LEADING THE NEWS
Documents Indicate That Uber Was Having AV Issues Long Before Arizona Crash.
Continuing coverage of the March 18 incident in which an Uber AV killed an Arizona pedestrian focuses on Uber’s issues with its AV technology. The New York Times (3/23, Wakabayashi, Subscription Publication) reported that Uber’s autonomous vehicle tests were “not living up to expectations months before” the fatal crash, based on documents seen by the Times and on interviews with people familiar with the Uber tests in the Phoenix area. Uber’s autonomous vehicles had difficulty “driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles, like big rigs,” the Times reports, and its drivers “had to intervene far more frequently than the drivers of competing autonomous car projects.” In fact, “as of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 13 miles per ‘intervention’ in Arizona.” Waymo says its vehicles average about 5,600 miles per intervention by the safety drivers.
Fortune (3/24, Morris) reports the Times report said Uber reduced the number of safety drivers in its test vehicles from two to one, “over the safety concerns of some employees” and despite the relatively frequent driving errors by the autonomous vehicles. At the same time, internally, “the leadership of Uber’s self-driving car unit has frequently been described as troubled, with high levels of engineer attrition.” There may have also been pressure on the autonomous vehicle developers to bring a road-ready system to market as soon as possible in order “to square the financial circle” of Uber’s finances “by taking driver pay out of the equation” and helping to build profitability at a company that “regularly posts quarterly losses with few historical parallels.”
Business Insider (3/24, Matousek) reports Uber “has spent the better part of the past year cleaning up the mess left by former CEO Travis Kalanick, who oversaw the company’s meteoric rise and turned it in into a symbol for the ruthless, growth-at-all-costs attitude that has come to represent the dark side of Silicon Valley.” The latest hit to the company’s wider reputation in light of the pedestrian fatality means that “even if Uber can perfect its self-driving technology by mid-2019, when it hopes to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service, city governments might not trust the company enough to work with them.” Jalopnik (3/24, Werth) reports that CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, “brought in to clean up Uber” after Kalanick was ousted, considered “shutting down the self-driving car project” entirely.
Investigators Test Uber Vehicle Involved In Accident. The AP (3/24) reports that investigators from NHTSA, the NTSB, and the Tempe police “recreated the wreck by using the same Uber vehicle but with a person in control” on Thursday night. Police said the vehicle “wasn’t in self-driving mode during the testing and that a person was applying the brakes to stop the vehicle during the five test runs.”
Velodyne Lidar President “Baffled” By Incident. Bloomberg News (3/23, Naughton) reported that Velodyne Lidar President Marta Thoma Hall, whose company made the sensors used in the Uber car, “said she’s ‘baffled’ as to why the tech-outfitted vehicle failed to recognize a pedestrian crossing the street and hit the brakes.” In an email, she wrote, “We are as baffled as anyone else. Certainly, our Lidar is capable of clearly imaging Elaine [Herzberg] and her bicycle in this situation. However, our Lidar doesn’t make the decision to put on the brakes or get out of her way.”
Seton Hall Medical School Opens New Campus In Bid To Keep Doctors In New Jersey.
The Wall Street Journal (3/24, West, Subscription Publication) reports on an effort by Seton Hall University’s Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine to reverse the exodus from New Jersey of students heading to medical school. The article reports that the state faces an estimated shortage of 3,000 doctors by 2020, and describes the new campus the institution has opened in Nutley, New Jersey.
Community Colleges, Trade Schools Looking To Attract More Adult Students.
The Wall Street Journal (3/25, Ward, Subscription Publication) reports that community colleges and technical schools across the country are hoping to attract more adult students by lowering costs and shortening the amount of time needed to earn a degree or credential. Several state governments are supporting the effort in an attempt to improve their pools of skilled workers.
Report: New York For-Profit Colleges Fail To Serve Students.
Diverse Education (3/25) reports according to a study published by think tank The Century Foundation, “New York’s for-profit colleges leave students with huge debt and have little impact on earning potential.” The study “compared student outcomes at 427 colleges and universities, including 112 public, 196 nonprofit and 119 for-profit institutions,” finding that “for-profit schools display a pattern of failing to meaningfully serve their students, especially African-Americans and first-generation students.” Moreover, “many for-profit schools show high default rates on student loans.”
