “falls under the Federal Highway Administration’s class 8 heavy duty category, which is the highest weight rating at 33,001-plus pounds.” Musk also “said the Tesla Semi can regain 400 miles of range from a mere 30-minute charge – the same amount of time the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mandates for a break in an eight-hour shift.”
Vox (11/16) reported Musk “pitched the new Tesla Semi as the safest, most comfortable truck ever.” Safety features “include automatic braking, lane tracking, and ‘nuclear explosion-proof glass’ for the windshield.”
Additional coverage is provided by the CBS Evening News (11/17, story 11, 0:25, Mason), the Wall Street Journal (11/17, Tita, Higgins, Smith, Subscription Publication), Fortune (11/17), and Bloomberg News (11/17, Burton).
Wal-Mart, JB Hunt Pre-Order Tesla Electric Trucks. CNBC (11/17) reported Wal-Mart “is planning to test Tesla’s electric tractor trailers and has already preordered 15, the retailer told CNBC on Friday.” .The company said five will be for Wal-Mart US and 10 will be for Wal-Mart Canada. In a statement, Wal-Mart said, “We have a long history of testing new technology – including alternative-fuel trucks – and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle. … We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions.”
The Wall Street Journal (11/17, Smith, Subscription Publication) reported J.B. Hunt also said Friday it has placed a reservation to purchase multiple Tesla Semi tractors, but did not specify how many it ordered.
Tannert: Truck Safety Should Be Given High Priority In Driverless Tech Development. Chuck Tannert wrote in Popular Mechanics (11/17) that while most of the chatter around driverless tech surrounds cars, “the truth is some of the most important ‘autonomous’ vehicles won’t ride on four wheels. They’ll ride on 18.” Tractor trailers “move 70 percent of all domestic freight, account for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse emissions in the U.S., and are also involved in a growing number of fatal road accidents.” Making them “better, greener, and safer should be a high priority.”
University Of Minnesota Engineering Students Win Bayer-Big Ten Alka-Rocket Challenge, Earn Guinness Title.
The St. Cloud (MN) Times (11/17) reported that “student rocketeers from the University of Minnesota have blasted their way into history by winning the Bayer-Big Ten Alka-Rocket Challenge.” Under the Making Science Make Sense (MSMS) Program, five students were awarded a $25K prize for winning the Bayer-Big Ten Alka-Rocket Challenge, earning the Guinness title. Dr. Mae C. Jemison, Bayer’s Chief Ambassador for MSMS and Principal, 100YSS, said that it is exciting that the Bayer-Big Ten Alka-Rocket Challenge highlights academics and the work that students do in the STEM field. The challenge, she said, is hands-on, requiring students to “learn by doing things.”
NYTimes A1: Student Loan Defaults Can Result In Loss Of Employment.
The New York Times (11/18, A1, Silver-Greenberg, Cowley, Kitroeff, Subscription Publication) reports in a front-page story that individuals in 19 states who default on student loans can have professional licenses seized by state agencies or, in South Dakota, their driver’s licenses, essentially barring them from employment. The story notes that tracking license seizures “is impossible because many state agencies and licensing boards don’t track the information,” but the Times “identified at least 8,700 cases in which licenses were taken away or put at risk of suspension in recent years, although that tally almost certainly understates the true number.”
WPost Analysis: House Tax Bill Reflects Growing Rift Between GOP, Higher Education.
A Washington Post (11/19, Anderson) analysis cites the House Republican tax bill’s elimination of the tax deduction for interest paid on student loans and graduate student tuition waivers as well as its tax on endowments at some privater colleges and universities as “evidence of a growing disconnect between large segments of the GOP and colleges that, for generations, have wielded enormous clout on Capitol Hill.” It comes as outside the Beltway, “there are signs that Republican support for higher education is ebbing.” According to a Per Research Center poll from July, “58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country. That was up from 37 percent two years earlier.” In August, Gallup found “far fewer Republicans than Democrats expressing confidence in higher education.”
Commentary: Congress Should Preserve GI Bill Benefits For Aviation Training.
