LEADING THE NEWS
Governments, Tech Companies Reconsidering Fast Rollout Of Driverless Cars.
In continuing coverage of the fallout from a fatal accident involving a 49-year-old pedestrian and a self-driving Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, the Washington (DC) Post (3/27, Siddiqui) reports governments and technology companies are reevaluating their approach to self-driving technology in the wake of the accident. The Post reports Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sent a letter to Uber informing the company that their self-driving vehicles are banned from the state’s public roads. The Post says the ban “held special significance because Ducey had previously welcomed Uber’s testing in the state by pitting Arizona’s comparatively relaxed regulatory framework against neighboring California’s.” Lyft President John Zimmer said of the footage released by Tempe police that either the vehicle itself or the backup driver should have been able to avoid the crash, which he said “is something that I think should give everyone pause.” Zimmer explained that self-driving vehicles may ultimately lead to a significant reduction in automotive fatalities, but companies will need to be sure to not use “shortcuts” to prove the safety of the technology. Reuters (3/27) reports Zimmer said, “We need to make sure that all players are acting responsibly because, again, the goal is to actually make it a safer opportunity for people.” Zimmer said that about 100 people die each day in automotive crashes, and he said he is concerned that “if it took autonomous (vehicles) one day more because of this, to get to market, that could be 100 people’s lives that are at risk.”
In an editorial, the Chicago (IL) Tribune (3/23) says that while it understands the pain experienced by the family of the victim in last week’s accident, “in this as in other avenues of progress, technology often fails before it can succeed. Failures inform...And in the fledgling arena of autonomous car technology, on-the-road, real-world testing is the only way these cars can reach a point where they’re safer than having humans behind the wheel.” The Tribune expresses confidence that self-driving cars will eventually greatly reduce the number of automotive fatalities, and “those who would use the death in Tempe to slam the brakes on the development of these vehicles risk keeping all of us from that smarter, safer future.” Ken Colburn, the founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services, writes in the Arizona Republic (3/27) that humans will continue to reject autonomous vehicles until self-driving cars have a nearly perfect record.
Additional coverage included PC Magazine (3/27), Curbed (3/27), and KNXV-TV Phoenix (AZ) Phoenix (3/27).
Uber Scaled Down Number Of Lidar Sensors In Move From Ford To Volvo. Reuters (3/27) reports that documents provided by Uber show that when the company switched their self-driving vehicle test models from the Ford Fusion to Volvo XC90 SUVs, the company reduced the number of lidar sensors on the vehicle from seven to “only one roof-mounted lidar sensor.” Reuters reports that interviews with former Uber employees and Raj Rajkumar, the head of Carnegie Mellon University’s transportation center, revealed that the switch “introduced a blind zone around the perimeter of the SUV that cannot fully detect pedestrians.” Reuters says Waymo’s vehicles use six sensors on each vehicle, and GM’s self-driving vehicles have five sensors. Velodyne, the company that makes the rooftop sensor, said its rooftop device will have blind spots, and Marta Hall, president and chief business development officer at Velodyne, said, “If you’re going to avoid pedestrians, you’re going to need to have a side lidar to see those pedestrians and avoid them, especially at night.”
Uber Will Not Renew Permit To Test AVs On California Public Roads. The AP (3/27, Krisher) reports Uber does not plan to renew its permit to test autonomous vehicles on California public roads. The permit expires on Saturday, and “any application for a new permit will need to address any follow-up analysis or investigations from the recent crash in Arizona and may also require a meeting with the department,” said the California DMV in a letter sent to Uber on Tuesday. According to the AP, “California is the second state in which Uber won’t be able to test autonomous vehicles on public roads,” as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday “suspended Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing privileges due to the crash.” The company is still permitted “to test on public roads in Pennsylvania and Ontario.” Also reporting on the news are the New York Times (3/27, Wakabayashi, Subscription Publication), Bloomberg News (3/27, Newcomer), NPR (3/27, Wren), Ars Technica (3/27), and Re/code (3/27).