ASEE Elects President-Elect, New Board Members
Stephanie Adams, Dean of Engineering at Old Dominion University, will become ASEE's President-Elect this June.
In addition, Gary Steffen, Pritpal Singh, and Kenneth Van Treuren were elected to Board seats.
ASEE Letter in Suport of Researchers
In the face of watchdog media outlets questioning expenditures of federal funds, ASEE issues statement of support for education research. The full letter can be viewed here.
Council of Graduate Schools Survey
CGS will distribute a survey to graduate programs directors, informing a study titled Master’s Admission Attributes: Current Status and Missing Evidence. This project will help programs clarify goals and outcomes of master’s education, identify students who will succeed in master’s programs, and align curriculum to support master’s student degree completion and success.
International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences Meeting
The 2018 CAETS Conference is in Montevideo, Uruguay, hosted by the National Academy of Engineering of Uruguay, Sept 11-14. It will cover agriculture and forestry sustainability, with opportunities for discussion on how innovations will contribute to the advancement of the agriculture and forestry products chain in a sustainable manner. Further information as well as the call for papers, schedule, and registration information are available here.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Waymo CEO: “Our Technology...Would Be Able To Handle Situations Like” Pedestrian Death In Arizona.
The Washington Post (3/24, Siddiqui) reports Waymo CEO John Krafcik “says he’s confident its cars would have performed differently under the circumstances” in the case of a pedestrian killed by one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles in Tempe, Arizona last Sunday. Speaking at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Krafcik said, “I can say with some confidence that in situations like that one with pedestrians – in this case a pedestrian with a bicycle – we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that.” Although he acknowledged it could be too soon to say what would have prevented the incident, Krafcik said that “based on our knowledge of what we’ve seen so far with that accident and our own knowledge of the robustness that we’ve designed into our systems,” he believes a Waymo vehicle would have performed differently. Waymo, like Uber, is testing its autonomous fleet in the Phoenix area, with a fleet of Chrysler Pacificas deployed. Reuters (3/24, Sage) reports Waymo has logged more than five million miles driven on public roads in its autonomous vehicle tests since 2009.
Bloomberg News (3/24, Bergen) reports that “Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, the former Google car project, is considered the technical leader in the field,” having begun “ferrying passengers in Arizona last year, without safety drivers behind the wheel,” and currently planning the launch of “a paid robo-taxi service this year.” While some companies testing autonomous vehicles followed Uber in halting their tests on public roads in the wake of the pedestrian crash, “Waymo declined to say if it was changing its plans, but kept vehicles on the road in Arizona.” Waymo is also testing its vehicles “in 25 cities” and “plans to introduce” the shuttle service it offers in Phoenix “in a second city this year, Krafcik said.”
The Wall Street Journal (3/24, Roberts, Subscription Publication) reports virtually the entire auto industry and several tech companies and startups are engaged in the race to develop effective autonomous vehicle technologies first, but Waymo and Uber stand out as the prominent rivalry, Uber having settled with Waymo last month in a protracted legal battle over alleged theft of trade secrets by a former Google engineer working on its autonomous car project.
Forbes (3/24, Ohnsman) reports the first pedestrian fatality from an autonomous vehicle “was a bombshell for dozens of companies racing to perfect autonomous technology, including General Motors, Ford, Lyft, Aptiv, Tesla, China’s Baidu, Toyota, Nissan, Volvo and Uber,” but there is perhaps “no company” that “has as much riding on robotic vehicles as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo.” Forbes says this is “because it’s about to begin a revenue-generating robotic ride service – with no human at the wheel – in metro-Phoenix this year.”
Uber Fatality Sparks Debate About AV Regulation.
The Washington Post (3/23, Laris) reported that in the wake of the Arizona Uber incident, “debate on the proper role of government in overseeing autonomous cars has sharpened in Washington and around the country. ... A coalition of safety advocates and consumer groups is warning senators” that the woman killed last weekend “will probably be the first of many victims of ‘industry misconduct and government missteps’ in the largely unregulated realm.” But others call for a more hands-off approach. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said, “When we were testing airplanes, there was a risk. When we were testing automobiles, there was risk. When we’re testing inoculation, there’s risk. It’s inevitable that at some point there was going to be a fatality. We know, in the long run, these cars will make all cars safer.”
