Episode 36: How Can Cars Drive by Themselves?

Meet the Expert:  Dr. Mary  Cummings, Director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics at Duke University 

Pratt School of Engineering professor Missy Cummings with a section on Interstate 85 in Durham as the background

Mary “Missy” Cummings 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.
A naval officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, she was one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots.

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. Her research interests include human-unmanned vehicle interaction, human-autonomous system collaboration, human-systems engineering, public policy implications of unmanned vehicles, and the ethical and social impact of technology.








Dr. Cummings checking out a drone that she is working on


What is a drone? 

In aviation and in space, a drone refers to an unpiloted aircraft or spacecraft. Another term for it is an “unmanned aerial vehicle,” or UAV. On Earth, drones are often used for military purposes because they don’t put a pilot’s life at risk in combat zones. In addition, drones don’t require rest, enabling them to fly as long as there is fuel in the craft and there are no mechanical difficulties.


Take a look at some of the AMAZING Robots being created by the Duke Robotics Labs!




Ask members of your family or friends if they would like to ride in a self-driving car

and/or  if they think cars should drive by themselves?

With your parents permission, send us your findings via email at podcast@solveitforkids.com OR

tag us on our Twitter or Instagram account @kidssolve

If you send in your challenge OR just leave a comment below about the episode, you will be entered into a giveaway to win a FREE copy of the book listed below.



Highlighted book  for this Episode! 

Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jennifer Swanson (author) and TeMika Grooms (illustrator) – Peachtree Publishing

Cars take us to work. To school. To soccer practice. To the grocery store and home again. Can you imagine a world without them? Filled with fun four‐wheeled nuggets of history and explanations of how cars actually work, this nonfiction book from former science educator and award-winning author Jennifer Swanson will appeal to lovers of all things that go and readers who are interested in getting in under the hood and seeing how things work.


Book List:

Science Comics: Robots and Drones: Past, Present, and Future by Mairghread Scott (Author), Jacob Chabot (Illustrator)  (First Second)

Drones: An Illustrated Guide to the Unmanned Aircraft That are Filling Our Skies 
by Martin J. Dougherty  (Sterling)

How to Draw Fun Flying Vehicles: From Hang Gliders to Drones by Fiona Gowen (Illustrator) (BES)

How Are Supercars Made? by Baby Professor

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