In commentary for The Hill (11/19), Iraq war veterans Tracey Cooper-Harris, Jason Johns, and Christopher Neiweem write that “some members of the House Veterans Committee are seeking to significantly cut assistance for veterans pursuing valuable careers in commercial aviation.” They write that thousands of veterans are “enrolled in public universities and engaged in training to obtain the requisite flight hours to achieve their dreams of becoming commercial pilots” using GI Bill benefits. The writers concede that there are “fair and legitimate concerns” about a lack of oversight in the program, but argue that cutting the benefits will not address those issues and will stymie the pipeline of commercial aviation professionals needed in the coming decades.
Research and Development
Florida State Researchers Unveil Nanotube Prototype.
The Tallahassee (FL) Democrat (11/19) reports that researchers at the Florida State University High-Performance Materials Institute “have been laying the groundwork for a number of prototypes involving carbon nanotubes, a key entity in the future of materials engineering.” the facility “was founded in 2006 with a mission to recruit and retain top-quality faculty and staff that will place HPMI at the forefront in the field of advanced composites materials and nanomaterials.” The institute “is located in FSU’s $20 million, 45,000 square foot Materials Research Building.”
Researchers Develop Kevlar-Based Artificial Cartilage.
The Medgadget (11/16) reports, “Researchers at the University of Michigan and Jiangnan University in China have developed a type of artificial cartilage using Kevlar…and polyvinyl alcohol.” The material “combines the strength and water content of natural cartilage, and might be useful as a replacement for cartilage or other soft tissues in the body.” The researchers “turned to Kevlar, a really strong synthetic fiber, and combined it with PVA, which can create hydrogels that hold a lot of water.”
R&D Magazine (11/16) reports that making artificial cartilage has historically been “challenging,” but the researchers “have developed ‘Kevlartilage’—an artificial Kevlar-based cartilage that mimics the strength of actual cartilage.”
University Of Arizona Engineering Professor Explains Molten Salt Technology.
KNAU-FM Flagstaff, AZ (11/17) aired an interview with University of Arizona Engineering Professor Peiwen Li about the Navajo Generating Station about plans to convert “the coal-fired plant into a high-powered solar facility incorporating a new energy storage technique using molten salt.” Peiwen Li explains the use of molten salt to store thermal energy and details the need for the renewable energy industry to find ways to provide energy during times when energy production goes down.
JLR Tests First Autonomous Vehicle On Public Roads.
Reuters (11/17, Pitas) reported Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced on Friday that it has tested its first autonomous car on public roads. Nick Rogers, the company’s Executive Director for Product Engineering, explained, “By using inputs from multiple sensors, and finding intelligent ways to process this data, we are gaining accurate technical insight to pioneer the automotive application of these technologies.”
SpaceX, Blue Origin Bet On Competing Approaches To Rocket Development.
In a profile of SpaceX’s McGregor, TX rocket test facility, The Houston Chronicle (11/17, Rumbaugh) reported that SpaceX and Blue Origin “are taking opposite approaches to rocket development.” Forecast International Space Market Analyst Bill Ostrove cited SpaceX’s approach as building greater quantities of less powerful rocket engines. The “rationale is that more practice will accelerate learning and bring down costs, Ostrove said.” In contrast, Blue Origin “is putting fewer, more powerful engines on its rockets,” with the rationale that “fewer working pieces will make it easier to integrate the various rocket elements.” Ostrove “said the big question moving forward is whether the market can sustain both companies,” which will depend in large part on the companies’ pricing. Still, Ostrove estimated, “We’re probably closer to that now than we’ve ever been” to having a full-fledged “economy around these heavy-lift launch vehicles.”
“Cyber Warfare Range” Opens At University.
KPNX-TV Phoenix (11/19) reports, “Grand Canyon University is now home to a ‘Cyber Warfare Range’ aimed at fighting off cyber attacks.” The Range is “a real live environment, with real live attacks,” according to Dr. Heather Monthie of GCU’s College of Science, Engineering & Technology. KPNX adds, “The idea is to fortify the cyber security landscape and build a cyber security workforce.”
UK Finance Ministry Plans To Increase Budget For Autonomous, Electric Vehicles.
