Cognizant, a large tech company with a downtown Des Moines office, is making a $100 million play in STEM with the creation of a nonprofit foundation. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and it’s a big deal in Iowa, where the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, Future Ready Iowa, the Iowa Business Council, and many other programs and organizations are working to offer internships, training and other assistance to try to fill thousands of jobs in the future. One of the largest technology employers in America, Cognizant added 6,000 U.S. workers last year and plans to add 25,000 more over the next five years. The company is involved in consulting, digital, technology and business process services. Cognizant said the grant results from U.S. tax reform. The foundation will focus on funding education and skills programs in multiple cities and states to help improve opportunities for U.S. workers and students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 the nation will need another 1.4 million qualified applicants beyond the number expected to be available. “As the digital economy expands rapidly and changes the way businesses, organizations and governments operate, we believe it should create opportunities for all Americans,” Cognizant CEO Francisco D’Souza said in a statement. “Unfortunately, because of a very real skills gap, there are far more open jobs for technical work than there are trained workers to fill them. A recent Cognizant Center for the Future of Work report on 21 Jobs of the Future identifies artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data and other technologies as the new tools of the trade. The Cognizant U.S. Foundation will directly address the existing technology skills gap through innovative programs focused on educating a wide range of Americans and preparing them to thrive in the digital era.”

FDA speeds review of Iowa City firm’s AI blindness detection system
Iowa City-based IDx, an artificial intelligence diagnostics company working on a system to detect a leading cause of blindness, has won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for expedited review. IDx-DR uses AI to check for diabetic retinopathy. The FDA ruled the system is a “breakthrough device” that qualifies for expedited review. That designation is applied to devices that “provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases.” The company claims IDx-DR would be the first system of its kind to use AI-based diagnostics widely in health care. “The FDA’s designation of IDx-DR as a ‘breakthrough device’ confirms what we have believed for a long time,” Dr. Michael Abràmoff, founder and president of IDx, said in a statement. “The healthcare system desperately needs a more efficient and cost-effective way to detect diabetic retinopathy. Too many patients go blind needlessly because they aren’t diagnosed in time.”

Farms look to save labor with technology
Successful Farming reports that farms are turning to technology at a time when laborers can be hard to find. In the Corn Belt, that can mean bigger rigs with more automation — though some startups are working on smaller units that drive themselves. In California, Driscoll’s is developing robotics to pick strawberries — typically the job of laborers. It’s unclear whether the detailed hand labor can be successful when mimicked by a machine. In the South, machines dig peanuts. In North Dakota, precision ag equipment used on no-till acres “puts less stress on the operator,” said farmer Mark Rohrich. Big hog operations are moving to electronic sow feeding because of a labor shortage. The new technology has to be run by someone like Aaron Schneckloth, who got a job on a farm partly because he has a college degree in agricultural systems technology along with his good work ethic.

ISU professor seeks new ways to use recycled plastic
Iowa State University’s Keith Vorst is working with major corporations to find new uses for recycled plastics to save money, keep the materials out of landfills and reduce pollution. Vorst, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition, leads the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium. “We’re creating technologies that will have companies mining landfills and the oceans for plastic,” Vorst said in a statement. In one example, scientists have found plastics that can double the shelf life of some products, including meats, by reducing discoloration from light exposure. Some packaging may also hold nutrients in the food better, they add.

China cops use facial-recognition glasses
Police in Zhengzhou, China, are wearing high-tech sunglasses equipped with facial-recognition technology to check crowds at transit centers and elsewhere for suspects, the Straits Timesreported. Human rights groups have questioned the practice, but it has already led to the arrest of seven suspects accused of crimes that ranged from human trafficking to hit and runs, and 26 more using fake IDs, the state-owned People’s Daily reported.