Thanks so much for David Lammers' piece "Alarming export: engineers" in EE Times' Opinion section (Nov. 14, page 4). I enjoyed it thoroughly. One paragraph stopped me cold, however the one where Mr. Lammers wrote that the student body should be better balanced "so that women from the suburbs" or "Hispanic students from the Rio Grande" feel more welcome.
Mr. Lammers, I know you were just trying to give examples, but let's get realistic. There is not a great deal of latent engineering talent in the suburban-female segment of our population. I'm not saying there aren't any potential engineers among them, but you sure could have picked a more promising group from which to recruit engineering talent. If you ask suburbanite females why in the world they don't attend engineering school, I think it's unlikely many of them will say they just wouldn't feel welcome. That's not why they've skipped the engineering-school idea. I suspect your suggestion is motivated by the current political-correctness climate, which thwarts frank discussion for the benefit of feeling good. Fact is, there are few venues more independent of class, culture, race, religion, sex, nationality or background than engineering school.
Don't get me wrong: I agree that a better balance of foreign and local students needs to be attained. How to do that is the 64-million-dollar question. U.S. culture is rich in innovation but weak in science and math. China is the reverse: very weak on innovation but strong in math and science. Our culture considers the consumption of technology more rewarding than the creation of technology. So our citizens strive to consume it, not create it. Only 6 percent of our students are majoring in engineering, and most of them are foreign; 40 percent of China's students are engineering majors, and most of them are indigenous. Clearly, young people in the two countries view engineering prospects with a different eye.
Both countries present cultural speed bumps. China, having a communist history, has difficulty nurturing innovative thinking. U.S. culture easily supports innovation but fails to attach that to engineering with any clarity. Chinese graduate students studying here have assembled both pieces of the puzzle. They come to the United States to get the immersion in innovative thinking that they can't get back home. Then they will take their combined skills to a place where opportunity awaits those so endowed. So the question and answer isn't really very complicated. When people of any culture see a way to take advantage of an opportunity, they'll do it. The Chinese students see it; the U.S. students don't.
Parking the welcome wagon at the steps of our engineering schools won't attract hordes of Yankee applicants. All that is needed is reward. Then they will come.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
In Iraq, 'autonomous' vehicles would still need oversight
Re. "Steady pace takes Darpa race" (Oct. 17, page 1): It occurs to me that autonomous vehicles carrying supplies across country in Iraq would be targets for insurgent hijackers. The vehicles would need to be guarded or escorted.
I suggest an approach where a lead vehicle would be driven (or remotely controlled) and guarded from a helicopter, and other vehicles would have a control system that would let them follow the leader, with no personnel aboard. This would create a road train of 10 or more vehicles. The technology would be simpler and more reliable.
Larry F. Saum
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Darpa Challenge coverage slighted fourth-place finisher
You reported on three of the teams that completed the Darpa Grand Challenge course but did not mention the other finisher, the Gray Insurance car. Is there some reason that this entry from a nonprestigious concern was not discussed?
Robert L. Donofrio
Display Device Consultants LLC
Ann Arbor, Mich.