Reuters (11/18, Davey) reported the British finance ministry announced on Sunday that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond this week will unveil a budget with “measures to encourage the development of driverless and electric cars, artificial intelligence and telecommunications.” According to Reuters, the “measures to drive technological improvements would chime with his desire to improve UK productivity, which is growing very slowly, and create high quality jobs.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Puerto Rico Power Authority CEO Resigns Amid Prolonged Post-Hurricane Blackout.
The New York Times (11/17, Robles, Subscription Publication) reports Ricardo L. Ramos, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, resigned yesterday “amid a two-month island-wide blackout and weeks of bruising public outcry over a costly contract to restore service.” According to the article, “The governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló, told reporters that he accepted the resignation because Mr. Ramos had become a distraction,” and “a spokeswoman for Mr. Rosselló said the governor had not asked for Mr. Ramos to step down.”
The Washington Post (11/17, Mufson, Hernández) reports Rosselló said, “The executive director is a professional. He has worked hard to restore the system in Puerto Rico but understands that this is a context that has greatly distracted from what could be recovery.” Bloomberg News (11/17, Levin, Spalding) reports Ramos’’s resignation “made clear” that Rosselló “wants to remain in charge of the battered island’s recovery.”
USA Today (11/17, Stanglin) reports San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz called the resignation the “right thing.” She added, “That he helped destroy the credibility of the PR government is a disgrace.”
The Hill (11/17, Henry) reports “less than 45 percent of power has been restored to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria swept across” the island. The Washington Examiner (11/17, Siegel) reports PREPA and Ramos “have been especially criticized for signing a $300 million contract with small Montana firm Whitefish Energy to restore the island’s power.”
U.S. Forest Service Approves Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The AP (11/17) reported that on Friday the U.S. Forest Service granted approval for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “to run through the George Washington National Forest and Monongahela National Forest.” Roughly 21 miles of the pipeline will be located on land belonging to the National Forest Service and will also cross the Appalachian Trail. Pipeline spokesperson Aaron Ruby said the decision is a large step towards the project’s final approval.
Natural Gas Intelligence (11/17, Passut, Subscription Publication) reported that the U.S. Forest Service said “this decision supports federal policies emphasizing energy infrastructure, jobs, economic growth and our agency’s efforts to provide for multiple use.” It added that “by applying the required terms, conditions and mitigation measures outlined in the environmental impact statement, the ACP project will be implemented without impairing the long-term productivity of National Forest System lands.”
The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch (11/17, Zullo) reported that “the Atlantic Coast Pipeline won another key approval Friday” with the USFS’ decision. According to the USFS, “the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s construction phase will disturb about 430 acres of Forest Service land,” after which “about 214 acres of land will ‘be maintained and operated for long-term use’ by the pipeline developers.” Dominion Energy spokesman Aaron Ruby said the USFS decision followed “three years of careful study, meaningful engagement with the public and other agencies, and extensive field surveys by expert wildlife biologists.” Ruby added, “we’ve always strived to balance the energy needs of consumers and the economy with responsible environmental stewardship. … The Forest Service’s approval shows that through collaboration with agencies and the scientific community, we can responsibly develop infrastructure in a way that preserves the environment and protects our natural resources.”
Experts Say DOE Grid Plan Could Spur “Utility Death Spiral.”
Greenwire (11/17, Storrow, Subscription Publication) reported that some researchers say the Energy Department’s proposal to prop up coal and nuclear power plants “could spur an exodus of utility ratepayers in the face of electricity bills.” Experts say that “ballooning utility bills combined with falling prices for solar power and battery storage could make it more attractive than ever for people to install solar panels and go off the electric grid.” The result could be a possible “utility death spiral,” in which utilities are forced to raise prices to cover the loss of customers, which would then spur “more customers to set up solar systems and leave the grid.”
Class-Action Lawsuit Accuses New England Utilities Of Conspiring To Drive Up Costs.
The AP (11/19) reported “a class-action lawsuit accuses” Eversource Energy and Avangrid Inc. “of conspiring to drive up energy costs in New England.” The lawsuit, according to the attorney the filed it, accuses the utilities “of using their market power to ‘unlawfully jack up’ consumer electric bills. The suit contends customers in New England were overcharged $3.6 billion.” The utilities “are being investigated by the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel and the state’s public utilities authority on charges of market manipulation.”
RMP Announces Plans To Close Coal-Fired Plant In Montana.