Nvidia Suspends Autonomous Vehicle Tests Following Uber Pedestrian Death. Bloomberg News (3/27, King) reports about Nvidia’s decision to suspend its autonomous vehicle testing “temporarily” in the wake of the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, who was struck by one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles last week. CEO Jen-Hsun Huang described the challenge of developing a fully autonomous vehicle as “probably the hardest computing problem that the world has ever encountered.” While the company is halting its more visible testing, Nvidia “will continue to use vehicles with drivers that gather data” and “on Tuesday introduced a new virtual-reality product,” Drive Constellation, “that will simulate the conditions automated systems will face on the roads.”
The Wall Street Journal (3/27, Greenwald, Subscription Publication) reports Nvidia had been testing on public roads in California and New Jersey with Volvo XC90 SUVs. The Journal cannot confirm whether the Uber vehicle that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was using any of Nvidia’s autonomous systems, but the story mentions that in January Uber announced that it had chosen Nvidia’s AI system to use in its autonomous fleet.
Reuters (3/27) reports Nvidia shares had more than doubled in value within the last 12 months on expectations that the company would become the leader in autonomous vehicle systems, but on Tuesday its shares closed 7.8 percent lower following the announcement about the tests. Reuters (3/27) reports in another story about Nvidia’s Drive Constellation simulator, which can simulate 300,000 miles of driving in a matter of hours.
Incoming Louisiana State University Syracuse Computer Science Chair To Launch Cyber Collaboratory.
The Bossier (LA) Press-Tribune (3/27) reports University of South Alabama computer science research coordinator and tenured computer science professor Dr. Michael V. Doran will join Louisiana State University Shreveport as its new Computer Science Department chairman on July 1. In his new position, Doran will work with the Cyber Security Center establish the “Cyber Collaboratory and a workshop for robotics and artificial intelligence.” Doran “has past experience with K-12 outreach, having present numerous sessions for middle school students on robotics and programming via a program known as SCREAM, a summer robotics camp.” He is also currently involved in a Robotics Acting and Performing camp. Doran is involved with the American Association of Artificial Intelligence and the American Society for Engineering Education, and his students have received “numerous awards in the Mid-Southeast Regional Conference Student Research Contest.”
Growing Student Debt Seen As Hurdle To Home Buying.
Bloomberg News (3/27, Hagan) reports, “Since 2003, borrowing for education in percentage terms has outpaced all other types of consumer debt that includes mortgages, auto loans and credit cards, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show. As of the fourth quarter, student loans represented 10.5 percent of a record $13.1 trillion in household debt, up from 3.3 percent at the start of 2003.” According to Bloomberg, “The upshot for the economy is that a larger debt burden among younger Americans, many with entry-level wages and salaries, represents a hurdle for large purchases such as those for cars and homes.”
Pudzer: Congress Must Act To Prevent Student Loan Debt Crisis. In an op-ed for The Hill (3/27), America First Policies adviser Andy Pudzer says that in order to avoid a collapse in the student debt market akin to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, Congress should pass the Prosper Act, which he says would use Pell grants “to cover the costs of practical skills education for students in need” and “encourage businesses to work with colleges in setting the academic agenda.” Doing so “would lower tuition, reduce student loans, and create a more skilled workforce.”
Strayer Education Reignites Expansion.
Inside Higher Ed (3/27, Smith) reports the for-profit education sector “saw enrollment and revenue decrease over the past few years, particularly as federal regulations increased and the economy struggled to rebound after the recession.” Strayer Education, however, “has fared better than most and is growing again,” with plans “to open three to five new campuses this year.” When asked “what’s changed in the six years since Strayer opened a new campus,” chief executive Karl McDonnell pointed to “more clarity on the regulatory front,” as ED “has indicated they support something we have long advocated for, which is a unitary standard when it comes to regulation.” He said Strayer has “long been an advocate of a tight regulatory regime, but it should apply to all institutions across the board and not just one subset.” According to Career Education Colleges and Universities president and chief executive Steve Gunderson, there is also a renewed demand for skilled workers, and institutions like Strayer that produce them.
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
NASA’s James Webb Telescope Delayed To 2020.
The New York Times (3/27, Overbye, Subscription Publication) reports that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) “has been delayed at least a year to May 2020, NASA said on Tuesday, throwing the nation’s plan and budget for space astrophysics into potential turmoil.” The telescope’s cost is likely to exceed an $8 billion limit imposed by Congress, “meaning that the project will have to be reauthorized and other NASA missions could be jeopardized.” NASA is increasing management overview of the program and “has appointed an independent review board, chaired by Thomas Young, a former agency manager and a retired aerospace executive.” The board is expected to “report later this summer what exactly needs to be done and how much it will cost.” The JWST encountered problems during assembly and testing at Northrop Grumman Aerospace systems in Redondo beach, California, including issues with the spacecraft’s sun shield, which took a month to unfold instead of an expected two weeks, and two months to refold instead of a month. As a result, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) “mission to investigate dark energy and the expansion of the universe, could be in danger.”
