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September 21, 2015
Drone Specialist Receives the Desert Research Institute’s Nevada Medal

Dr. Mary “Missy” Cummings, Ph.D., has been selected as the Institute’s 2016 DRI Nevada Medalist. In the spring of 2016, the DRI Foundation will present Dr. Cummings with the 29th DRI Nevada Medal during special events planned in Reno and Las Vegas.

As the director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University, Dr. Cummings leads a pioneering team of researchers and engineers focused on the complex interactions of human interaction with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), commonly known as drones; and the social and ethical implications of such new technologies that have the potential to dramatically impact both industry and humanity.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award which is a reflection not just on my efforts but on all my students and fellow researchers who struggled in the trenches for years to move unmanned aerial vehicles, aka UAVs or drones into the mainstream,” said Dr. Cummings. “It was exactly 10 years ago that an editor of a prestigious journal told me that UAV research was of little utility since they would never gain widespread acceptance. So this award represents an important milestone for both me and the larger UAV community.”

Dr. 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. Following a successful career in the military, she directed her passion for technology to academia and became a strong public advocate for the promotion of the responsible use of drone technology and related policies for both the military and the growing commercial and civilian industries.

She is currently an associate 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. She received her B.S. in Mathematics from the US Naval Academy in 1988, her M.S. in Space Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1994, and her Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2004.

“Innovation demands increased responsibility and public understanding,” said Dr. Stephen Wells, DRI President, “This is especially true in the case of autonomous systems and unmanned aerial systems. We are excited to honor Dr. Missy Cummings for her exceptional role as a champion of women in science and the military; and her work in advancing these new technologies and advocating for cutting-edge scientific research and responsible policy that will impact humanity for years to come.”

The 29th Annual DRI Nevada Medal Event in Reno will include a formal dinner and award ceremony, scheduled for Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. The Las Vegas event will also include a formal dinner and award ceremony, scheduled for Thursday, April 14th, 2016 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Both evenings will feature a cocktail hour beginning at 6 p.m., with the main event at 7 p.m.

Dr. Cummings is the second engineer and fourth female research scientist and to receive the DRI Nevada Medal.

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