LEADING THE NEWS
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.”
Reuters Suggests Liability Model For AV Fatalities Similar To Pharma Law. Reuters (3/22) editorializes, “Developers of self-driving cars have a legal lesson to learn from the pharmaceuticals industry. ... Figuring out how to apportion blame between developers, manufacturers, drivers – if involved – and other parties could be difficult,” but “the pharma industry faced a similar dilemma” several decades ago, when “juries awarded huge settlements to those children hurt by vaccines against diphtheria and other illnesses. As a result, many pharma firms stopped making them as they couldn’t get liability insurance.” Congress “banned lawsuits and forced manufacturers to pay fixed amounts into a fund to compensate victims. It’s a decent model that helps victims while keeping society’s broader goals on track.”
Critics Of Congress’ Push For Self-Driving Cars Cite Fatal Uber Crash. The Detroit News (3/22, Laing) reports that the fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber vehicle has “emboldened critics of the push by Congress to allow automakers to sell thousands of driverless cars.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement, “This tragic incident makes clear that autonomous vehicle technology has a long way to go before it is truly safe for the passengers, pedestrians, and drivers who share America’s roads.” Sen. Ed Markey similarly said, “This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads.” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the crash “should be a clear wake-up call for Congress to halt this flawed legislation and add desperately-needed minimum performance requirements and safety standards.”
Robots “Surely Safer” Than South Florida’s “Crazed And Reckless” Human Drivers. In a column in the South Florida Sun Sentinel (3/22, Grimm), writer Fred Grimm says that he will start “worrying about autonomous automobiles the first time a robot flips me the bird and runs me off the road.” He adds, “I’ll start worrying about self-driving cars when the autonomous car in front of me sits at the intersection, unmoving, oblivious to the green light, utterly engrossed in flirty text messages from some slutty robot from Waymo.”
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.
Newsletter or News Network Statement
The Council of Graduate Schools will be distributing a survey to graduate programs directors titled Masters’ Degree Admission Attributes. CGS member graduate deans will distribute the survey to program directors on March 13. We are encouraging our disciplinary representatives to look out for and complete the survey when it arrives. The survey will inform a study titled Master’s Admission Attributes: Current Status and Missing Evidence. This project has the potential to help universities and programs to clarify the goals and expected outcomes of master’s education, to better identify students who are likely to succeed in various types of master’s degree programs, and ultimately, to better align the curriculum to support master’s student degree completion and success. More detailed information is available here.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
UPenn Students Try New Approach To Electric Race Car Competition.
Philly (PA) (3/22, Avril) reports on a team of University of Pennsylvania students who have been “dominating competitions” in electric race car competitions and who are now trying “a bold new approach” to the challenge. This year, “instead of using one big motor in this year’s car,” the team, Penn Electric Racing “is installing four smaller ones – one in each wheel – controlled by an onboard computer that delivers varying amounts of power to the wheels as needed.” The article provides detail on the students’ four-wheel drive electric car.
UPenn Engineers Create Drone Teams To Help In Emergencies.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (3/22, Trubey) says engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have produced “‘swarms’ of drones that can navigate on their own.” The devices they are creating “can work as a group to canvass a wide area, capturing images and other data that would help emergency responders plot the next step.” Team leader and Penn Engineering School Dean Vijay Kumar said, “The robots basically talk to each other...They can use high-level algorithms to distribute themselves in complex ways to solve tasks.”
Navy Completes Testing For Mine Detection System.
Stars And Stripes (3/22, Olson) says the Navy has completed testing “of a drone-based coastal mine detection system” which is “designed to identify surface mines and other obstacles on beaches or surf waters.” The system is “intended to become standard equipment on littoral combat ships.” The article provides background on the development of the system.
NSF Says Hopkins Is Top Spender In R&D Among Universities.
The Baltimore Sun (3/22, Cohn) reports that according to the National Science Foundation, Johns Hopkins University “topped the list” of US universities “for spending on research and development.” The university, which the NSF says spent more than $2.4 billion on R&D in 2016, “has been atop the field of more than 900 universities for 38 years.”
Researchers Engineer T-Cells Using CRISPR Technology To Potentially Eliminate Issues Of Donor Compatibility (Italy).