The Wall Street Journal (3/27, Pasztor, Subscription Publication) reports that NASA cited avoidable errors at Northrop for some of the setbacks. Agency officials laid out an oversight plan Tuesday that includes personnel changes and mandated twice-monthly updates by senior Northrop management to NASA leadership. Before the NASA briefing, a Northrop Grumman spokesman released a statement that the company “remains steadfast in its commitment to NASA and ensuring successful integration, launch and deployment.” According to NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen, “We have one shot to get this right,” as the agency wants the telescope “to work well in orbit.” Zurbuchen told reporters that the agency underestimated the testing of some critical components, and that in the future the agency intends to “actually develop the technologies before we start a mission.”
The Washington Post (3/27, Kaplan) reports that Zurbuchen declared, “Extensive testing is the only way to ensure the mission will succeed with high confidence. Simply put, we have one shot to get this right before going into space.” The JWST review board “predicted with 70 percent confidence that, with further tests, the telescope will be ready to launch in May 2020.” According to a recent “Government Accountability Office report, Northrop Grumman staff are working three shifts, 24 hours a day, to handle the issues.” Besides issues with the heat shield, other problems “required the replacement of a transducer that was incorrectly powered, valves that were affected when the wrong solvent was run through the propulsion system and a catalyst bed that was overheated.” It is thought that JWST cost overruns may affect the WFIRST mission, and “NASA is already weighing cost-cutting measures for the mission, which was recently projected to cost 12 percent more than its budget.”
Siemens Invests In 3D Printing For Customisable Cars
Autocar (IND) (3/27) reports Siemens seeks to innovate and disrupt traditional automotive manufacturing, and plans to invest $37 million in US-based Hackrod’s 3D-printing facility in Britain. Hackrod intends to introduce the first car engineered by artificial intelligence software and produced using 3D-printing methods, and the company is powered by Siemens Digital Innovation Platform software.
Smartphone Apps Encourage Patients To Take Their Medicines.
The AP (3/28, Johnson) reports “smartphone apps that monitor pill-taking are now available, and researchers are testing how well they work when medication matters.” While some experts praise the efficiency, others “say the technology raises privacy and data security concerns.” The AP says that for opioid addiction treatment, “a skipped dose can mean a dangerous relapse,” noting that the National Institute on Drug Abuse “is funding research to tailor a smartphone app for those patients and see if they’ll use it.” The AP reports that the idea of “directly observed therapy” has “roots in tuberculosis where one person’s forgetfulness can be serious for everyone.”
Great Demand For Skilled Workers In Tennessee Noted.
The Tennessean (3/27, Mays) reports on the strong labor market for skilled workers in the state, writing that “several new manufacturers have moved operations to Middle Tennessee or expanded in the area.” According to the Tennessean, “the strengthened sector has benefited from an uptick in consumer demand, but it is now fighting for skilled workers.” South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance Executive Director Jan McKeel states that “it is easier now to be a job seeker than to be an employer. If you’ve got the skill set, you can weigh your options. As a result, you see folks leaving for increases in wages now.” The article also cites comments from Bridgestone Americas Vice President Andrew Honeybone, who “has seen three large tire manufacturers announce plans for plants near its existing facilities in recent months,” adding that “as unemployment rates shrink nationally and US manufacturing expands, the company has had to rethink its recruiting methods and take a more aggressive approach.” Honeybone is quoted saying, “We need to put on our sales hat and let people know why Bridgestone is where they need to be. The demand for the skills has not changed. The only thing that has tightened up is the supply.” The article states that “part of the solution to growing the workforce involves changing the mindset around manufacturing.”