Auto Technology Expert: Death Of Pedestrian Hit By Self-Driving Car Exposes Need For Regulation. Writing in his PC Magazine (3/24) column, car technology expert Doug Newcomb comments on “the tragic accident” in Tempe, Arizona last Sunday where pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was hit by one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles as she crossed a street with her bike. Based on dashcam video released from the incident, “the vehicle inexplicably never detected Herzberg,” even though the Volvo XC90 “was outfitted with more sophisticated sensors such as lildar,” on top of the driver assist systems already built into the vehicle, “including pedestrian and cyclist detection with auto brake.” Newcomb says “we desperately need federal regulation to protect people and autonomous vehicle innovation.” He disapproves of Transportation Secretary Chao’s light-handed approach to regulating the industry because “this will continue to leave states to figure it out for themselves” while simultaneously bringing “collateral damage” on the tech and auto companies “since they’ll likely be viewed with even more suspicion by the public.”
In another story about the Uber pedestrian fatality, the Austin (TX) American Statesman (3/25, Wear, Subscription Publication) reports that when it comes to “what to make of the tragedy, from a policy standpoint,” the statistics can get “murky.” For example, FHWA data show drivers in the US logged “about 3.2 trillion miles” driven in 2016, a year when “37,461 people died on U.S. streets and highways, including about 6,000 pedestrians.” That would be about “one death for every 85 million miles driven.” In the case of autonomous vehicles, which “have been involved in two fatal accidents,” the American Statesman says “the number of miles auto-driven on public streets. ... would appear to be well under 85 million.”
Experts Say Uber AV Should Have Seen Pedestrian Killed In Arizona Accident.
In continuing coverage, the Wall Street Journal (3/22, Higgins, Subscription Publication) reports that the Uber accident in Tempe, Arizona on Sunday raises questions about AV sensors and whether they are equipped to handle busy city streets. AV experts expressed surprise that the vehicle did not appear to detect Elaine Herzberg as she crossed several lanes of traffic. The AP (3/22, Krisher, Billeaud) reports that two experts it spoke with said that “the sport utility vehicle’s laser and radar sensors should have spotted a pedestrian, and computers should have braked to avoid the crash.”
Bloomberg News (3/22, Beene, Levin, Newcomer) reports that forensic engineer Zachary Moore “analyzed the video footage and concluded that a typical driver on a dry asphalt road would have perceived, reacted, and activated their brakes in time to stop about eight feet short of Herzberg,” and Bryant Walker Smith, “a University of South Carolina law professor who studies self-driving cars,” said that “the Uber SUV’s ‘lidar and radar absolutely should have detected her and classified her as something other than a stationary object.”
Detroit News (3/22) auto critic Henry Payne writes about having ridden in “an autonomous Uber in downtown Pittsburgh” last year “in the same type of Volvo XC90 crossover with the same hardware as in the one that struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday night.” During Payne’s ride, the car automatically slowed to avoid “seemingly oblivious” pedestrians in the street. However, “the Tempe incident shows the Volvo flunked Autonomous 101. Indeed, in a Google car ride I took at the company’s Mountain View headquarters in 2015, Google deliberately ran a bicyclist in front of my car. The lidar-equipped, no-steering wheel auto-bot slowed and avoided the cyclist without incident.” Payne writes that engineers are focused on whether the failure in the Tempe case was related to lidar or to the algorithms the cars use to process data. Moreover, the “Tempe incident raises a question: Whether autonomous autos should be held to a higher standard than human drivers.”
Researchers Develop Device To Prevent Birds From Impacting Wind Turbines.
MSN (3/24) reports that increased use of wind turbines endangers birds, but “researchers at the College of William & Mary have built an innovative device that alerts birds in danger of crashing into a wind turbine.” The “Acoustic Lighthouse” was developed by biologist John Swaddle. The device, intended to be mounted on wind turbines, “generates a high-pitched sound that prompts birds to slow down. Birds hit the brakes by pointing their tail feathers down, which makes their body shift upright, causing them look ahead instead of at the ground.”
Marines Seeking Makers For A Mega-Drone.
