MIT Humans and Automation Lab has officially moved to Duke University:

In the News

Studio 360: Making Friends with Drones

Missy Cummings saw the dawn of the age of drones — sorry, “unmanned aerial vehicles” — firsthand from the deck of an aircraft carrier. As one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots, flying an F-18, Cummings realized that improvements in GPS were going to obviate her job. So she switched gears, becoming a leading researcher on UAV engineering at MIT. “I’m not sure how other professors do it without having been a fighter pilot first,” she says. “I probably lost two dozen friends while I was in the Navy who crashed because of bad interaction with the system, either poor design or their misunderstanding of what the system was doing. That really helped spur me on to develop better aviation systems.”

» listen to the full interview How to Have a Constructive Discussion About Drones: A Future Tense Event Recap
Missy Cummings on panel discussion

When it comes to drones, people can get a little worked up. Of course, that makes sense, given that the most high-profiled related issues—targeted killings and potentially intrusive surveillance—are also very high-stakes.

But shrillness and emotion seldom create reasonable action. At “The Drone Next Door,” a Future Tense event held at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, speakers tried to look at drones—and their domestic applications, in particular—in a more nuanced, constructive way.

» read full recap of event

Daily Show with Missy CummingsDaily Show Featuring Missy Cummings:
aired Wed. Jan. 23, 2013

MIT professor and former fighter pilot Missy Cummings disputes the popular dystopian vision of drone warfare, downplays drone surveillance fears and explains why robots make for the best pilots in this exclusive, unedited interview.

» view full interview

Boston Globe: Q and A with Missy Cummings

Missy Cummings landedF/A-18 fighter jets on aircraft carriers when she was a Navy pilot. Now she studies
unman-ned aerial vehicles — commonly known as drones — as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. Cummings is featured in Wednesday’s episode of NOVA, “Rise of the Drones,” at 9 p.m. on WGBH.

» Read interview

Predator droneWGBH: The Minds Behind the US Drones

We've heard a lot about drones, but less about how they really work, and who works them. In an upcoming documentary NOVA reveals the technologies and the people behind this twenty-first century warfare.

Missy Cummings is intimately familiar with drones, and she joined Kara Miller to talk about them.

» Listen to interview

Missy cummings holding quad Autonomous flight: Mary Cummings's drones can make (almost) all the decisions

"Computers do things more precisely and faster than humans," says Mary "Missy" Cummings, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. "But we need humans to deal with uncertainty. It's this combination that interests me."

» read

Invasion of the DronesSmithsonian's Air & Space: Here come the Drones

"The newest eyes in the sky are drawing the attention of power companies, conservation groups, and the ACLU."

Featuring HAL's own MAV-VUE project.

» download article here

BBC: Boredom and distraction in drone operators

Professor Missy Cummings from MIT research into distraction in drone operators

» listen to interview here

Fox News: What’s it like to pilot a drone? A lot like 'Call of Duty'

Teenagers raised on "Call of Duty" and "Halo" might relish flying a massive Predator drone -- a surprisingly similar activity. ...

Yet a new study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found real-life drone operators can become easily bored. Only one participant paid attention during an entire test session, while even top performers spent a third of the time checking a cellphone or catching up on the latest novel.

» Read more

Col. Rick Gibney points out features of a Predator ground control station simulator to Lt. Gen. Peter Blay, the chief of Defense Staff for the Ghana Armed Forces, in Fargo, N.D.Wired Danger Room: Droning On - MIT Fights the Boredom of Piloting Robot Spy Planes

Mary Cummings, director of the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT and author of the study, measured how productive and reactive participants were during a computer simulated exercise. Amazingly, she found that most of the subjects who came out on top were distracted for up to a third of the four-hour-long experiment.

» read full article
» pdf of quoted reference paper

drone operatorsMITnews: Driving drones can be a drag

Study shows distractions may alleviate boredom and improve drone operators’ performance.

» read full article
» pdf of quoted reference paper Smartphones to steer unmanned rotorcraft on the battlefield

"The goal is to get to a first flight demonstration in 18 months in a realistic setting at a test range with obstacles present," said Dr. Mary "Missy" Cummings, program officer. "It's a fly-off to see who can do the best."

» read full article

Drone and moonGlobalPost Special Report: The Drone Age
Deadlier Drones are Coming

The global market for drones is booming. But what does the coming arms race mean for US national security interests — and the future of warfare? GlobalPost correspondents report from critical locations around the world, from Israel to Iran to Yemen to Brazil — where unmanned aerial vehicles are radically transforming combat and surveillance.

