Leading the News
GM Announces Autonomous Vehicle Plans, Will Have Fully Autonomous Robo-Taxis In US Cities In 2019.
Reuters (11/30, Sage, Lienert) reports that GM unveiled its vision for autonomous vehicles Thursday, telling investors it was planning to commercially launch fleets of fully autonomous robo-taxis in several dense urban environments in 2019. According to the article, GM is in competition with rivals such as Waymo and Uber, as tech companies and automakers race to gain “first-mover advantage” in the space, where robo-taxi services are seen “as the main use” of most autonomous vehicles. Reuters reports GM President Dan Amann said that the lifetime revenue generation of just a single autonomous vehicle may eventually be in the “several hundred thousands of dollars,” far above the current revenue generation GM collects on sales of vehicles today. GM CFO Chuck Stevens further explained that a robo-taxi service could be “potentially bigger than our current core business, with better margins,” as the company has “a path to take 40 percent of the cost out of ride services.”
Bloomberg News (11/30, Welch) reports that current ride-hailing services cost consumers about $2 to $3 a mile, with GM estimating nearly three quarters of revenue going towards paying drivers. Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt said that without driver costs, rates could drop to below $1 a mile. Despite this, Morningstar analyst David Whiston said that the challenge for GM will be getting its share of revenue. According to Whiston, GM will likely have to split earnings if it partners with another company on the effort, while running the business itself will require GM to deal directly with consumers and beat competitors who have already been in the ride-sharing market for years.
The AP (11/30, Krisher) reports that GM did not specify how many vehicles it would deploy or what cities they would be in. According to the article, Ammann also would not say if the service would involve Lyft, but did say more details would come closer to 2019. The AP reports that GM is focused on deploying the autonomous vehicles safely, but also wants to be first to the market. According to the article, Ammann said that GM is in the lead to deploy autonomous vehicles in large numbers, and once on the road, the autonomous technology will constantly learn and improve. Ammann stressed that “getting first onto that learning curve is pretty important.”
The Wall Street Journal (11/30, Colias, Subscription Publication) reports that the announcement comes as GM has been testing autonomous Chevy Bolts in San Francisco, which the company says helps increase system performance due to narrow streets and urban bustle. According to the article, GM is among the first of the competitors in the autonomous vehicle space to give a timeline for commercialization of the technology, and the forecast is aggressive by most measures. The Journal reports that Waymo has outlined future plans for a robo-taxi service but has not given a launch date, Uber has indicated it has plans for a robo-taxi fleet but also hasn’t disclosed a timetable, and that Ford has made lofty projections about mobility-related services in the past but has been sparse on details and timelines.
Report: Higher Education Quality Must Improve Along With Enrollment Growth.
Inside Higher Ed (11/30) reports that according to a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “getting as many students as possible to attend college means little if they’re not learning what they need to and – crucially – if they don’t graduate.” The report says “delivering on educational quality and completion is a must – not only for institutions but the country. The U.S. is more diverse and technology based than ever, and workers can expect to change careers multiple times, it says, perhaps eventually transitioning to jobs that don’t yet exist.”
Commentary: Universities, Federal Government Must Collaborate To Improve Higher Education.
In a New York Times (11/30, Subscription Publication) op-ed, Emily J. Levine, associate professor of modern European history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Mitchell L. Stevens, associate professor of education at Stanford, contrast the current political climate in which leaders “seek to dismantle” universities with past generations in which “political leaders fought hard for universities.” They describe the nation’s “long history of reciprocity between academia and government that has incalculably benefited society.” They write that in the years following the Civil War, under laws such as the Morrill Act of 1862, “the government offered a quid pro quo in which universities were granted federal money and exemption from direct oversight in exchange for providing a service to society.” The writers lament declining state support for universities and the current political attacks on academia, but concede that universities must do more to address “the problems that rightly drive citizen fury: soaring costs, educational inequality and schools’ resistance to change.”
Spellings Criticizes Tax Overhaul Plans That Negatively Impact Higher Education.