Separately, USA Today (3/27, Evanoff) reports on the need for manufacturing workers in Tennessee, writing that few currently follow a “career path into the factory,” and, “even fewer aim for the automotive industry.” The article quotes Tenneco Director of Global Quality Kim Williams, saying, “We need people who are proud to be in the auto industry. We are the pro athletes of manufacturing. It’s hard work. It’s also very satisfying.” USA Today adds, however, that “America is running short of people like Williams just as automation presses home the need for new skills in auto plants.” It writes, “The National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group in Washington, predicts when today’s third-graders graduate from high school in 2025, US companies will have 2 million open positions unfilled.” Moreover, “Skills shortages extend beyond the factory floor and into the engineering and technology side of the auto industry.” The article further states that “experts say immigration alone won’t solve the skills shortage...there’s also a need for more Americans to step into manufacturing and technology.”
JPMorgan To Hire More STEM Graduates In Asia-Pacific Region.
Bloomberg News (3/27, Chan) reports JPMorgan Chase & Co. has announced plans to hire “more engineering, neuroscience and psychology graduates across Asia-Pacific, diversifying away from students with finance backgrounds as it seeks to adapt its workforce to the region’s fast-changing economies.” Notably, 39 percent of the approximately “1,000 graduates who will start in JPMorgan’s class of 2018 this June” hold science and mathematics degrees and not “business or finance, the highest proportion in data going back three years.” With finance and technology converging and politics and regulations playing “an ever-increasing role in banking, the need for people schooled in disciplines ranging from computing to political science is growing, said John Hall, who co-heads the New York-based bank’s Asia-Pacific investment banking unit.” Indeed, Bloomberg says, the “demand for non-finance hires is clear,” as evidenced at Morgan Stanley, where science and technology students account for only about 20 percent of recent recruits.
Apple Introduces New iPad, Education Apps.
The AP (3/27, Tarm, Liedtke) reports that at its event at a Chicago high school on Tuesday, Apple unveiled a new, cheaper iPad, as well as a variety of new features for students and teachers. The new iPad is $299 for schools and starts at $329 for the mass market. The Wall Street Journal (3/27, Mickle, Subscription Publication) reports Apple said the new 9.7-inch iPad has a faster processor and works with the Apple Pencil, which previously worked with the higher-end iPad Pro only.
However, as USA Today (3/27, Graham) reports, this iPad doesn’t have a physical keyboard. Thus, “any student getting the iPad would also need the $100 accessory bluetooth keyboard.” Furthermore, Phone Arena (3/27, Slavov) reports “aside from Pencil support, none of the more advanced features of the pricier iPads are available here, namely: Apple’s antireflective coating, True Tone display, Wide-gamut color, and ProMotion (120 Hz response rate).”
The New York Times (3/27, Nicas, Singer, Subscription Publication) reports cloud storage for the iPad has been increased from 5GB to 200GB. In addition, Apple also introduced new software for the classroom, including an app called Schoolwork that allows teachers to create as well as track assignments. The company is updating its productivity apps for education, as well. Bloomberg News (3/27, Gurman) adds Apple also unveiled ClassKit, a service that “allows developers to write apps that integrate with the Schoolwork service.” Apple said these new apps will launch in June.
The Wall Street Journal (3/27, Gallagher, Subscription Publication) reports Tuesday’s announcement was Apple’s way of trying to boost its fourth-largest business. Sales of the iPad dropped four percent in its fiscal year ending September, and Wall Street predicted another six-percent decline this year.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters (3/27, Naidu), the new products indicate Apple is seeking to reassert dominance in US schools, “where inexpensive laptops running software from Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp now top iPad by sales, offering a cheap way to get to cloud-based productivity tools.” USA Today (3/27, Baig) reports Futuresource Consulting data show Google’s Chrome operating system running on Chromebooks has a 59.6-percent market share of K-12 mobile computing shipments in the US during Q4 2017, while tablets and notebooks that run Microsoft Windows captured 25.6 percent of the market. Apple ranked third with its iOS and MacOS, with 10.6 percent and 3.5 percent shares, respectively. Also reporting are CNET News (3/27, Ng, Tibken), CNET News (3/27, Stein), CNET News (3/27, Shankland), USA Today (3/27, Graham), the Daily Mail (UK) (3/27), TIME (3/27, Eadicicco), and ABC News (3/27, Miller), Bloomberg News (3/27, Gurman), the Chicago Tribune (3/26), and the AP (3/27).
ENGINEERING AND PUBLIC POLICY
New Jersey Senate Votes To Ban Offshore Oil, Gas Drilling.
