Congress Approves Water Projects Bill

The Senate voted 78 to 21, early on Dec. 10, to approve a bill that authorizes navigation, flood control and drinking water projects. That sent the measure to President Obama to sign into law.

The House had passed the bill 360-61 on Dec. 8 and sent it to the Senate.

What was previously called the Water Resources Development Act had been recast in the final House-Senate conference version as the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation, or WIIN Act. It also includes authorizating of funding to deal with the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.

For marine traffic, it authorizes more and deeper federal dredging of seaport harbors plus some inland waterway projects that support barge freight operations.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the WIIN Act includes regional improvements such as “long-overdue upgrades” at some locks and dams on the upper Ohio River, but that “they also provide significant national economic benefits. An efficient transportation network is what makes our economy run, and ensuring America’s water infrastructure is brought into the 21st century will grow the economy, strengthen our competitiveness, and create jobs.”

A number of state departments of transportation directly or indirectly support their states’ ocean or inland freight-handling marine ports, and so would be affected by the bill. In addition, the measure’s flood projects often can help protect highways and other surface transportation infrastructure that state DOTs directly manage.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Board of Directors had recently passed a resolution calling on the current Congress to complete the water projects legislation, saying that it “authorizes critical projects and establishes water resource policy for the nation’s ports, waterways and marine system.”

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Carnegie Mellon University will receive $14 million over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to establish a new National University Transportation Center (UTC).

The UTC, which will be named Mobility21, will focus on safely and efficiently improving the mobility of people and goods in the 21st century by investigating and deploying novel technologies, incentives, policies, and training programs.

Mobility21 is a partnership between the College of Engineering and The Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. It contributes to initiatives in both Colleges and the university in smart transportation and smart city research and education.

Transportation costs are the second largest expense for U.S. households. On average, we spend more than 40 hours stuck in traffic each year, and congestion costs are estimated to be $121 billion. Truck congestion alone wastes $27 billion in time and fuel, annually.

To address mobility challenges that span multiple modes of transportation, the College of Engineering and its consortium partners, including the Community College of Allegheny Country, University of Pennsylvania, and Ohio State University, will explore: smart city technologies; connected and autonomous vehicles; improved transportation access to disadvantaged neighborhoods; multi-modal traveling; assistive technologies for people with disabilities; data modeling for monitoring traffic control systems; and regional planning to establish priorities and aid transportation deployment.

“This significant award from the U.S. Department of Transportation recognizes Carnegie Mellon’s national and global leadership in the computational technologies that are revolutionizing transportation. Building on the real-world experience and expertise we have established with other CMU initiatives such as Metro21 and Traffic21, this cross-disciplinary effort, led by our College of Engineering, will rely on innovative research from across Carnegie Mellon to develop and deploy solutions that will fuel our economy, keep our nation’s drivers safe, and deliver efficient and reliable transportation,” says Farnam Jahanian, provost and chief academic officer of Carnegie Mellon.

Raj Rajkumar, the George Westinghouse Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon, will lead Mobility21. Rajkumar, who has earned global recognition for autonomous vehicle research, is also the co-director of the GM-CMU Connected and Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Laboratory.

“Carnegie Mellon’s research has helped establish Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as a national hub for developing safe automated vehicles and has attracted technology companies to Pennsylvania,” says Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Leslie S. Richards.

PennDOT is one of a number of partners that Mobility21 will tap to deploy projects. Deployment partners will help identify real-world transportation needs, aid technology licensing and commercialization, and provide venues for testing technologies.

“Pittsburgh is a testbed for deploying new technologies that can connect communities and provide access to new opportunities. With the City and Carnegie Mellon working together, residents throughout the city will have safer, faster, and more reliable commutes,” says Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Mobility21 has received much support from Pennsylvania’s government leaders because of the impact the center will make in the state and beyond.

“I’m very pleased that the Department of Transportation has awarded Carnegie Mellon another grant to continue the great research it’s doing to improve our region and nation’s transportation infrastructure. Cutting-edge research like this is what attracts industry leaders like Google and Uber to Pittsburgh and expands our local economy. That’s why I was happy to spearhead a Congressional letter of support for CMU’s grant application,” says Rep. Mike Doyle.

“The research that Carnegie Mellon will undertake will help tackle the nation’s transportation problems by finding ways to improve safety, upgrade infrastructure, and ensure that the best new technologies come from American companies,” says Sen. Bob Casey.

“Mobility21 will actively bridge the bold ideas of its research team to meet the pressing needs of our increasingly congested transportation system. The benefits of infrastructure investments can be multiplied with the infusion of innovative technologies and forward-looking policies. We therefore look forward to working closely with institutions in the public, private, and non-profit sectors,” adds Rajkumar, who also directs Metro21, Carnegie Mellon’s Smart and Connected City Initiative.

Mobility21 is the second national UTC located at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. The university is also home to the Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation National UTC on Safety, which was established in 2013 to develop and deploy technologies for safe and efficient transportation pertaining to in-vehicle technologies, infrastructure technologies, human-vehicle interactions, mobility/data analytics, and policy.

The Mobility21 grant is one of five National UTC grants that were awarded in 2016 to advance research and education programs that address transportation challenges facing our nation. Funding for the UTC is authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act.

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Why It Matters For Tech Companies To Release Diversity Data On Time

Failure and transparency are calls to action in the tech industry. So why are they holding back with diversity?