In commentary for the Chronicle of Higher Education (11/30), former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who is currently president of the University of North Carolina, writes that members of Congress working on “the most extensive tax reform in a generation...must be wary of unintended consequences for the nation’s colleges and universities.” DeVos says she is “deeply concerned by provisions in both the House and Senate tax-reform bills that threaten our nation’s students and the institutions that serve them.” She laments that “policy makers are considering new taxes on graduate students, new obstacles to private philanthropy, and a larger burden on college graduates already struggling to pay off student-loan debt.” She calls on Congress to “avoid a self-inflicted setback in the national effort to build a more competitive, better educated citizenry.”
Villanova Research Provost Says House Tax Plan Will Keep Most Students Out Of Grad School.
In commentary for U.S. News & World Report (11/30), Villanova University Vice Provost for Research Amanda M. Grannas writes that the House tax plan would make “all graduate education unattainable for a large sector of our best and brightest students.” She writes that the tax plan repeals Section 117(d)(5) of the current tax code, “and today’s graduate students would see huge increases in their tax bill – making advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math financially impossible for all but the wealthy.” She writes about her humble background, and says her own path to an advanced degree would have been blocked by this legislation.
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Research and Development
University Of Tennessee Students Present Designs For Self-Driving Bus Stop Kiosks.
The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (11/30) reports that students in the University of Tennessee’s Integrated Business and Engineering Program took part in a challenge issued by motor vehicle manufacturing firm Local Motors to design and pitch ideas for a bus stop kiosk for use with the firm’s Olli self-driving buses. The city is working on plans to integrate the vehicles into its public transit system. Each team “had at least one engineering and one business student, and spent the whole semester preparing...a bus stop that weighs less than 500 pounds, costs less than $10,000, contains two LED screens, room for solar panels and a battery and a security camera.”
University Of Memphis Building $2 Million Metal 3D Printing Lab.
The Memphis (TN) Commercial Appeal (11/30) reports, “The University of Memphis is investing $2 million into a metal 3D printing lab that could help revolutionize manufacturing in industries like aerospace and medical devices.” Expected to be open by April, the lab will feature “two metal printers that can create anything from a kneecap to a part for a plane.” The paper says the school is already partnering with “local companies FedEx and Medtronic to develop the science behind 3D printing in metal, as opposed to the more common plastic, and to explore its possible uses.”
New Research Likens Scallop Eyes To Reflector Telescopes.
The New York Times (11/30, Zimmer, Subscription Publication) reports that researchers in Israel have “gotten a look at the hidden sophistication of the scallop eye, thanks to powerful new microscopes.” According to research presented in the journal Science, each of the scallop’s hundreds of eyes “contains a miniature mirror made up of millions of square tiles. The mirror reflects incoming light onto two retinas, each of which can detect different parts of the scallop’s surroundings.” The research suggests the scallop eye is similar to “a reflector telescope of the sort first invented by Newton. Today, astronomers build gigantic reflector telescopes to look in deep space, and they also build their mirrors out of tiles.”
Breakthrough Method Discovered To Convert Methane To Methanol.
Science Daily (11/30) reports that chemical engineering researchers at Tufts University have discovered a breakthrough method to turn methanol into methane that uses “a heterogeneous catalyst and cheap molecular oxygen, according to a paper published today in the journal Nature.” The current process used requires multiple steps that is not economical or efficient in small batches. This process leaves “methane emissions from oil wells, accounting for 210 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually, are being vented and flared, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.” The senior author on the paper, Tufts University Robert and Marcy Haber Endowed Professor in Energy Sustainability in the School of Engineering Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, Ph.D. said, “although more study is needed, we are encouraged that this process holds promise for further development. Not only could it be effective in producing methanol and acetic acid directly from methane, it also could do so in a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly way than current processes.”
Researchers Visualize Electron Tunneling In Graphene.
Nanowerk (11/30) reports on new research from scientists in Berkeley published in Nature Physics under the title “Imaging electrostatically confined Dirac fermions in graphene quantum dots .” The research “created images of superfast electrons trapped as they tunnel through energy barriers in graphene. ... by imaging the density of charge carriers in a circular junction in a graphene layer on top of insulating boron nitride.”
Scientists To Present Revolutionary Real-Time Lighting For VR.