In continuing coverage, the Madison (WI) Capital Times (3/24) reports that the Marine Corps has “posted its wish list for a long-discussed megadrone, challenging contractors to come up with an aircraft able to pack nearly as much of a punch as the most sophisticated modern fighter jets and take off vertically from the deck of a warship.” The engineers “working on this project in the quarters to come are laying the foundation for business their employers hope to win over the next decade or more.”
Drone Companies Explore Use Of Fuel Cell Technology.
The AVweb (3/25) reports that as fuel cell technology advances, more companies are looking to use fuel cells to power drones. Singapore-based HES Energy Systems is “manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells for drones that ... are the smallest and lightest for the power delivered or energy stored in the world.” Meanwhile, Germany-based Lange Research Aircraft is “developing a surveillance aircraft called the Antares E2,” which has six methanol fuel cells that can keep it in the air for up to 40 hours. At the same time, researchers at the University of Sydney are testing a hybrid approach that uses “a hydrogen fuel cell, a battery and a supercapacitor.”
ENGINEERING AND PUBLIC POLICY
Despite EV Popularity, Auto Industry, Governments Continue Some Investment In Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles.
Bloomberg News (3/23, Behrmann) reports that despite public setbacks for the hydrogen-powered car industry, such as Linde AG’s announcement that it plans to end “its two-year experiment with hydrogen,” the “secret about clean cars” is that “automobile executives still think cars that emit only water are the way of the future.” A survey by KPMG in 2017 “found most senior automotive executives believe battery-powered cars will ultimately fail, with hydrogen offering the true breakthrough for electric mobility.” In one example of this, Daimler AG head of development Ola Kaellenius said, “We’ll keep the fuel-cell technology in development so that we have this technology option should there be a shift in the market.” Japan is hoping to have fuel-cell-powered buses and cars from “its automakers to transport athletes during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and California has spent $100 million building fueling stations.” Still, cost remains “part of the problem” due to “huge investments” that have quickly decreased EV prices while keeping fuel-cell-powered prices high.
Michigan Lawmakers Consider Bill To Reign In DEQ’s Rulemaking Power.
The AP (3/24, Yin) reported that Michigan lawmakers are considering a trio of new bills aimed at weakening the state Department of Environmental Quality by creating a private-interest panel with veto power over the agency’s rulemaking process. The two other bills would “establish a permit appeal panel and an advisory board of scientific experts.” Under the bill, representatives of the private-interest panel would “hail from industries such as oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing” – something environmentalists strongly oppose. Sen. Tom Casperson, who is one of the main sponsors of the bill, said the department “has become bloated with environmentalists overstepping the rights of farmers, miners and more, he said.”
Green Groups Say FERC Is Biased In Favor Of Pipelines, But Judges Aren’t Convinced.
E&E Publishing (3/23, Subscription Publication) reported that during oral arguments, a panel of judges “expressed skepticism” toward environmentalists’ claims that federal regulators are fundamentally biased in favor of pipelines. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network believes the commission’s funding creates a “structural bias” favoring natural gas pipelines. A win for the environmentalists “could trigger a massive shift in operations at FERC and other federal agencies reliant on fees.” However, “at least two judges didn’t seem to buy” the arguments. Senior Judge Harry Edwards “questioned why FERC commissioners, who serve five-year terms, would feel compelled to secure a revenue source to serve the agency years later,” stating: “A lot of these people come and go. What do they care?”
EPA Draft Document Supports Easing Vehicle Emission Standards.
The Wall Street Journal (3/23, Spector, Subscription Publication) reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to advocate for the easing of future vehicle emission standards in a final determination report due April 1. According to sources, a draft of the document outlines arguments for relaxing standards requiring vehicles sold through 2025 to average more than 50 miles a gallon.
Reuters (3/23, Shepardson) reported that the EPA is expected to declare that the Obama administration’s vehicle efficiency rules through 2025 are “not appropriate,” allowing the agency to pursue “significant changes that would make it easier for automakers to meet regulations, a move that could boost vehicle pollution.”
Bloomberg News (3/23, Beene, Dlouhy, Lippert) reported that the Association of Global Automakers “supports continued alignment between California and the federal government” on emissions standards. “If a deal to maintain that consistency can’t be reached,” automakers could be forced to navigate “EPA tailpipe rules in most states and California-set efficiency rules in several others that have adopted California’s rules.”