E&E Publishing (3/27, Iaconangelo, Subscription Publication) reports that New Jersey’s Senate voted Tuesday to ban offshore oil and gas exploration and development that could affect state waters. The unanimously approved bill “would bar the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection from approving permits or drawing up plans for offshore development, both within and outside state waters” and requires the agency to “review any plans for development off the Atlantic Coast.” State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democratic sponsor of the bill, said, “There isn’t a magic line in the water that prevents an oil spill from moving from one area in the ocean to another area.” Meanwhile, American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Cornelia Horner said the process of opening new offshore tracts is at its “very early” stages, and that it is “premature to consider holding New Jersey back from the tremendous economic and national security benefits that could flow from future oil and natural gas exploration and development.”
California AG Says State Prepared To Defend Vehicle Efficiency Standards.
Reuters (3/27) reports that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says the state is prepared to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection if it tries to weaken Obama-era vehicle efficiency standards. The Trump administration is expected to declare by April 1 that Obama-era rules aimed at doubling the average fuel efficiency to 50 miles per gallon by 2025 are “not appropriate,” sources told Reuters.
Bloomberg News (3/27, Beene, Lippert) reports that if the EPA declares vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions are too aggressive and should be revised, “California intends to counterpunch” by decoupling the state’s rules from federal standards. According to sources, state officials last week began notifiying the nine states that follow California’s air quality regulations of this prospect. Decoupling of California and federal standards would “expose automakers to a patchwork of efficiency regulators.” Thus, automakers have been lobbying the Trump administration to “to re-evaluate the rules, [and] are calling for peace between Washington and California.”
DOE Touting Study That Shows Importance Of Coal During Major Storms.
The Hill (3/27, Green) reports the Department of Energy is “touting a new study as proof that coal use is key in order to keep houses lit and offices warm during major storm events.” An analysis from DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory “found that coal energy was the biggest asset to a reliable energy grid during the ‘bomb cyclone’ that hit a number of East Coast states between December and January.” During the two-week cold snap, “coal was the top energy provider, the study found.”
E&E Publishing (3/27, Subscription Publication) reports the DOE “publicized a new report today bolstering a claim it has made regularly during the Trump administration: The electric grid needs coal plants in order to keep the lights on during extreme weather.”
The Washington Examiner (3/27, Siciliano) reports the lab “evaluated the effects of the January freeze that prompted many coal plants to raise their output to meet increased demand for heating.” Peter Balash of NETL’s Energy Systems Analysis team said, “Coal was the most resilient form of power generation during the event and that removing coal from the energy mix would worsen threats to the electrical grid’s dependability during future severe weather events.” The “key takeaway from the report is its warning ‘against overestimating the nation’s ability to respond to weather events if the current rate of coal plant retirements continues.’”
Virginia Regulators Approve Key Step For Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The AP (3/27) reports that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved “erosion, sediment and storm water control plans” for the “controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline,” marking a “key step forward.” Now that “land disturbing activities” have been approved, full-scale construction can begin on the pipeline.
Environmentalists Urge Virginia Gov. Northam To Slow Permitting Process For ACP, MVP. The Washington Post (3/27, Schneider) reports environmental groups held an event Tuesday calling on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam “to slow the permitting process” for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. The article reports that both the ACP and the MVP were both approved by the State Water Control Board in December. Likewise, WTVF-AM Blacksburg, VA (3/27, Noe-Payne) reports environmentalists on Tuesday “dropped off 10,000 petition signatures to the Governor’s office...demanding he call for a more stringent environmental review for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.” According to the article, “The petition demands that regulators: do an environmental review of each body of water in the pipelines’ paths; give citizens additional time to comment on construction plans; and order pipeline constructors to stop cutting down trees until regulations are finalized.”
Environmentalists Gather 70,000 Signatures Petitioning For Stricter Pipeline Rules In Virginia.The AP (3/27, Mosby) reports that environmentalists on Tuesday “dropped on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk petitions signed by more than 70,000 people supporting stricter rules for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines that energy companies plan to build across Virginia.” One petition was signed by 10,000 Virginian residents and “demands that the Northam administration immediately halt the tree-felling along the pipeline routes and let the public comment on the companies’ plans to control erosion and stormwater before they are finalized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.”