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

Leading the News

EPA Holds Hearing On Clean Power Plan In West Virginia.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports that the EPA held a public hearing in Charleston, West Virginia on Tuesday on its plan to roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which “would require states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, particularly those that burn coal.” EPA Administrator Pruitt, who “has made it a top priority to reverse what he has called the Obama administration’s ‘war on coal,’” did not attend the hearing.

The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Siegel) reports that “coal country ripped into” the plan during the hearing. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called it “disastrous and unlawful,” and “Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, America’s largest privately owned coal company,” called on the Administration to repeal it “in its entirety.” The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Raby, Biesecker) presents a different picture of the hearing, reporting that while West Virginia is “heavily dependent on coal mining,” people “concerned about climate change packed the hearing room.” The AP adds that “even with the hearing being held in the heart of coal country, most speakers said they supported limits on carbon emissions.”

The Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports on testimony from 72-year-old retired coal miner Stanley Sturgill, who has been “diagnosed with black lung and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from his years toiling underground.” Sturgill “begged the agency for help,” saying, “We’re dying, literally dying for you to help us.” According to the Huffington Post, his testimony “punctuated a morning packed with fawning praise for President Donald Trump, back-patting Republican lawmakers, and exhausted public health advocates who’ve spent years repeating the same statistics on climate change and asthma.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Pelt) reports that health groups told the hearing the plan “would save billions of dollars on hospital bills because it would slash emissions of particulates that can harm lungs and heart.” Meanwhile, industry representatives who support the repeal argued the CPP is expensive and illegal.

Kean: Trump Should Fire Pruitt. In an op-ed for the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Subscription Publication), former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, vice chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund, calls on the President to fire Pruitt, arguing that he “built his political career by attacking clean-air and clean-water rules” and is “jeopardizing the health and well-being of Americans, and many suspect he is doing it to feed his own political ambition.” Trump, Kean adds, “needs a new leader at E.P.A. who listens to business but also respects the agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment.”

Higher Education

In Florida, DeVos Announces Plans For FAFSA App.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Danilova) reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, speaking at a conference of student aid professionals in Orlando on Tuesday, said that “college students will soon be able to file their applications for federal student aid through a mobile app.” DeVos said the FAFSA “should ‘keep pace’ with an era in which people commonly order food, get a ride, transfer money and find romantic partners with apps.” DeVos added that the “changes also envision enhancing cybersecurity to protect personal data.”

MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Berman) reports that under the plan, “teens applying for financial aid may soon be using an app,” noting that DeVos “announced Tuesday that the agency is moving the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA), the gateway to government grants and scholarships, to a mobile app.” DeVos told attendees at the conference that the change “is part of an effort to transform the Department’s office of Federal Student Aid from a ‘government maze’ to a ‘world class, customer-centric financial institution.’” According to DeVos, “Wayne Johnson, the chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid would provide more details on the plan Wednesday.”

Newsweek Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Glum) reports DeVos, speaking at the Federal Student Aid training conference, said, “Students should be able to complete their FAFSA easily on their phones and in one sitting. They should receive expert, tailored advice about their options. It’s called ‘student aid,’ after all.”

Analysis: DeVos’ Focus On Workforce Training Could Have Backlash Against Four-Year Colleges.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this month has commented on postsecondary education, saying in effect “students have for years received a message that ‘the only path for a successful life’ is through a four-year degree,” stigmatizing workforce skills training. The piece reports that some in the higher education community have “expressed concern that the secretary’s rhetoric ignores the extent to which most skills training is embedded into a broader general education context, at two-year and four-year colleges alike.” Others say that DeVos’ position has “caricatured the extent to which the Obama administration’s college attainment push focused on four-year colleges, and that an aggressive push in this direction could serve to discourage students from attending college, which remains the most promising path to entering the middle class.”

University Presidents Say House Tax Bill Would Be Disastrous For Higher Education.

Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Wermund) reports on the Republican tax plan and its effect on higher education, saying that “Congressional Republicans’ plans to slap unprecedented new taxes on higher education have left college leaders shocked and scrambling – the latest salvo in what some observers say is a growing culture war on a higher education system seen as elitist and out of touch.” For graduate students in particular, HR 1 (115) “would be a devastating blow,” Politico reports, based on interviews with university presidents, as it “would make college…more expensive, and further out of reach of low- and middle-income families.” At the same time, Politico reports, the tax bill may not face much popular backlash because “polling shows many Americans are increasingly wary of colleges and universities, and are generally supportive of tax cuts.”

PBS NewsHour Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports with a transcript from PBS NewsHour about the tax plan and its effect on students. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Belkin, Mitchell, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports with a list of highlights from the House plan to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Colorado Universities See Surge In Computer Science Majors.

