Leading the News
Industry, Government Work To Develop Automated Satellite Repair Capability.
The Los Angeles Times (11/22, Masunaga) reported on government and industry efforts to “extend the lives of satellites with in-orbit satellite servicing” via “robotic spacecraft traveling from satellite to satellite to refuel them and fix problems.” DARPA selected SSL “to be its commercial partner in a program to service satellites in geosynchronous orbit” earlier this year. The spacecraft is scheduled to begin test launches in 2021. A different commercial offering “is expected to launch next year, but analysts say a mature market is still at least 10 years away. Not only do the spacecraft and capabilities still need to be fine-tuned, but the space industry, which is relatively conservative, will also want to see several demonstrations before signing on.” The “number of satellites that will need servicing is rising rapidly.” A report released in June estimated that the number of satellites in orbit rose from 994 in 2012 to more than 14,000 in 2016.
New Space Industry Consortium To Consider New Rules For Commercial Satellite Repair And Refueling. The Digital Journal (11/26, Graham) reports that DARPA’s Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations is expected to “consider new ‘rules of the road’ for commercial on-orbit satellite repair and refueling.” Secure World Foundation Technical Advisor Brian Weeden said that while the technology is available to “approach, grasp, manipulate, modify, repair, refuel, integrate, and build completely new platforms and spacecraft on orbit,” more widely accepted safety and technical standards are needed.
Illinois State University Considers New Engineering Program.
The AP (11/27) reports, “Illinois State University (ISU) is considering adding an engineering program to meet what university officials say is a ‘robust demand’ for the degree in Illinois.” A university committee “is studying whether to pursue an engineering program, but a decision is still months away.” ISU College of Arts and Sciences Dean Greg Simpson said, “There are a lot of really outstanding students that continue to look for a program.”
States Struggling To Meet Accreditors’ Requirements For Dual-Credit Instructors.
Inside Higher Ed (11/27) reports that two years ago, the Higher Learning Commission, the nation’s largest regional accrediting agency, “a policy clarification stating that high school teachers in dual-credit courses, along with all instructional college faculty, must have a master’s degree in the specialty they’re teaching, or they need at least 18 graduate-level credit hours within that specialty.” This decision has left states and colleges “scrambling to offer incentives and develop programs that help dual-enrollment instructors meet a change in accreditation guidelines for teaching the increasingly popular courses.” However, there are lingering concerns “about whether colleges will have enough qualified dual-credit instructors by the time the accreditor’s deadline arrives.”
WPost Analysis: Maryland’s Historically Black Schools Seek Balance Between Equality, Identity.
The Washington Post (11/27, Douglas-Gabriel) reports, “Traditionally white public universities in Maryland count 122 academic programs that are not duplicated anywhere within the state system,” while historically black state schools offer just 11 such offerings. That disparity gave rise to a lawsuit in 2006 aimed at ending “inequality within Maryland’s public higher education system.” In a ruling earlier this month, US District Judge Catherine C. Blake ordered an independent monitor to establish “a set of unique, high-demand academic programs” at Maryland’s four historically black state schools. The ruling could help achieve advocates’ objectives – “more high-demand academic programs they say would enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of each school” – and position the state “and its four historically black universities on a path toward dismantling the legacy of segregation.” Yet, the Post says, “achieving parity among the state’s institutions of higher learning may challenge notions of equity and identity as the four schools lay the groundwork for their future.”
Research and Development
Fuel Cells Gain Traction As Range Extenders For Electric Trucks.
Transport Topics (11/27, Sturgess) reports that fuel cells are gaining momentum as range extenders for electric trucks. One example is UPS, which is “gaining experience with the fuel-cell range extension of battery trucks in its pioneering package car test fleet.” According to Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, UPS is validating its first fuel-cell electric vehicle prototype in Sacramento. Wallace said, “The challenge we face with fuel-cell technology is to ensure the design can meet the unique operational demands of our delivery vehicles on a commercial scale.” Wallace added that the company’s current project to validate its trucks with at least 5,000 hours of in-service operations “is an essential step to test the zero-tailpipe emissions technology and vehicles on the road for UPS and the transportation industry.”
MIT Engineers Win Mars City Design Architecture Competition.
NBC News (11/27) reports a team of MIT engineers and architects “has won the top prize for architecture in 2017’s international Mars City Design competition, which asks participants to design habitats that could one day be built on” Mars. NASA and the European Space Agency commissioned the competition, which “asks participants to come up with creative solutions to the problems these agencies anticipate in the journey to Mars.” MIT’s design, “which the team calls Redwood Forest, is a collection of ‘tree habitats’ connected through a system of tunnels called ‘roots.’”
MIT Researchers Create Origami-Based Artificial Muscles.