» read full article


The Economist: March of the Robots

Missy Cummings is quoted in the June 2, 2012 issue focusing on military use of robots.

» download full article

New Statesman: If you can play a video game, you can fly a drone

These eyes in the sky are so popular, everyone from farmers to jewellery thieves wants one. If you happen to be at the London Olympics this summer, look up and smile. You will almost certainly be caught on camera by a Royal Air Force surveillance drone.

A near-perfect storm of GPS, sensor and weapons technology, and a desire to minimise risk to personnel has created a boom in use of unmanned aircraft among the military across the world. Now, with the enormous experience gained over the past few decades, a crossover into civilian use is under way. “The technology is ready,” says Mary Cummings, a former navy fighter pilot who researches robotics interfaces at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

» Read full article

Defense Technology Initiative: Navy, MIT Grapple With Managing Drones On Dangerous Decks

The U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers flight decks are some of the most chaotic and deadly real estate in the world. Teeming with scores of high-performance aircraft, wheeled vehicles and up to a thousand sailors generating up to several hundred sorties per day, flight decks "are fraught with danger," the Naval Safety Center warned in a 2003 publication. "You can get blown down by prop wash, blown over-board by jet exhaust, run over by taxiing aircraft or sucked up and spit out by a turning engine."

» read full article

The Dream Team graphic the Dream Team

Shane Harris has an alternative list of cabinet suggestions for Mitt Romney beyond the predictable list of special advisors including Missy Cummings.

» read artilcle
» download pdf

The Madeleine Brand Show, KPCC
Engineering the future: the driverless car

Google has been road testing a so-called "autonomous vehicle" and major car companies, including Ford, Mercedes and Volkswagen are working on self-driving cars as well.

Missy Cummings joins the show to discuss these technological developments. She studies the relationship between humans, computers and machines at M.I.T.

» KPCC website
» download interview Drones’ new weapon: P.R.

The industry's fighting back, determined to remake its image. "Change scares people," an industry rep tells Salon. And Missy Cummings weighs in.

» Read full article

Missy Cummings interview at Wired ConferenceWIRED Business Conference: Drones, Tractors & Beyond

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of WIRED magazine, interviews Missy Cummings at the Wired Business Conference 2012.

» Watch full interview

boredom and Boredom, terror, deadly mistakes: Secrets of the new drone war

So you want to be a drone pilot? Have a seat in the operator’s control station that guides the remotely piloted aircraft. You could be sitting in a trailer on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or doing your duty at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. From this perch, you can see a battle space on the other side of the world. You are virtually on the front lines of war...

» Read full article

The Economist videoThe Economist: Wave in the drones
Natural interactions

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are bridging the gap between military robots and their human counterparts, by teaching drones to understand human gestures.

» Watch video interview

Boston Globe: MIT engineers help fight roadside perils

John DiFava, a former Massachusetts State Police superintendent, is lucky to be alive. In 1976, an out-of-control vehicle nearly killed DiFava as he stood outside his patrol car on Interstate 495. “I was able to jump into the cruiser just in time,’’ said DiFava, who is currently chief of police at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Now, 36 years later, about a dozen police officers are killed by careless drivers each year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Also at risk are other emergency responders, such as firefighters, paramedics, and tow truck operators. And in Massachusetts, there are two or three accidents a month in which a police officer or his vehicle is hit while stopped.

» Read full article

Do-it-yourself dronesOut of ‘hobby’ class, drones lifting off for personal, commercial use

... Ms. Cummings saw it coming. As a Navy pilot, she experienced the technological jump from old-school, hand-flown A-4s — the jets used as the pretend enemies in the film “Top Gun” — to newer, more computerized F-18 fighters.

» Read full story

Lawfare Podcast Episode #5: Missy Cummings on Drones, Drones, Drones

Cummings is a bit of a force of nature. In addition to designing unmanned weapons systems, she was one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots–an experience she chronicles in her book Hornet’s Nest. I met her at a recent conference on the future of weapons put together by the Harvard Law School-Brookings Project on Law and Security, where she dazzled the room with her thoughtful comments and detailed technical knowledge..

» Listen to full story

Science Friday - Drone Technology Reaches New Heights

Ira Flatow interviews Missy Cummings, Peter Singer, and Chris Anderson on the growing use of drones by the military, civilian, and amateur sectors.

