Cummings Makes Appearance on ‘Colbert Report’

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Cummings Makes Appearance on ‘Colbert Report’
Associate Professory Mary (Missy) Cummings

Stephen Colbert took a stab at operating a micro aerial vehicle with a smart phone Wednesday evening when Associate Professor Mary (Missy) Cummings was a featured guest on The Colbert Report. During her appearance, Cummings explained her work with semi-autonomous flying drones as a principal investigator at CSAIL and as the director of the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT.

Cummings’ segment opened with footage shot from her lab’s quadrotor drone as it approached the stage and successfully landed on the table in front of Cummings and Colbert.

Cummings explained that the goal of her work is to make “technology easier for humans to use,” delving into particular detail on her work creating a controller for operating micro aerial vehicles like the quadrotor that can be mounted on any smart phone. By transitioning the drone’s control system to a smart phone, Cummings is utilizing easily accessible and affordable technology.

“We designed a controller that you can mount on an iPhone, an Android, any smart phone that allows anyone, with just three minutes training, the ability to fly these around,” said Cummings.

Unfortunately, Colbert failed his training with graduate student William Selby, crashing the drone into the wall several times. Cummings explained her hope that this new means of operating drones would be applied to battlefield operations.

“The idea is that this little one to two pound vehicle (the quadrotor) can replace a 100 pound, gas-powered air vehicle, an unmanned air vehicle, for which the operators have to carry a 45 pound communication pack,” explained Cummings.

Additionally, United States army personnel are already in possession of the tools to operate this new control system, as all members of the army are currently issued smart phones.

Colbert and Cummings concluded with a discussion on the future of commercial autonomous vehicles, with Cummings explaining that commercial jets already have the capacity to operate without much interference from the pilot, although the practice is not common in the United States.

The show ended with Colbert and Cummings facing off over another challenging aspect robotics. “You may be a master of human machine interaction, so let’s see if you can beat me at Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots,” said Colbert. View the entire episode here.

Abby Abazorius, CSAIL