AFP (11/27) reports that MIT researchers “inspired by the folding technique of origami” announced this week that “they have crafted cheap, artificial muscles for robots that give them the power to lift up to 1,000 times their own weight.” This technology “offers a leap forward in the field of soft robotics, which is fast replacing an older generation of robots that were jerky and rigid in their movements.” Said MIT electrical engineering and computer science professor Daniela Rus, “It’s like giving these robots superpowers.” These “actuators” are “built on a framework of metal coils or plastic sheets, and each muscle costs around $1 to make, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.”
NSF Gives UMass Amherst Grant To Study Biomechanical Causes Of Neural Birth Defects.
Healthcare News (MA) (11/1) reports the National Science Foundation has given University of Massachusetts Amherst mechanical and industrial engineering professor Yubing Sun a $400,000 grant “to study the biomechanical forces and chemical factors that cause birth defects of the brain and spinal cord in the first few weeks of fetal development.” The article says that such neural tube defects “occur when critical parts of the central nervous system don’t develop properly.” Sun said researchers “know that folic acid greatly reduces the risk for the defects, but they don’t know why.”
Universities Step Up Efforts To Bridge Research, Marketplace.
The Detroit News (11/27) reports that universities in Michigan and across the country are increasing “efforts to make discoveries that can benefit consumers.” The piece profiles Olivia Walch, who, as a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan created an app that helps travelers avoid jet lag. The paper quotes Walch saying, “Taking your research into the marketplace means vastly increasingly the number of people who can learn and benefit from it. In our case, making an app to communicate lighting schedules about jet lag meant that far more people saw and used them than they would have if we’d only published a paper in a journal.”
FT Innovation Editor: Autonomous Vehicles Could Save Lives.
Financial Times (11/27, Thornhill, Subscription Publication) innovation editor John Thornhill argues the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles will save lives, but he warns against being overly confident the technology will receive regulatory approval
AWS Unveils Machine Learning Research Awards.
Venture Beat (11/27, Frank) reports Amazon Web Services at its re: Invent conference on Monday announced the launch of the AWS Machine Learning Research Awards, which is “designed to fund academic machine learning research using its cloud” by providing “one-time unrestricted awards to academic institutions, as well as credits for use with its cloud platform.” Venture Beat says that the awards “will help Amazon fuel a burgeoning research field that has the potential to radically transform the tech giant’s business and others around the globe” and help AWS “compete for mindshare among researchers, as other technology titans also offer similar services for AI exploration.”
Coast Guard Exploring Drone Technology.
C4ISR & Networks (11/27, Stone) reports the Coast Guard “would love to have unmanned vessels that skim the surface of the water, searching for smugglers on the run or vessels in distress, officials say.” However, using drones to “spot signs of trouble is proving to be no small challenge as sea conditions make it difficult to relay sensor data significant distances.” Coast Guard Research and Development Center naval architect Jason Story is quoted as saying, “We have been interested in unmanned surface assets to builds a link to other sensors that may be further rout to sea or restricted by line of sight limitations. … If we could use a small unmanned surface vessel to extend our view, that is something we’d like to be able to achieve.” R&D Center project manager Scot T. Tripp explained that the Coast Guard is looking to “acquire an unmanned surface capability to tackle what Tripp describes as dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs.” Tripp said the service could use the drones to “do all the initial surveillance remotely before we have to go in and arrest somebody.”
University Of Washington Student’s Calculus App Wins Annual Startup Competition.
The Seattle Times (11/27) reports nearly 70 people participated in “Startup Weekend EDU Seattle, an annual 54-hour workshop where people from a mix of industries split into teams and work on ideas for an education startup.” The Seattle Public Library hosted and partially sponsored the competition, which drew tech professionals, “teachers, students and budding entrepreneurs hoping to simplify or enliven classroom teaching.” University of Washington graduate student Alessya Labzhinova’s “idea – a mobile app that would give students quick [Calculus] practice problems on-the-go – won first place.” She worked with “five strangers – some engineers, an app developer, a data scientist – to help bring her app, called DXDT, to life.” The team will advance to the global Startup Weekend competition.
Report Warns Of Chinese Advances In AI.
Reuters (11/28, Stewart) reports that a new study by Elsa Kania at the Center for New American Security, to be released Tuesday, highlights the efforts by China to catch and surpass the US in artificial intelligence. The piece highlights the strong showing of Chinese start-up Yitu Tech in a competition to develop facial recognition technology sponsored by “a research arm of the US intelligence community” as a sign of China’s growing prowess in the field.
Shell Adapting Technology To Improve Shale Operations.
