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Cummings Named to New Federal Committee on Automation

DOT committee to guide nation on drones, driverless cars and other transformative advances in transportation

Mary "Missy" CummingsMary “Missy” Cummings, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, has been named to a new Federal Committee on Automation established this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Focused on automation across a number of modes, the new committee includes 25 leading professionals and experts in their field, who will work on some of the most pressing and relevant matters facing transportation today.

The announcement comes on the heels of Cummings being tapped to help lead the new $2.8 million Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS), a National University Transportation Center funded by DOT and based at the University of North Carolina, in its efforts to prepare for the advent of driverless cars. Cummings will serve as a researcher for the CSCRS and as an advisor for the Committee on Automation—two very different but very important roles.

“Given the extensive research of my lab, the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, across unmanned aviation, automated rail and driverless cars, I am looking forward to bringing our world-renowned sociotechnical research methods to bear for the critical transformation of our national transportation networks,” said Cummings.

Cummings has a wide breadth of experience with the impact of autonomous vehicles. As a former fighter pilot in the Navy, Cummings experienced firsthand how rising levels of automation affected the military’s aviation program. She has since worked on research projects investigating how pilots interact with autonomous systems, both in the cockpit and remotely, and how boredom affects human operators monitoring autonomous flight.

On the ground, Cummings works with Google’s autonomous vehicle program to research the impact of boredom on drivers in autonomous cars and with the National Science Foundation to investigate how pedestrians might interact with driverless cars. She also heads a research project examining how automation might make the freight train system more efficient.

“During my time at the Department, we have fostered some of the most significant technological changes to ever take place in transportation, and we did so while keeping our focus on the safety of the American people,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. ”This new automation committee will work to advance life-saving innovations while boosting our economy and making our transportation network more fair, reliable and efficient.”

As technology develops, automation may play a larger role in a number of modes of transportation, including cars, buses, trains, planes, and UAS (drone) systems. The new committee will play a critical role in sharing best practices, challenges and opportunities in automation, and will open lines of communication so stakeholders can learn and adapt based on feedback from each other.

As found in the Department’s Beyond Traffic 2045 Report about the future of transportation, the nation’s population is expected to grow by 70 million more people in the next three decades, and face an increase of more than 40 percent in freight volume. The committee will play a needed role in helping the country prepare for its infrastructure needs in the coming years.