This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.

“As you know, Mrs. Bellis,” my second-grade teacher definitely did not tell my mother, “your son has been struggling in school this marking period, so we’ve decided we aren’t going to share his report card. We’ll wait until he’s managed to bring his grades up before telling you what they are.”

That’s pretty much the logic Twitter and Pinterest are sharing with the publicthis week. According to a Wall Street Journal report, both companies are “delaying” the release of their latest diversity data until later this month—16 months after their last updates came out.

Isn’t failure . . . a rallying cry in Silicon Valley—a call to action, not a reason to add more time to the clock?

And while we won’t know how much progress they’ve made until then, there’s ample reason to suspect it’ll be disappointing. Both companies’ next reports are expected to shift toward laying out new hiring objectives rather than (just) sharing demographic figures on race and gender.

That change comes in an industry where progress on improving the representation of women and people of color has all but stalled. 2014 saw a big push to expand transparency around diversity data in the tech sector, with Tracy Chou, formerly a Pinterest engineer and currently of the advocacy group Project Include, helping to lead that charge. As she tells the Journal’s Georgia Wells today, though, “There’s starting to be a shift in the conversation: We can’t just put the diversity data out there.” Instead, she says the question is becoming, “What can we do to move the data in the right direction?”

Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The whole point of releasing diversity data—regularly—is to keep that conversation going in the first place. When an ambitious plan to improve its internal diversity largely face-planted by last year, Pinterest was forced to rethink its efforts, hiring a new diversity chief to lead them.

So was Intel, whose $300-million diversity initiative in 2015 has led to only incremental change in the company’s workforce in the 18 months since it launched. Facebook and Google’s parent company Alphabet haven’t made significant improvements either, the Journal notes. That’s despite initiatives that include hiring underrepresented minorities as interns and appointing executives to lead further inclusion efforts.

But isn’t failure (and transparency around it) a rallying cry in Silicon Valley—a call to action, not a reason to add more time to the clock? The way to sustain the energy, urgency, and seriousness around the toughest challenges isn’t to let well over a year go by before sharing more information on them. Nor is it by moving the goal posts when that information isn’t positive. A shift in hiring and recruiting strategy may be called for, as Chou suggests. And it’s true, as Pinterest’s diversity chief, Candice Morgan, points out in the Journal story: The most effective game-plan may take (much) longer than 12 months to show results of any kind—good or bad, mixed or middling.

Transparency is both a means for accomplishing a goal and an end in itself.

Tech insiders should be more comfortable than most with making long-term investments, confident that today’s tepid update obscures tomorrow’s monster ROI. There’s not a VC out there who’d tell a startup that they’d just dumped a bunch of money into: “Take your time and hit me up whenever you’re finally cash-positive, no need to keep me posted in the meantime!” Transparency is both a means for accomplishing a goal and an end in itself.

Especially now. There’s a lot we don’t know, for instance, about how President-elect Donald Trump will lead over the next four years, because there’s a lot we don’t know about his taxes and his plans for managing his businesses, among other things.

One thing we do know is the makeup of Trump’s economic team—which is all men, most of them white and many of them billionaires. Multiple studies have already shown that you can’t properly critique what you don’t know, and you can’t make it better, either. At least not before it’s done some damage.

[Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

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The Gorgeous Mola Modeling Kit Will Make a Real Engineer Out of You

DESPITE ADVANCES IN digital technology, the structural engineering syllabus has remained largely unchanged for close to a century. A degree still entails becoming an expert in things like load, leveling, tension, and stress—and students are expected to learn hand-drafting and model construction. But Brazilian architect Márcio Sequeira de Oliveira thought there was a better (and better-looking) way for wannabe-engineers to grok structural mechanics.

He calls his solution Mola. It’s the first structural modeling kit you’ll want to snap a selfie with, regardless of your major. Its sleek, sproingy parts beg to be played with and the subtle design belies the serious engineering concepts it so beautifully illustrates.

Sequeira created the first Mola kit back in 2014, after spending nearly a decade on the design process. The challenge, he says, was creating the simplest model possible with the smallest number of parts as possible while still allowing it to simulate the widest variety of structural systems possible.  When he released it via Brazilian crowdfunding platform Catarse, it became the website’s most successful campaign ever. People in 50 countries bought more than 4,000 kits.

Now the company is back with the Mola 2—an expanded version with even more room to flex your creativity muscles. The big revelation? Adjustable-length, spring-loaded bars that can get longer or shorter with just a twist. Plus, you don’t have to take apart the structure to change it up. Mola 2 lets you simulate all sorts of structures–from grids and bridges to columns and cross-beamed forts. There are even plans to replicate more famous landmarks, like the cork-screwing Art Tower Mito in Japan and Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House.

“We dream of seeing the Mola System being used all around the world in every university and in every architecture or engineering office,” Sequeira says. But he’s also been pleasantly surprised with other ways people are using it, from high school physics teachers to kids peeling themselves away from screen time.

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14 coolest toys for the holiday season

The wall-climbing Geckobot

Geckobots are robots that mimic the moves of a real gecko. They can even climb up walls and windows. But the best part is you assemble and wire it yourself.

The toy from Thames & Kosmos includes a battery-powered motor that triggers the robot’s legs to move back and forth. Meanwhile, an air suction system allows it to walk vertically up and down smooth surfaces like glass, plastic and whiteboards.

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