Reuters (11/28, Scheyder) reports oil majors are looking to capitalize on efficiencies by adapting technologies from automated offshore operations to shale, and are pursuing advances in digitalization to optimize drilling. Shell engineer Oscar Portillo is able to drill up to five wells simultaneously from his office in Houston. Shell’s “iShale” initiative adopts technology from a dozen oilfield suppliers, including units from TechnipFMC that separate fracking sand from oil and well-control software from Emerson Electric, which brings more automation and data analysis to shale operations. Similar to deepwater projects, sensors are used to automatically adjust well flows and control separators that divide natural gas, oil and water. Shell’s head of Permian operations Amir Gerges said, “There is still very little automation. … We haven’t scratched the surface.”
Engineering and Public Policy
City Planners Prepare For Self-Driving Cars.
The Missoula Current (MT) (11/27, Kidston) reports that Missoula’s transportation planner, Jessica Morriss, and other transportation planners across the country are looking at how the city can prepare for self-driving cars. Morriss said, “Maybe Montana will be a little less quick on the uptake, but at the rate Missoula is growing and becoming a tech hub, and with a lot of younger people here, we’re going to start seeing that technology pretty quickly.” Morriss added, “Portland and San Francisco are writing their own policies about this right now.” The article mentions that “[t]he National League of Cities and Towns has already encouraged cities to speed up their efforts to prepare for autonomous vehicles, and the US Department of Transportation has released its first Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.”
Trump EPA Officials Take Clean Power Plan Rollback Hearings To Coal Country.
The Washington Times (11/27, Wolfgang) reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled its only hearing on the rollback of the Clean Power Plan for Tuesday in Charleston, West Virginia. Over two days, EPA officials will “hear from more than 300 speakers at marathon public forums.” The Times, noting that that “closest the Obama EPA came to coal country was a forum in Pittsburgh,” says the hearings “mark a turnaround for the agency.”
Industry Promotes Energy Development Despite Pushback In New York.
Natural Gas Intelligence (11/27, Cocklin, Subscription Publication) reports on the industry response to New York’s “less than hospitable” approach to energy development. Even after the state passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing in May, “gas industry and its allies still find themselves on defense” fighting a “different kind of battle that’s shifted to protecting existing operations, midstream expansions and prospects for more end-users.” API New York Executive Director Karen Moreau, who is “keenly aware of the instrumental role gas plays in the state’s economy,” discusses efforts to combat misinformation spread by some opposition groups by engaging citizens through social media to “share more information locally.” According to Moreau, “What we do at API, regardless of what these fringe activists are doing, is we continue to educate legislators one-on-one on the role that natural gas and hydrocarbons play both in improving the environment and being vital to an economy.”
Eberhart: Polar Vortex Is Not Suitable Justification For DOE Grid Resiliency Proposal.
In an op-ed in The Hill (11/27, Eberhart), Dan K. Eberhart, CEO of Canary, LLC and a board member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, counters Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s claim that the 2014 extreme cold weather event Polar Vortex “demonstrated the need to change the way electricity markets operate” and serves as justification for the proposed grid resiliency pricing rule. According to Eberhart, that claim “fundamentally mischaracterizes the power disruptions related to Polar Vortex.” Instead, he argues that “market-driven solutions – like those that have already been developed in the wake of the Polar Vortex – should guide our nation’s energy policies.”
Low-Income Schools Struggle To Implement California’s New Science Standards.
EdSource (11/26) reported the California State Board of Education expects all schools to fully implement the Next Generation Science Standards, approved in 2013, by spring 2019. Hundreds of schools across the state “have already switched to the new standards, which are intended to give students a deeper understanding of scientific concepts by conducting as many as three or four science experiments a week.” San Jose State University science education professor Elizabeth Walsh lamented that the new standards are easier to implement in wealthier districts than in less-affluent districts, meaning “lower-income students might not receive the full benefit of the Next Generation Science Standards – an unfortunate irony, Walsh said, because the standards are intended to promote science among students who are under-represented in the field.” To mitigate, some California teachers restricted by lean science budgets have posted requests on the nonprofit DonorsChoose.org, which has served nearly 400,000 teachers and fundraised more than $600 million since its inception in 2003.
Monday’s Lead Stories
• Pai: Scrapping Net Neutrality Will Put Engineers, Entrepreneurs In Charge Of Internet.
• NYTimes: Congress Should Close Loophole Aiding For-Profit Colleges In Targeting Veterans.
• Hackathon Focuses On Improving Software To Combat Child Exploitation.
• Two Months After Hurricane Maria, Half Of Puerto Rico Is Still Without Power.
• Study: Business, STEM Students May Benefit From Different Entrepreneurial Teaching Methods.
• Architects, Fire Experts Divided On Safety Of Compressed Wood Buildings.