VRWorld (11/28, Sellin) reports that a pair of computer scientists from Finland “will soon present a new approach to computing real-time lighting effects that represents a major improvement in both efficiency and accuracy over existing methods.” Ari Silvennoinen and Jaakko Lehtinen are to present their research at the ACM’s SIGGRAPH Asia 2017 in Bangkok this week. “Current lighting approaches in games and VR environments are computationally intensive, particularly if software attempts to perform pixel-by-pixel computation of all light paths in a given scene,” says VR World. “Silvennoinen and Lehtinen’s algorithm takes a new approach that enables it to accurately simulate indirect lighting using a small number of what they term ‘radiance probes.’ The scale of improvement is such that the algorithm can effectively operate in real-time on 3D scenes, at the level of complexity seen in current gaming environments.”
Imperial College London Researchers Reduce Distance Light Must Travel In Optical Computing.
Nanowerk (11/30) reports a research team from Imperial College London “made a significant step forward” in optical computing “by reducing the distance over which light can interact” with microchips “by 10,000 fold,” thus reducing “what previously would have taken centimetres to achieve” to “the micrometre (one millionth of a metre) scale.”
Entertainment Industry Eyes Autonomous Vehicles As Major Opportunity.
USA Today (11/30, Woodyard) reports that in anticipation of widespread autonomous vehicle adoption, “Hollywood is starting to take a serious look at what could be a huge opportunity in a new age of self-driving cars: Seizing a big chunk of the time that people used to spend behind the steering wheel to get them to focus on entertainment,” from video and games to augmented reality. As Warner Bros. Chief Digital Officer Thomas Gewecke says, autonomous vehicles can become “one of the biggest expansions of time for entertainment.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Army Engineers Reports Warns Of Climate Change’s Impact On Ohio River Region.
The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal (11/30) reports that according to a report by the US Army Corps of Engineers, “climate change will push the Ohio River and its tributaries into uncharted waters, setting off economic and environmental crises like never before across a 13-state region.” The study “found that flooding, drought and power failures could become more frequent in Kentucky and Indiana — and the rest of the Ohio River basin.” Corps climate change expert Kathleen D. White said, “The changes are happening today. ... This isn’t something that’s just in the future.”
Oil, Gas Industry Expected To Benefit Under GOP Tax Reform.
Fox Business (11/30, Subscription Publication) reports, “oil giants such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. stand to see significant gains from the GOP tax legislation, mostly from broad changes that would benefit other large companies.” According to American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard, proposal to reduce the overall corporate tax rate and tax rate on overseas profits will “help unleash economic growth and allow our industry to continue providing safe, reliable energy for Americans.”
Green Energy Companies Fight To Save Subsidies From GOP Tax Reform. The Daily Caller (11/30, Bastasch) reports that the Senate GOP tax plan, which moved to formal debate on Wednesday, “would make it harder for green energy companies to exchange their tax subsidies for financing” if passed. Green energy companies are “scrambling” to save to save their tax subsidies. According to a green energy financing source, removal of the subsidies would “take us out of the market. The best case scenario is it significantly reduces our involvement in the market, but it would be so difficult to plan in the near term at least, it would take us out. And we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of investment every year.”
EPA Finalizes Rule Maintaining Biofuels Quota.
The Hill (11/30, Henry) reports that the EPA finalized a rule on Thursday holding its blending quotas under the Renewable Fuels Standard flat for 2018. The rule “will require refiners to mix 19.29 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the gasoline supply in 2018,” which is “about 25 percent lower than the target Congress established in a 2007 law.” In a statement, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said maintaining current levels “ensures stability in the marketplace and follows through with my commitment to meet the statutory deadlines and lead the agency by upholding the rule of law.”
Reuters (11/30, Renshaw, Valdmanis) reports that the rule will “require fuel companies to blend slightly more biofuels” into the nation’s fuel supply in 2018, “angering oil refiners who view them as a competitive threat.”
Texas Is Microcosm Of Changes Happening Throughout U.S. Energy Market.