» Listen to full story

MIT AeroAstro Highlight - Human-Automation Collaboration Presents Possibilities Unattainable by Either Alone

While we humans are capable of complex — even astounding — tasks and feats, we have known since the earliest days of mechanization that we can employ machines to extend human abilities, making it possible to do things faster and better.

» Read full story

IEEE Spectrum cover story:When Will We Have Unmanned Commercial Airliners?IEEE Spectrum - When Will We Have Unmanned Commercial Airliners?

"Look, there's no harder job for a pilot than landing on an aircraft carrier," says Missy Cummings, a former jet jockey for the U.S. Navy and now an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. "It's what Navy pilots have over those in the Air Force. And when I saw an F-18 land itself on an aircraft carrier, I knew my job was soon going to be over." That was in 1994. Automation has gotten rather better since then.

» See full story

YouTube video on DCAP system

NetworkWorld - MIT researchers aim to improve aircraft carrier effciency

Network world video features HAL researcher Jason Ryan and he shows how the DCAP system helps humans and computers work together to improve military operations.

» See full video

NECN story on iDronesNECN - How the iDrone could change life

It might not look like much, but this contraption - completely with a camera and four propellers - might protect our soldiers and Marines in the field. It's an unmanned aerial vehicle - a UAV - or drone.

» See full story


New England Post - MIT Researchers Operate Unmanned Helicopter Via iPhone

Imagine a soldier deep in enemy territory at the foot of a hill. The objective of his mission lies on the other side of that hill, but so might enemy forces. Or consider a fire chief coordinating containment of a forest fire. He needs information about what is happening inside the blaze, but sending in firefighters would put much-needed personnel at risk. What if that soldier and that fire chief could send in a small, lightweight helicopter to scope out the scene without risking any human life?...

» Read full story

Using a phont to fly a droneMIT News- Using a phone to fly a drone: Pilotless planes at MIT controlled via iPhones in Seattle

Imagine controlling an airplane in flight just by holding your iPhone out in front of you: tilting it in the direction you want the plane to travel, or raising it to make the plane fly higher. Or tapping a point on a map on the screen, and having the plane automatically fly to the designated spot...

» Read full article

Seapower - High-Tech Flight Deck

After nearly 90 years of managing the chaotic and dangerous operations on an aircraft carrier’s flight deck primarily by rudimentary manual means, the Navy is taking a number of steps to insert digital-age technology into the process.

» Read full article

Los Angeles Times - Taking iPads into battle

Phones and other smart devices are being tested across all branches of the military. Seeing an opportunity, software firms and defense contractors are developing apps that will enable soldiers to pass along intelligence, view reconnaissance images or even pilot small drones by remote control.

» Read full article - Pilotless Planes

A military drone is not a 767, and extrapolating the capabilities of these military machines into a civilian context is fraught with gigantic problems that MIT automation expert Mary Cummings chooses to ignore.

» Read full letter

Kim Jackson on Boeing websiteMIT HAL featured on Boeing website - Smart Phones fly mini drones

Boeing engineer George Windsor sat in a small room at a Boeing building in Seattle and picked up an iPhone. After a short series of finger movements and taps, a miniature unmanned aircraft that's about as big as a pizza box started to hover, turn and fly. In some cases, Windsor tapped on locations on a map on the iPhone, and the UAV went to that spot; in other instances, Windsor moved the phone up, down, left and right, and the vehicle moved accordingly...

» Read full article
» related article in LA Times

MIT News - Clearing the decks: A new planning tool helps direct traffic on aircraft carriers.

On the deck of an aircraft carrier, where up to 60 aircraft are crammed into 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares), real estate is at a premium. While aircraft directors wave fighter jets out of the landing strip, maintenance crews work at the ship’s edges, refueling parked planes and repairing deck machinery. Keeping track of all the pieces — and keeping everyone safe — can seem like a game of high-stakes chess.

» Read full article

Missy Cummings interviewed on the Colbert Report

Missy Cummings on the Colbert Report, Wed. July 27, 2011

Missy Cummings wants to replace the cumbersome surveillance technology troops currently use on the battlefield with lightweight, smartphone-operated drones.

» Video clip of Missy Cummings
» Full episode

Missy Cummings and unmadded Aerial vehicleThe sky's the limit

In the Boston Globe - Tiny unmanned craft can fly into danger - controlled by an iPhone - but raise privacy and security questions.

UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE (UAV )Missy Cummings and her team of MIT students are developing vehicles the size of a pizza box and equipped with cameras that can stream video of otherwise-inaccessible locations. The project has funding from Boeing Co.