The Denver Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports colleges in Colorado and across the nation are seeing a “massive influx of computer science majors,” reflecting students’ desire “to gain the skills required to fill nearly 500,000 open jobs in cybersecurity, data science and machine learning.” At the University Colorado-Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science, for example, up to 8,000 students could enroll by fall 2020 – “double the size of the 2007 class.” At the Colorado School of Mines, 400 students are majoring in computer science – a nearly 50 percent increase from fall 2015. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the number of awarded computer and information science bachelor’s degrees “has increased 74 percent since 2009 at not-for-profit institutions, compared with a 16 percent increase in bachelor’s degrees produced overall.”

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Research and Development

University Of Washington Researchers Create “Smart Fabric,” Could Lead To Wearable Keycards.

NBC News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports that University of Washington researchers have “developed a ‘smart’ fabric that they say can be used to create clothing programmed with the wearer’s identity — making it possible to open doors at home and at work with just the swipe of a shirt cuff.” The piece quotes University of Washington computer science and engineering doctoral student Justin Chan saying, “With our approach we can transform everyday clothes like a shirt into a magnetic hard drive that can store codes and images, and which can be thrown into a washer and dryer without any loss of information.”

Waymo Says Its Autonomous Vehicles Have Logged Four Million Miles In Tests On Public Roads.

Mashable Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Williams) reports Waymo “claims it has passed a new milestone: 4 million self-driven miles logged” by its autonomous vehicles on public roads, making Waymo’s “fleet the most experienced autonomous car platform currently on the road, according to the company, which says the average American driver would take 300 years to hit the same mark.” Waymo further says one million of the driving miles came in the last six months, demonstrating “a rapid improvement from the 18 months it took to accumulate the first million (from the first public test).” Moreover, Waymo “claims it simulated an additional 2.5 billion miles in the last year alone.”

Seattle Firm Develops Autonomous School Bus Design Concept.

Fast CoDesign Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Schwab) reports that Teague, a design firm based in Seattle, has set out to answer what will happen with school buses once the roads are filled with autonomous vehicles. The firm is working on an internal project called “Hannah,” which is a conceptual design for an autonomous school bus. Fast CoDesign states, “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly two-thirds of fatal injuries caused by school transportation from 2006 to 2015 occurred when school buses struck young pedestrians.”

Oklahoma Researchers Working On Robots To Help Caregivers.

The Oklahoman Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Howell) reports that according to a 2013 report released by AARP, “By 2030, the ratio” of potential caregivers to people in the high-risk years of 80-plus “is projected to decline sharply to 4-to-1; and it is expected to further fall to less than 3-to-1 in 2050, when all boomers will be in the high-risk years of late life.” Weihua Sheng, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oklahoma State University, and fellow OSU researcher Guoliang Fan, believe “companion robots will be essential to filling a potential care gap as baby boomers age.” The two “are in the fourth year of a National Science Foundation grant to develop a robot that can both alert caregivers to potential problems and interact with an elder to provide companionship.” The robot “uses artificial intelligence to be conversational and interactive” – “it can ask questions, play games and identify sounds or omission of sounds that could signal a problem.” It also can detect falls and “record vital statistics through wearable technology being developed at the lab.”

Stephen Hawking’s Research Group To Use HPE Supercomputer To Help Unlock Universe’s Mysteries.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Bort) reports Stephen Hawking’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology has decided to use Hewlett Packard Enterprise’ Superdome Flex to help it unlock the mysteries of the universe. Business Insider describes the Superdome Flex as a “different kind of computer that puts a mind-boggling amount of data into high-speed memory.”

Global Developments

Boeing Launches “HorizonX India” Innovation Challenge.

United News of India Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports Boeing Company announced the launch of the “Boeing HorizonX India” Innovation Challenge in collaboration with T-Mobile. The challenge “is aimed at attracting the best Indian startups to propose disruptive solutions to tackle complex challenges in the areas of autonomous and unmanned systems, advanced manufacturing, industrial IOT and automation, analytics, artificial, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).”

Israeli Cyber Startup Launches Women In Cybersecurity Scholarship Program.

Information Age Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Ismail) reports that the “severe” cybersecurity personnel shortage is “even worse when we look at female representation: 11% of cyber security workforce globally are women – and less than 10% of those women are in leadership roles.” To close the gap, “Israeli cyber security startup Morphisec is launching its first Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship Program in the US.” Morphisec VP of Product Netta Schmeidler, who initiated the project, is quoted saying, “Cyber security is a great career for women. The work is demanding and fast-paced but inherently flexible as to work day structure as well as types of work available: from deep research to sales, marketing and high level management, and the industry needs more women. Their diverse voices, viewpoints and opinions help drive innovation, improvement and resilience.”