The Wall Street Journal (11/30, Ailworth, Gold, Subscription Publication) reports the rapid rise of wind and natural gas-generated electricity has forced power companies to close older and less profitable generating plants, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Texas. Vistra Energy Corp. recently announced it would retire three of its coal-fired plants in Texas, while Exelon Corp recently placed its Texas subsidiary under bankruptcy protection earlier this month. Both companies cited low natural gas prices and the competitiveness of renewables such as wind and solar. While these changes are mainly occurring in competitive power markets where wholesale electricity is sold through daily auction, and where the least expensive sources of power are favored, even regions of the U.S. with power generated entirely by utilities are being impacted by shifting market dynamics.
Google Buying More Renewable Energy.
Bloomberg News (11/30, Eckhouse) reports, “Google, the biggest corporate buyer of renewable energy, is buying even more – 536 megawatts of wind power from four different power plants.” The company released a statement Thursday saying “the Alphabet Inc. unit agreed to buy 196 megawatts of wind power from two Avangrid Inc. power plants under development in South Dakota,” and, “also agreed to buy 200 megawatts of wind power from an EDF Renewable Energy project in Iowa.” Bloomberg writes that “Google has now signed enough renewables deals to match all of its energy needs this year, though not all the projects are currently operational.” In all, “The company has agreed to buy 2,397 megawatts of clean power in the U.S. – and 3,186 megawatts overall,” making it the largest corporate consumer of renewable energy, while “Amazon.com Inc. is the second biggest corporate buyer, with 1,219 megawatts, all in the US.”
Tech Firms Push For Cheaper, Cleaner Power. Bloomberg News (11/30, Ockerman) reports technology firms including Amazon, Google, and Etsy are “demanding cheaper – and cleaner – electricity as their data demands grow,” setting “Silicon Valley on a collision course with the Trump administration, which is working up a plan to keep coal plants afloat by raising electricity prices.” The article mentions that, “In September, a group of tech firms including Adobe Systems Inc. pressed Dominion Energy Inc. for more renewables in Virginia – a hot spot for data centers – noting that the companies represent the utility’s biggest source of future demand growth.” Dominion Energy agreed to build clean power for a Facebook data center less than a month later, “paving a potential path for others.”
Hawaii Teacher Inspired By Minecraft To Create “Tech Lab” For Math Students.
Honolulu Civil Beat (HI) (11/30) reports that 10 years ago, Shane Asslestine, an math teacher at Momilani Elementary School in Waimalu, Hawaii, grew concerned about the “frustration and low energy” exhibited by his students and “approached his principal at Momilani Elementary with a bold proposal: what if he could incorporate Minecraft, a video game that allows users to design and create interfaces in a digital medium, into his math lessons?” Now, “students in Asselstine’s ‘Tech Lab’ – which evolved from that class and includes principles of computer science – are anything but disengaged as they learn about probability, ratios, percentages and fractions. They also learn coding, game design and cybersecurity.”
Iowa High School Students Building “FarmBots” For Elementary School Gardens.
The Quad-City (IA) Times (11/30, Baker) reports students at Davenport West High School in Davenport, Iowa “are building a robot to be used next spring in gardens at Buffalo Elementary School.” The “FarmBot” project “involves the technology students at Davenport West, the grade school students in Buffalo and the building trades students at Mid-City High School.” The piece explains that FarmBot is a company based in San Luis Obispo, California. The project is “open-sourced, meaning it is freely available to anyone interested in the plans,” and the firm “also offers kits for sale.”
Farimont State To Host West Virginia FIRST Competition.
The Morgantown (WV) Dominion Post (11/30) reports that Farimont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia on December 2 will host “over 60 teams from across West Virginia...at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League State Tournament at the university’s Falcon Center.” The next day, “teams from surrounding states will gather at the same location for the FIRST Tech Challenge. Each tournament has a unique theme and set of guidelines.”
Iowa FIRST Competition To Focus On Water.
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls (IA) Courier (11/30) reports that students taking part in the FIRST Lego League regional competition this weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa will “work on the competition’s ‘Hydro Dynamics’ challenge.” The theme will be “water — how it’s found, transported, used and disposed of.” Some 35 teams “of up to 10 9- to 14-year-olds” have “put 12-13 weeks into research, design and robot building to complete missions on a 4-foot by 8-foot thematic playing surface and obstacle course.”