» Read full article

Missy Cummings and Micro UAVMoving inventions to the marketplace

One of the speakers at TechConnect World, Mary (Missy) Cummings — associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and and engineering systems — holds a UAV she uses in her projects.

» Read full article

Missy Cummings and Jason Ryan *Pilot Not Included

In her lab at MIT, former Navy fighter pilot Missy Cummings (with research assistant Jason Ryan) is helping the Navy bring unmanned concepts to reality. The two work on a digital version of the “ouija board” for tracking carrier deck operations. Her abiding message to military pilots: Automation is here to help.

» Read full article

The Big Ask, Laboratory News September 2010

Missy Cummings was one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy and got to fly F/A-18s for a living. Now, she’s a scientist, using her first hand experience of difficulties in automation in her own laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Laboratory News spoke to Missy to find out a bit more about her amazing experiences.

» Read full article

Why Airplanes Are Safe

Online in Executive Travel: Missy Cummings, ... “We don’t need Chuck Yeager anymore.”

» Read full article

Aerovel Corporation civilian droneDrones are Ready for Takeoff

Prof. Cummings tells theSmithsonian Magazine "believes unmanned systems will ultimately replace even commercial pilots

» Read full article


FAA orders air traffic control management shake-up

Prof. Cummings comments on the shake-up in the air traffic control system.

» read full article

Take Your Seats Controllers, The Movie is About to Begin

Christine Negroni riffs with Missy Cummings on the issue of boredom and distraction for air traffic controllers.

» link to full blog post

Volpe talk by Missy Cummings

Straight from the Source: MIT's Missy Cummings Presents

On April 12, Dr. Mary (Missy) Cummings from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spoke as part of the Volpe Center's "Straight from the Source" presentation series.

» link to full story

Unmanned drones are in Japan -- where will they go next?

» link to full story on Ameican Public Media's Marketplace

Dr. Cummings's keynote speech for the 2011 International Society for Military Ethics conference

» link to video stream
(It takes a while to load up so be patient in the beginning)

Carine Abi Akar holds the quad-rotor, MAV

A UROP’s view of EECS: Carine Abi Akar

Carine Abi Akar is an undergraduate in 6-3 and a UROP in the Humans and Automation Lab working under CSAIL Professor Missy Cummings.

» read full article

Wall Street Journal: Drones Get Ready to Fly, Unseen, Into Everyday Life

Brangelina beware. The paparazzi of Splash News are coming for you and you'll never see them coming.

Gary Morgan, chief executive of the celebrity-photo agency, said he'd like to be buzzing his quarry soon with silent, miniature drones mounted with tiny cameras. No more harassment from helicopters hovering in the Hollywood Hills...

» read full article

Flying Lessons - Blog by Christine Negroni riffs on all things aviation and whatever else inspires her to put words to page
Mapping the intersection of mind and computer

While automation may be causing a decrease in piloting skills. . . Missy Cummings a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology says there is another reason to be concerned about cockpit automation; boredom.

» read full blog

ICED 09 at Stanford University

Dan Roam moderates an Oxford-style debate between Missy Cummings, Gilman Louie, and Steve Perlman on "what makes good design" in honor of John Arnold, who created the notion of "comprehensive design". (October 26, 2009)

» watch full video

Harvard National Security Journal
Unmanned Robotics & New Warfare: A Pilot/Professor’s Perspective

As the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Humans and Automation Laboratory, I was asked to comment from a technologist’s perspective at the recent symposium Drone Warfare: New Robotics & Targeted Killings on the panel “Unmanned Robotics & New Warfare.” My perspective is unique in that not only do I conduct millions of dollars of research in the development of technologies to enable one or more humans to control unmanned vehicles (i.e., robots) more easily, but I also look at these issues from the perspective of having flown advanced fighters in the U.S. Navy, namely the F/A-18 Hornet.

» read full article

Dave Pitman awarded prize

The Dimitris N. Chorafas Foundation awards 20 prizes each year to students from select schools in the U.S. and Europe. MIT was invited to participate in the awards program in 1996. Awards are presented for extraordinary scientific achievement in computers and communications technology, knowledge engineering and allied fields.

MIT news
In Profile: Missy Cummings
Former U.S. Naval fighter pilot aims to improve how humans and computersinteract.

Mary (Missy) Cummings was exhilarated the first time she landed a fighter jet aboard an aircraft carrier in 1989, but the young pilot's elation didn't last long. Seconds later, a close friend died while attempting the same landing on the back of the carrier.

