ASEE Connections

January 2016




In This Issue: Products & Programs
Learn more about the Spotlight on Design applied engineering video series
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This month’s databyte looks at how research expenditure by source within engineering changed over the past decade in the United States. Total research funding reported by participating schools in ASEE’s profiles survey grew from $6.9 billion in 2005 to $8.4 billion in 2014. During this period, the federal share of the total pool increased only slightly – by less than 1.5 percentage points. A similar increase was also observed in industry’s share. States’ share declined by a wide margin, dropping from 12.4 percent in 2005 to 7.7 percent in 2014. Although the shares of local and foreign sources were relatively small, their growths over the decade were remarkable. The total amount of local funds grew by five times and foreign funds by 3.5 times. The amount of federal, nonprofit, and individual funding grew by 25 percent and industry funding by 35 percent. State funding declined by 25 percent.





The Obama administration has made an effort to keep the Oval Office in step in these social-media times. President Obama last year became a Twitter user and opened a Facebook account. And now the White House has joined Snapchat. Like many other social-media apps, Snapchat allows users to entertain their connections with photos, videos, and messages detailing what they’re up to while providing them with links to news stories. Snapchat’s unique selling point, however, is that once a message is opened, the content disappears after 10 seconds. In a blog post about the decision, a White House official noted that the app has more than 100 million active daily users, including more than 60 percent of American smartphone owners aged 13 to 24, according to the National Journal. The magazine notes that as more and more Americans use social media to find out what’s in the news, the administration thinks it needs to publish on nontraditional outlets to get the president’s message and agenda out to the public. The White House hosted its Snapchat debut with the president’s State of the Union address earlier this month, sharing with followers behind-the-scenes photos and videos of the preparations for the speech, as well as a video of Obama being interviewed by three popular YouTube video makers. The administration is aware that ratings for the speech have been dropping in recent years and hope that social media may be a way to reach people who no longer tune in. But because of laws regarding the presidential record, the White House arranged a special deal with Snapchat — Obama’s messages won’t truly disappear.



Executives in both Detroit and Silicon Valley were applauding President Obama’s recently announced plan to spend around $4 billion over the next decade to speed development of autonomous cars. Anthony Foxx, the U.S. secretary of transportation, announced the plan at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, saying that self-driving cars have the potential to save lives, time, and fuel. Production of autonomous cars has very quickly become a major goal of both automakers and tech companies, with billions of dollars being spent on their development and executives predicting that they could be on the roads as soon as 2020. Major automakers from GM to Toyota are placing big bets on self-driving cars, as are many tech companies, including Google and — most likely — Apple. The administration says it also plans to unveil a model state policy on self-driving cars so that there is a consistent national approach to regulation. That is also something the industries want. They fear that without federal government intervention, a patchwork of laws regulating robotic cars laws that vary from state to state could put the brakes on the burgeoning new and potentially lucrative market.





Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are prone to major panic attacks that come on with no warning. Many of the children do not have the ability to control the attacks, which can last for quite some time and leave them exhausted and emotionally drained. But a wearable sensor developed by a University of British Columbia student could provide parents and caregivers with a warning that an attack is likely, giving them a chance to begin a calm-down routine, according to the Vancouver Sun. The Reveal device is an ankle bracelet that monitors sweat, heart rate and skin temperature and relays the data via Bluetooth to a smartphone app. The device could also be useful to older children who could use it to keep in touch with their emotions to regulate them and head off anxiety attacks, the paper says. Inventor and recent mechanical engineering graduate, Andrea Palmer, has started a company called Awake Labs to commercialize the monitor. Awake is one of six new startups accepted for an innovation hub run by the university’s business school. The fledgling companies will receive mentorships, paid student interns, and business coaching from the hub.


From London to Paris, from Los Angeles to Houston, and from Beijing to Delhi, air pollution remains a major health problem in cities around the world. A new app by a British startup, Drayson Technologies, won’t solve the problem, but it might help users avoid a city’s worst areas. Its CleanSpace smartphone app tracks users’ journeys and lets them know how much polluted air they were exposed to, according to The Engineer. The app’s functionality is enhanced by a CleanSpace tag, another small device that takes air quality readings and uses Bluetooth to send the data to the phone. The tag allows Drayson to roll out another cool innovation: Freevolt, which powers the tag with no need of batteries. Freevolt harvests small amounts of electricity from RF signals — WiFi; 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular signals; and digital broadcasts — that can be used to power low-energy devices, including tags, beacons, and sensors.




Midcourse Correction

A New Decision-Making Tool Helps Guide Engineering Students Toward More Innovative Designs.

By Nur Özge Özaltin, Mary Besterfield-Sacre and Renee M. Clark

Today’s organizations must meet or exceed customer expectations through product innovation to capture and retain market share. Thus, learning to design innovatively is a crucial skill for engineering students to acquire. Given this, might engineering educators benefit from a decision-support tool that offers recommendations on student design-process activities that are associated with innovative outcomes?