Industry News

Bloomberg Analysis: EV Batteries Must Fall By Over Half To Compete With Traditional Cars.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Watanabe) reports “battery prices need to drop by more than half before electric vehicles will be competitive with cars powered by internal-combustion engines, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, whose two-day Future of Energy summit in Shanghai concludes on Wednesday.” However, speakers at the event projected this is “likely to happen by 2026, when the cost for lithium-ion battery packs is projected to fall to about $100 per kilowatt hour.” In particular, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates “the average cost of cars powered by fossil fuels is about $28,000, a figure that will probably rise to about $30,000 by 2030,” so in order to “become cheap enough to replace that fleet, electric vehicles will rely on a 67 percent drop projected for battery costs in the next nine years.”

Engineering and Public Policy

DOE Official Says Inaction On Perry’s Coal, Nuclear Plan Would Endanger Power Grid.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Osborne) reports Energy Undersecretary Mark Menenzes yesterday urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “to approve Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to protect coal and nuclear plants, saying there was ‘broad consensus FERC must act.’” Menenzes said, “Continued action only would make the problem worse. … We know there are constant threats to our system, so [Perry] will do what he can to make sure the grid is resilient.” The comments “come as FERC is fast approaching its Dec. 11 deadline to decide on Perry’s proposal to give coal and nuclear power plants an additional tariff to help stop them from shutting down and potentially destabilizing the grid.” However, “a broad coalition that includes environmentalists and the oil and gas industry have questioned the notion that the grid is in danger.”

Labor Groups Try To Impede Advancement Of Driverless Trucks.

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Feeney) reports that driverless trucks have been exempted from federal legislative bills to support driverless vehicle innovation, despite the technology’s “life-saving potential.” The article mentions that according to a NHTSA 2015 estimate, “94 percent of car accidents can be attributed to human error.” The article notes that labor groups have been especially vocal against including trucks in the bills out of fear that “autonomous vehicle technology will lead to job losses.”

FAA: UAVs Cause More Damage To Planes Than Birds Do.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Levin) that UAV collisions with airliners and business jets can cause more damage than birds of the same size and speed because UAVs components are much stiffer, according to a study released by the FAA. The study states that “while most drones weigh only a few pounds, they include motors and other metal equipment that could cause significant damage to aircraft engines, windshields or wings upon impact.” The results could encourage the agency to “impose stricter safety systems” on UAVs and to increase the enforcement of existing UAV-flight rules. The study was conducted “by the Alliance for Safety of UAS Through Research Excellence, an FAA-sponsored center of excellence that goes by the moniker ASSURE.”

Solar Developer Sues Federal Government Over Grant Funds.

Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Subscription Publication) reports the developers of the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, near Palm Springs, California, “are now suing the federal government for $59.3 million in grant funds they say they are still owed.” According to the lawsuit, “the government shortchanged backers” of the development, “by failing to fully account for the costs of developing and constructing the 555-megawatt project and placing it into service.” The lawsuit says, “Instead of making payments based on these costs, as required by well established law, Treasury awarded substantially lower grant amounts based on considerations that disregarded or misapplied established rules for determining basis.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

FBI’s Kromer Speaks To Texas Fifth Graders As Part Of STEM Event.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28, Flynn) reports that as part of “CSI Day” at Atherton Elementary, Carol Ann Kromer, an operational support technician with the FBI, answered fifth-grade students’ questions, including: “How do you deal with the dead bodies?” one asked. “What is, like, the most hardest thing about being in the FBI?” According to the Chronicle, “The idea behind the program, said its founder, former astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris, is to give kids in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas an opportunity to see themselves pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Homeschooled Team Wins FIRST Lego League Regional Competition.

The Waynesboro (VA) News Virginian Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports a team of six homeschooled boys “won first place at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League regional competition in division I on Nov. 4.” The team will advance to the state-level competition, and if selected, will “compete in the world competition to be held in Detroit.” It was the nine- and ten-year-old boys’ “rookie year competing in robotics.” The teams competed in four categories: “robot game, robot design, core values (how well does the team work together) and project,” which was hydrodynamics this year.

Officials At Forthcoming Baton Rouge CTE School Solicit Industry Contributions, Partnerships.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/28) reports East Baton Rouge Career and Technical Education Center is scheduled to open in August. It will offer “training sessions twice a day in four areas: computer science, medical fields, skilled crafts and manufacturing.” As the “long-planned $17 million career-focused high school emerges from the dirt,” school officials are soliciting help from area businesses “that stand to benefit from the school’s graduates.” On Tuesday, the Foundation for the East Baton Rouge School, which helps fundraise for school system incentives, hosted a luncheon to further that goal. Earlier this month, the new school’s executive director, Summer Dann, met “with more than 50 industry and community leaders who will serve as an advisory board for the new school.” Dann is also arranging internships at local businesses, and “seeking roughly $100,000 worth of operations and instrumentation training equipment.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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