Pharma Star (ITA) (3/22) reports in an Italian-language article that researchers at Washington University in the US used CRISPR genetic editing technology to engineer human T-cells in order to allow them to attack haematological malignancies. Although the development of CAR-T cells for T-cell neoplasms has been limited due to the inability to collect sufficient autologous T cells from a compatible donor, researchers have genetically modified T cells so they may be extracted from any donor. The findings were published in Leukemia.
Google AI Researcher Attacks Facebook.
Venture Beat (3/22) reports on a tweet thread by Google researcher François Chollet criticizing Facebook that generated attention in tech circles. In the Twitter thread, Chollet is quoted as saying about Facebook, “We’re looking at a powerful entity that builds fine-grained psychological profiles of over two billion humans, that runs large-scale behavior manipulation experiments, and that aims at developing the best AI technology the world has ever seen. Personally, it really scares me.” He added, “If you work in AI, please don’t help them. Don’t play their game. Don’t participate in their research ecosystem. Please show some conscience.”
Fast Company (3/22) also reports on the thread, quoting Chollet as saying, “If Facebook gets to decide, over the span of many years, which news you will see (real or fake), whose political status updates you’ll see, and who will see yours, then Facebook is in effect in control of your political beliefs and your worldview.” The piece says the “criticism is somewhat rich coming from the deep-learning guy at Google,” adding that the author “would go as far to say that Google’s artificial intelligence programs are far more insidious than Facebook’s.”
Under the headline “If Facebook Controls Your Mind, So Do A Lot Of Other Tech Companies,” The Verge (3/22) is partially skeptical about the thread, writing, “But in hyping up the power of AI, he is underestimating how hard it is to change our minds, and the distinction he makes between Facebook and other tech companies is weak.”
BMW CEO: Automaker Will Start Mass Producing Electric Vehicles In 2020 With Next-Gen Electric Drive Train.
Reuters (3/22) reports BMW CEO Harald Krueger told analysts in Munich on Thursday that the automaker will not start making mass-market electric vehicles until 2020 because “We wanted to wait for the fifth generation to be much more cost competitive.” BMW’s current fourth-generation electric drive technology is available in the i8 Roadster, but BMW can still enhance the design to make it more modular and better suited to mass production. According to the story, BMW is also “working on a sixth generation of its technology and is investing a three-digit-million euro amount in battery cell research to better understand mass production.”
ENGINEERING AND PUBLIC POLICY
Nevada Officials Say State Needs To Do More To Prepare For 5G.
U.S. News & World Report (3/23, Soergel) reports “Nevada city planners and government officials have been among the most receptive to new and developing technologies in recent years,” from autonomous vehicles to drones, but the state faces the same challenges as anywhere else in the country when it comes to preparing for 5G. Accordingly, state officials are calling for “more partnerships” on 5G, “more guidance from the federal government and more consideration paid to the placement of ‘guardrails’ to protect consumers’ privacy and physical safety.” US News & World Report mentions that “a handful of individual companies have begun testing the technology in specific cities, with Charter Communications in January announcing plans to test 5G connectivity in Reno.”
DHS Cybersecurity Division Releases New Research And Technology Guides.
Government Matters (DC) (3/22, Wagner) reports the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate has issued two new guides to the public – The 2018 Cyber Security Division Portfolio Guide, which “aims to drive industry adoption of DHS cybersecurity solutions,” and the 2018 Cyber Security Division Technology Guide, which “hopes to spur a conversation about the agency’s research and development agenda.” DHS Science and Technology Directorate Cyber Security Division Director Douglas Maughan said, “The portfolio guide is overarching…it tells a little bit about all the programs. The technology guide gives detailed technical presentations of over 70 technologies that are mature. We’re trying to find pilot partners and others who will take the technology and transition and commercialize those capabilities.”
Oil And Gas Industry Pledges To Increase Natural Gas Use In Response To New Climate Study.