In our research, we developed a Bayesian network decision tool using GeNIe modeling software, which can assist instructors by identifying activities at various points in the design process that are more apt to yield a breakthrough product. Our tool is based on actual design-process and outcomes data reflecting roughly 18,000 hours of design work collected from senior bioengineering capstone teams at two universities. Since Bayesian networks allow both downstream and upstream inference, the likelihood that a design-process category (conceptual design, for example) was performed at a certain level at a certain point can be determined for an innovative (or non-innovative) design outcome. This type of what-if analysis can be used by instructors to advise students on desirable design-process activities.

Design-process activities were chronicled using a survey system over a 24-week period as teams advanced from an initial concept to a working prototype of their medical-product designs. Activities included determining the target customer, customer needs analysis, brainstorming, research activities, design modifications, design and prototype reviews, and documentation of the design. The process-level data were used to build (set parameters for) the Bayesian network model. The structure of the network was based on Dym’s design framework, with the addition of two product-realization categories.

We connected each team’s process-level data to the innovativeness of its product, as assessed by the capstone instructors. Using both innovative and non-innovative outcomes data and the associated process-level data, our model was developed to contrast processes associated with innovative versus non-innovative products. This type of information can be used by design educators to guide their teams and make formative assessments and recommendations. Given the length of the capstone projects, we developed separate Bayesian networks for the individual phases of the design – early, middle, and late. The cross validation and sensitivity analysis we performed showed our model to be both accurate and robust.

To demonstrate the GeNIe software and our models, we created two videos. The first demonstrates how to use a GeNIe model to input information, such as the knowledge or assumption that a product is innovative (or not), and subsequently obtain an output – for example, the most probable usage level of a particular design category in a given design phase. The second video describes how educators can use our Bayesian network to guide their design students. It demonstrates the switching of a model between innovative and non-innovative outcomes settings to uncover contrasts in the most probable usage levels of the design categories. These comparisons provide a means to directly advise a design team. For example, if a hypothetical design outcome is toggled from non-innovative to innovative and there is an associated change in the most probable usage level of, for example, problem definition in a certain design phase, empirical insight into recommended process changes can be obtained and used to inform team activities.

Since the GeNIe software is free to download, design educators can experiment with our models and conduct what-if analyses to determine the probable impact of various usage levels of Dym’s design categories on the innovativeness of the product and vice versa. Our GeNIe models are available upon request from the authors. Educators also can use our methodology as described in our paper to develop models that may be more specific to their disciplines or situations.

Nur Özge Özaltin received her Ph.D. from the industrial engineering department at the University of Pittsburgh, where Mary Besterfield-Sacre is an associate professor and director of the Engineering Education Research Center in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Renee M. Clark is director of assessment. This article is excerpted from “An Engineering Educator’s Decision Support Tool for Improving Innovation in Student Design Projects” in the Summer 2015 issue of Advances in Engineering Education. (This research was supported under an NSF BES RAPD collaborative grant, award number 0602484.)





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The Engineering Research Council's annual conference will be held March 7-9 at the Sheraton Hotel in Silver Spring, Md. Visit this link to take advantage of discounted registration rates. Click here to reserve your hotel room. Find more information, including a preliminary program, here.


The section, with members from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as Eastern Canada, will hold its annual conference at the University of Rhode Island from Thursday, April 28th, 2016 to Saturday April 30, 2016. The theme will be “Revolutionizing Engineering Education.” See the conference website.


New Navigation Section - Papers Management: The new section contains upcoming deadlines, guidelines, call for papers, and kits for authors, program chairs, reviewers, and moderators.

Author's Kits are Available: The 2016 Annual Conference Author's Kit - available on the website - contains extremely important information regarding the submission process as well as all relevant deadline dates.

THE ST. LAWRENCE SECTION CONFERENCE will be held at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., April 8-9, 2016. This year the conference will include several workshops. The calls for papers, presentations, posters and workshops as well as information about the Conference Program, Registration, and Hotel information is available on

eGFI IS HERE: Help inspire the next generation of innovators with the all-new 6th edition of ASEE's prize-winning magazine for middle and high school students: eGFI (Engineering, Go For It). Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about learning - and doing - engineering. To purchase copies, go to For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact or call 202-331-3500.






COVER: Direct current lost out to alternating current in the early days of electricity. But now some engineers want to bring it back, arguing that it’s more compatible with electronic devices and an efficient and logical way of addressing energy-delivery needs. Leading the way: the University of Pittsburgh.

GRADES: Pioneering instructors at some engineering schools have started grading students’ work in design courses according to a set of learning standards. Professors can see what content, skills, and knowledge students specifically learned and can apply – and grade their work accordingly.

NEW ORLEANS: A lively travel piece on the Big Easy, site of ASEE’s 2016 Annual Conference.




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