The AP (11/19) reported the owners of the Hardin Generating Station in Montana, Rocky Mountain Power, “said it continues to lose money and will be shut down early next year if they can’t find a buyer.” RMP “informed the Public Service Commission of the pending closure in October.” The facility, according to officials, “has been relying on short-term energy contracts and lower power prices have caused it to lose money.” The plant “employs 30 people and buys coal from the Absaloka mine on the nearby Crow Indian Reservation.”
Potential Asian Solar Factories In US, Likely To Be “Highly Automated.”
Bloomberg News (11/16, Eckhouse) reported Suniva Inc. “is pushing to revive U.S. solar manufacturing with a trade case that’s headed for the president’s desk” and “the simmering dispute” has “a good chance of leading to import tariffs, but don’t expect that to bring the jobs back.” While several “Asian solar companies say the prospect of trade barriers has them weighing the idea of opening factories in the U.S.,” they are “likely considering highly automated facilities that won’t need armies of workers.” CFRA analyst Angelo Zino said, “Lower costs in China have destroyed U.S. solar-industry jobs – that’s true. … But while tariffs might compel Chinese manufacturers to open plants here, does that create an enormous amount of domestic jobs? Probably not.”
Los Angeles Charter School’s STEAM Curriculum Lauded.
EdSource (11/19) reports that in 2013, the California Department of Education designated the Renaissance Arts Academy as a California Distinguished School and encouraged it to adopt a STEAM curriculum. The Los Angeles-based charter has been so successful that it “won a national STEAM award from the White House and state awards for excellence and innovation in the arts and academic achievement from the California Department of Education and commendations from the California State Assembly and the Los Angeles school district’s board of education.” That success has in turn “generated more interest in the school,” and it now “holds an annual lottery for admission.” Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy senior associate Diane Friedlaender said most STEAM schools are essentially STEM schools that introduced arts education, but Renaissance Arts has been more successful because it was first established as an arts education program. EdSource, however, argues that the school’s “unusual” multi-age approach is what truly sets it apart from other schools.
Pennsylvania Governor Calls For Mandatory Computer Science Education Standards.
The Sunbury (PA) Daily Item (11/19) reports Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced, “I have asked the Department of Education to work closely with the State Board of Education to adopt Computer Science for All standards for Pennsylvania and I will work with the legislature to codify computer science standards into law.” Wolf’s office explained that “approximately 300,000 jobs will require STEM skills and knowledge by 2018,” and that “seven in 10 new jobs will require computer science skills over the next decade.” Last year, an estimated 18,332 Pennsylvania students enrolled in a high school computer science class, but district officials said additional coursework would only benefit students. Judd Pittman, a special adviser to the state education secretary on STEM, said under Wolf’s initiative, “Each of the 500 school districts would have the opportunity to drive toward the type of experience they’d want for their own students,” and that there are many “opportunities for public-private partnerships or accessing grant dollars.”
New Mexico Middle School Students Compete In Electric Car Challenge.
The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (11/18, Hayden) reported approximately 300 middle school students competed in the annual New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Wednesday. The competition “includes racing, oral and design portions.” Student teams received “a battery and motor and were to build a car that could bear the weight of a canister of salt and complete a straight, timed course.” Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the military shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries sponsored the challenge. Sandia community relations manager Amy Tapia said the competition is “really designed to help them understand how math and science are involved in engineering.”
Long Island High School Students Participate In Robotics Exhibition Tournament.
Newsday (NY) (11/18) reported 24 Long Island-area high school teams competed before “hundreds of spectators” at a robotics exhibition tournament on Saturday. The tournament featured “a ‘steamworks’ theme, in which robots threw balls into ‘boilers’ and brought gears to ‘airships’ to turn rotors for points.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Tesla Unveils Semi-Truck With 500 Mile Range.
• University Of Minnesota Rocket Team Sets Guinness Record With Alka-Seltzer Launch.
• University Of Texas At El Paso Patents New Metamaterial To Improve Cell Phone Antennas.
• San Francisco Nonprofit Code2040 Raises $5.6 Million To Promote Diversity In Tech Sector.
• US Industrial Output Up A “Healthy” 0.9% In October.
• Commentary: GOP Tax Bill Bad For Science, Economy.