Bloomberg BNA (3/22, Magill) reports that international oil and gas industry groups are pledging to “encourage greater use of natural gas and less reliance on coal” in response to a new study claiming that the burning of “the most greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuels” creates air pollution that can be linked to serious health impacts. The topline conclusion of the study – published by scientists at Duke University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the scientific journal Natural Climate Change – found that “153 million premature deaths will be avoided over an 80 year period if emissions are cut” to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. Chevron spokesman Sean Comey responded, “Chevron is taking prudent, practical and cost-effective actions to address potential climate change risks, including managing emissions, testing new technologies and increasing efficiency.” Likewise, American Petroleum Institute spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel said reducing emissions is a “top priority” for the oil and gas industry. He added, “The combination of natural gas use, cleaner motor fuels and technological innovations are significantly improving air quality in a host of ways previously considered impossible—all while the U.S. leads the world in producing and refining natural gas and oil.”
US Steel Tariffs, Chinese Trade Battle Risk Disrupting New Wave Of US LNG Expansion.
Reuters (3/22, Gordon) reports some LNG company executives believe the implementation of Trump’s proposed steel tariffs and “a potential trade battle with China could hurt U.S. liquefied natural gas companies,” particularly at a time when “a new wave of developments in the fast-growing market is gaining steam.” China is currently “the fastest growing major buyer of LNG” as well as “a significant exporter of the steel components used in LNG plant construction.” Earlier this year, “Cheniere signed two major sales deals...including one with China, fully commercializing the third liquefaction unit at its Corpus Christi project in Texas.” Cheniere is now “finalizing financing, which will take six to eight weeks, the final step before it can formally greenlight the 4.5 million tonne per annum project.” According to Cheniere Chief Commercial Officer Anatol Feygin, “I would say the overwhelming majority of steel in an LNG plant is pretty specialized. ... Presumably things that cannot be sourced in the U.S. will not be subject to those (tariffs).” Industry observers say the tariffs “are not expected to meaningfully impact expansion projects planned by Cheniere and other first wave producers, but new entrants who need to build steel intensive infrastructure could now face harsher headwinds.”
The San Antonio Express-News (3/22, Eaton) reports new US tariffs on imports of goods from China “could make it harder for U.S. liquefied natural gas exporters to tap into China’s booming market and raise billions for the next generation of Gulf Coast LNG facilities.” Developers of LNG terminals “need to line up long-term contracts to gain the financing and investment” necessary to build their projects, and poor trade relations with China may lead the country to instead “buy LNG from Australia, the Middle East or other U.S. rivals.” LNG companies in the U.S. “like Cheniere Energy and Tellurian plan to build 10 multibillion-dollar projects in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Maryland over the next decade to ship natural gas from the nation’s shale plays overseas. But several of these projects have yet to get the go-ahead as companies try to line up contracts and financing.”
Kelly: Public-Private Partnership Needed To Enhance Electric Grid Security.
Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Suedeen Kelly writes in USA Today (3/22, Kelly, Contributor) that a warning from DHS and the FBI that “Russian hackers have infiltrated the U.S. electric grid and may well have the ability to shut down our power plants at will” does not appear to be “creating a sense of urgency in Congress, at the federal agencies that exercise regulatory control over the electricity supply, or among the utility companies that own and operate the electric grid.” Kelly says, “Absent cohesive, focused leadership and funding, scatter-shot grid upgrades will likely only achieve limited success. ... What we now need to establish is a large-scale public-private partnership that brings together the necessary expertise and financing to support making the grid more impenetrable as quickly as possible.”
PSU Students Work In Community Classrooms On Technological Literacy.
The Joplin (MO) Globe (3/22, Younker) reports on a “new partnership” between Pittsburg State University and community schools which is “ensuring that young schoolchildren are introduced to science, technology, engineering, and math fields.” Students enrolled in the “relatively new minor in technological literacy” at PSU “are tasked with building skills and strategies to implement STEM activities in their future classrooms, and they’re spending the academic year testing those activities in actual classrooms in Pittsburg schools.” The article describes experiences of elementary school students befitting from the program
Georgia Tech, Honeywell Announce New Partnership.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (3/22) reports that Georgia Tech and the Honeywell company “announced Thursday a partnership” in which “teachers will have access to Georgia Tech’s computing research and Honeywell engineers, who will serve as mentors and coaches.” The partnership aims “to provide advanced teaching techniques to select middle and high school teachers in metro Atlanta in science, technology, engineering, and math.” The article provides detail on the planned partnership.