Missy Cummings

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Mary (Missy) Cummings (born ca 1966) is an associate professor at Duke University and director of Duke's Humans and Autonomy Laboratory. She was one of the United States Navy's first female fighter pilots.[1][2]


She attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating with a B.S. in mathematics in 1988; she received her master's degree in Space Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1994 and her Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2003.

Cummings spent eleven years (1988–1999) as a naval officer and military pilot, earning the rank of lieutenant, and was one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots, flying an F/A-18 Hornet. She became a fighter pilot shortly after the Combat Exclusion Policy was repealed in 1993, and her book, Hornet's Nest, recounts her experience with discrimination and hostility as one of the first women in the fighter community. Her first callsign was Medusa [3] and her second was Shrew.[4] In an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart she described her callsign as "Awesome - I am so Kate from The Taming of the Shrew".

She was an instructor for the U.S. Navy at Pennsylvania State University, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech in their Engineering Fundamentals Division, and an associate professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She is currently a professor in the Duke University Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences, and the Duke Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. She is also an affiliate professor with the University of Washington’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Department.

Cummings has an intimate knowledge of aviation and the military, which she continues to incorporoate in her research into human-technology interaction, as well as in her work on drone policy.


Her research interests include human interaction with autonomous vehicle systems, humans and automation, decision support, human-computer interaction, and the ethical and social impact of technology. She has published papers on the role of human operators in system control loops.[5]

Her research interests include human supervisory control, human-unmanned vehicle interaction, collaborative human-computer decision making, and the ethical and social impact of technology.

Cummings is currently a professor in the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering, the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences, and is the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics. Today, she is an associate MIT professor with appointments in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and in the Engineering Systems Division, and she directs the Humans and Automation Laboratory (HAL). She holds joint appointments with the MIT Engineering Systems Division and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Her previous teaching experience includes instructing for the U.S. Navy at Pennsylvania State University and as an assistant professor for the Virginia Tech Engineering Fundamentals Division. Her research interests include human interaction with autonomous vehicle systems, modelling human interaction with complex systems, decision support design for time-pressured, uncertain systems, and the ethical and social impact of technology.[6]

Over the past year, Cummings and her students have designed an iPhone application that can control a small, one pound UAV called a quad-rotor — a tiny helicopter with four propellers and a camera attached to it. When the user tilts the iPhone in the direction he or she wants the UAV to move, the app sends GPS coordinates to the UAV to help it navigate an environment using built-in sensors. The UAV uses fast-scanning lasers to create rapid, electronic models of its environment and then sends these models back to the iPhone in the form of easy-to-read maps, video and photos. Although the military and Boeing are funding the research, the technology could be used for nonmilitary purposes, such as for a police force that needs a device to help monitor large crowds.[7]

Today, Cummings serves on the Naval Research Advisory Committee, the State of North Carolina’s Unmanned Aerial System Implementation Committee and the Stimson Commission on U.S. Drone Policy, among others.[8]


  1. ^ "Mary (Missy) Cummings". MIT Engineering Systems Division. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  2. ^ "MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: Missy Cummings". MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
  3. ^ Cummings, M. L., 1999. Hornet's Nest, iUniverse.com
  4. ^ The Daily Show - Missy Cummings Extended Interview
  5. ^ MIT Humans and Automation Lab – Recent Publications
  6. ^ http://news.mit.edu/2010/profile-cummings-0405
  7. ^ http://news.mit.edu/2010/profile-cummings-0405
  8. ^ http://pratt.duke.edu/about/news/former-fighter-pilot-steers-nation%E2%80%99s-course-pilotless-drones

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