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Top stories summarized by our editors
9/24/2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Reliability Corp. have more than two dozen recommendations to help Texas avoid another occurrence of last winter's catastrophic power outages, including that power providers should be required to winterize their plants. That echoes a mandate made after the state's 2011 winter blackouts. "I can guarantee you that this time, FERC will not let these recommendations be ignored or watered down," said FERC Chairman Richard Glick.

SmartTake: A recent blog from Michael Webber, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, outlined the "grimly familiar" steps taken in the 2011 and 2021 crises. 

  1. Finger pointing and misdirection
  2. Investigations and forensic analysis
  3. Implementation of solutions (or lack thereof) 

Webber's overview is a good outline of the problem. However, one interesting paradox comes up. Webber writes "we need to stop designing the infrastructure of tomorrow based on the assumptions of yesterday." He then follows that sentiment by urging the same winterization "steps that were called for 10 years ago." That definitely feels like yesterday. One might wonder if perhaps Texas needs to do even more than what was suggested 10 years ago if it's going to keep up with the wrath of climate change. --Evan

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The Associated Press
9/24/2021

NASA is planning to send an ice-hunting rover to the moon, with the 950-pound vehicle to land west of the Nobile Crater near the moon's south pole. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover is equipped with three spectrometers and a drill to draw samples as deep as 3.3 feet.

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LiveScience
9/24/2021

About 4,000 miles of paving are among the improvements that the South Carolina Department of Transportation has been able to implement thanks to increased funding under the 2017 Roads Bill, according to a report by The Road Information Program. However, the report notes challenges remain for an aging transportation system as the state's population continues to grow.

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Roads & Bridges
9/24/2021

A study by Arizona State University that allowed older and less-abled participants to summon autonomous vehicles as they would with ordinary ride sharing elicited favorable responses. Three-quarters of respondents said they were comfortable riding in AVs alone, and many used the ride option to engage in more outside activities than they would have otherwise.

SmartTake: Pilots like these are encouraging. As we reported earlier this year, one of the greatest hurdles for the autonomous vehicle industry is acceptance among passengers and motorists. - Jaan

9/24/2021

The global goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 will require the building industry to reach the halfway point by 2030, according to Victoria Burrows, director of Advancing Net Zero at the World Green Building Council. Part of the challenge is that true net zero involves both operational and embodied carbon.

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Redshift
9/24/2021

Warda Ashraf, an assistant civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, has received a $50,000 grant to study the optimal percentage of nanoscale cellulose fibers that could extend the service life of concrete and cement. Most of the work will be lab-based, but there are possibilities for field-level experiments, Ashraf said.

9/24/2021

Petroleum was used in China, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere for thousands of years, but in the 19th century, oil for lamps and lubrication primarily came from an organic source. What was it?

  Pressed olive fruit
  Pyrolyzed birch and linden bark
  Boiled whale blubber
  Crushed palm seeds
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ASME
9/24/2021

Researchers at MIT used 3D printing, inexpensive electronics and open-source electrical impedance tomography to create a device that allows any user to build a wearable that detects muscle activation. The device senses electrical conductivity and may be used in a variety of ways, including for physical rehabilitation.

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Engadget
9/23/2021

Power lines were disrupted and buildings damaged in Wednesday's 5.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Melbourne, Australia, according to reports. Tremors from the region's first quake in decades were felt as far away as 500 miles.

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CNN
9/23/2021

Robust ridership figures are often provided by planners of various transportation projects to justify the projected costs. But research reveals these estimates are frequently higher than subsequent usage numbers bear out.

SmartTake: Despite a provision in the proposed infrastructure bill to address this, forecasting user numbers more accurately may be tough. The pandemic has altered traffic patterns, systems must be built for the long term (not just immediate requirements), and the industry is hardwired to rely on vehicle or passenger numbers as its sole metric. - Jaan