» read full article

Obama Pacman
Female MIT Professor Heads Development of Killer iPhone App For Flying Military UAV / Drones

Apple’s iPhone is girly… That’s what Verizon’s failed Droid ad advertised (plus something about the Verizon Droid cutting phallic objects and being a homicidal robot). But wait, here is a girl who can beat up all the nerds Verizon is targeting with their latest vzw-iPhone-wannabe. Sorry Verizon, girls are not clueless.

» read full article

Greater Boston on WGBH

Greater Boston show on WGBH
Distractions in the Cockpit

Emily Rooney discusses the Northwest Airlines incident with Prof. Mary (Missy) Cummings

» watch full discussion here

The Futurist
U.S. Deploys Unmanned Vehicles

"In August 2009, the U.S. military announced that Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a missile fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. The CIA hailed the hit as a major success for U.S. attack-drone capabilities. According to the U.S. Air Force, the number of unmanned combat missions has increased 600% in the last six years. The U.S. military hopes to soon use drones for cargo transportation and refueling.

The Air Force and other agencies see enormous potential in the use of remotely controlled robots, perhaps with good reason. Unmanned vehicles could perform a wide variety of missions, according to Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT..."

» read full article

Air Force Times:
MIT student named cadet of the year

Cadet Col. Ryan W. Castonia, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was recently named the 2009 Air Force Cadet of the Year.

» read full article

Aviation Week:
Some UAV Makers Do Better Than Others

...Another approach to the problem of operating UAVs is to develop more specific training programs. While the U.S. Air Force will train more UAV operators this year than fighter and bomber pilots, former fighter pilot and current Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Missy Cummings doesn’t think the two have much in common. Speaking during a panel, she said UAV operators should be considered “more like air-traffic controllers” than pilots. “Anyone should be able to operate a UAV with minimal training,” she said. “The vehicles can fly themselves; what we need are people to manage these vehicles.”...

» read full article
Found Footage: Control an unmanned aerial vehicle with an iPhone
MIT Makes iPhone App for Controlling UAVs
Need To Fly A Military Drone? Yep, There's An iPhone App For That

MIT Professor Missy Cummings (a former F-18 Hornet Navy Pilot), and her team of 30 students and undergrads, have successfully demonstrated how an iPhone could be used to control an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV...

» read full article - Danger Room
New Use for Your iPhone: Controlling Drones

iPhone app controls UAVMIT prof Missy Cummings used to fly F/A-18 Hornet fighters for the Navy. “I spent whole time complaining — who was the moron who designed this thing?” she recalled. If you’ve ever peeked inside a fighter cockpit, you’ll understand her gripe. Dials, displays and controls pack every nook and cranny. It’s the farthest thing from ergonomic...

» read full article at

Inside the Pentagon’s-Inside the Air Force
"MIT Professor: No Need for Traditional Pilots to Fly USAF UAV Fleet"

A leading researcher in the field of unmanned aerial systems control stations is calling for the pilot-centric Air
Force to eliminate traditional, rated pilots from unmanned aerial systems and instead develop a specialized career field of UAS operators...

» Download pdf

Are enlisted airmen next to pilot UAVs?

"The Air Force is desperate for UAV pilots, yet it stands alone among the services in its policy that only officers are allowed to fly large unmanned aerial vehicles.

But next month, in a reversal of policy, 10 nonrated officers — those without aviation training — will begin instruction on flying Predator and Reaper UAVs. could enlisted airmen be next? ..."

» Click here for full article
» Download pdf

The following article appears in the 2007–2008 issue of Aero-Astro, the annual report/magazine of the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department. © 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Supervising automation: humans on the loop

The human link to the control mechanism becomes critical as systems grow larger, with increasing numbers of components and additional operators, such as in an air traffic control environment.

» Click here for full article

Of Shadows and White Scarves

The U.S. Air Force believes the best people to fly UAVs are officers with experience in an actual cockpit. But operating an unmanned aircraft requires different skills than flying a jet, argues MIT professor M.L. Cummings. The Air Force should take a page from the Army’s UAV manual and put enlisted nonpilots in control.

» Click here for full article
» Download pdf

Mobile Unit visits NUWC June '07 The Mobile Advanced Command and Control Station on the road in June is highlinghted in the NUWC newsletter.

» Click here to download full pdf

MIT’s collaboration with NUWC on projects underway with the Tactical Tomahawk Weapon System Advanced Concepts Working Group