Boston Program Aims To Recruit Youth Into Construction Trades.
WGBH-FM Boston (3/9) aired a segment interviewing the founder of a program in Boston intended to introduce “young, diverse and experienced workers into the Bay State’s construction sector.” The piece reports that Boston is experiencing a shortage of workers to take part in the city’s “booming” construction scene.
North Carolina Nonprofit Aims To Prepare New Generation Of Pilots.
The AP (3/24, Childress) reported on the Airolina Young Aviators Program (AYA), a nonprofit and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for high school students in Durham. The program “is open to all students,” but is focused on helping “prepare the next generation of black aviators for the opportunities that will present themselves over the next two decades as thousands of commercial pilots reach the mandatory retirement age of 65.” The story mentions that flying lessons in today’s day and age “cost about $180 an hour, compared to the $14 an hour” students used to pay back in the ‘60s. The AP mentions that FAA “requires 40 hours of flight time in addition to passing the FAA Private Pilot written exam and the Private Pilot Oral and Practical (Flying) Exam to earn a pilot’s license.”
Carnegie Foundation Program Helps Teachers Use Motivation To Improve Math Proficiency.
The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2015, “a mere 25 percent of high school seniors were proficient or higher” in math, underscoring for the Washington Post (3/25, Spencer) that “American students are bombing” the subject. “Efforts to improve these numbers have abounded,” but a program by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching may be yielding results. Hundreds of teachers across the country are working with the foundation to test “their own ways to re-energize students plagued by past failures through merging specific emotional skills with academic ones.” At KAPPA International High School in the Bronx, for example, attendance and four-year-graduation rates have climbed as more teachers sign on to the program. Additionally, the “school’s overall average Algebra Regents exam score went from 60 in 2015 to 67 last year.” Notably, the Post says, teachers participating in the Carnegie Foundation program at “other schools around the country have reported similar gains.”
North Carolina STEM School Prepares Future Commercial Pilots.
The AP (3/24) profiled the Airolina Young Aviators Program (AYA), a nonprofit STEM program that provides introductory flight training and mentoring to Durham, North Carolina high school students. Instructor Warren Hervey Wheeler, “one of the nation’s first black commercial pilots,” said that “the program can help students perform better in the classroom.” He pointed to the practical math problems used in flight schooland said he “fault[s] the school system for not making math interesting and relevant.” Wheeler added that he “believes its important to help prepare the next generation of black aviators for the opportunities that will present themselves over the next two decades as thousands of commercial pilots reach the mandatory retirement age of 65.” The AP notes AYA helps students defray the costs of flight lessons, but it “has found that increasingly difficult to do in recent months.”
Apple Poised To Announce Education-Focused Tool In Chicago.
The Seventy Four (3/25) reports that on March 27 at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, Apple will unveil “what type of educational focus the brand has in mind for 2018 and beyond.” Apple events are “almost always cloaked in vagueness to get folks talking beforehand,” and so “there’s no shortage of guesses as to what the big reveal will be.” Still, in light of the announcement’s timing and location – “Apple announced a partnership with the City of Chicago to bring its Everyone Can Code effort to 500,000 students” in December – the Seventy Four speculates that Apple’s focus will be “on expanding coding in education.” The company could also unveil its “rumored ClassKit,” which helps teachers and students make educational apps; “a more cost-effective MacBook Air” to be used in classrooms; or an Apple Pencil 2, which is currently too costly to “have appeal inside schools.”
Virginia Student Wins National Engineering Contest.
The Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot (3/25) reports that earlier this month, Virginia eighth-grader Jason Qin won the junior division of the “Two for the Crew” challenge, a national engineering competition that encourages students “to come up with something useful for the International Space Station.” The event is supported by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and “Future Engineers, an online educational platform that hosts national innovation challenges for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.” Qin ‘s “tool combines needle-nose and lineman’s pliers, as well as a set of attachable handles.” He “suggested that NASA keep the heads of the pliers on the station, and astronauts use a 3-D printer in space to create custom handles that fit their hand sizes,” with previous crew members’ handles “melted down and recycled into a new set of customized handles using the 3-D printer.”