As parents of two daughters serving in the military, one in Afghanistan, we find great comfort in knowing that ScanEagle surveillance drones [“Ready for Takeoff”] are flying overhead.
Lane and Betsy Smith
White Salmon, Washington
A military drone is not a 767, and extrapolating the capabilities of these military machines into a civilian context is fraught with gigantic problems that MIT automation expert Mary Cummings chooses to ignore. As an airline pilot and author of Askthepilot.com, I wish to emphasize that even the most automated commercial flight requires innumerable subjective inputs from the crew. In many ways automatic landings are more work-intensive than a manual ones, and automatic takeoff does not exist for commercial aircraft. Cummings’ prediction that within a decade UPS or Federal Express will be zipping our packages around in pilotless planes is preposterous. And passengers? Not in our lifetime.
Every generation has its John Henry, the legendary steel driver who died trying to prove that his human ability was superior to the new technology of his day. Today, the technology for pilotless commercial aircraft most certainly does exist. The Eitan, an Israeli intelligence reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is the size of a Boeing 737 commercial aircraft, could easily be modified to carry cargo. The real barrier to UAVs in the commercial sector is regulatory. The first commercial cargo UAV will likely be flown in another country because of the Federal Aviation Administration and attitudes like those Mr. Smith expresses.
Mary (Missy) Cummings
Director, MIT Humans and Automation Lab
So cooking isn’t challenging enough [“Extreme Cuisine”], we now need welding torches, centrifuges and liquid nitrogen to “create” modern deconstructed food. The article chronicled the near impossibility of bringing a recipe to fruition in a conventional kitchen. Not to mention the time involved. Call me old-fashioned, or Grandma, grandma, but I’ll stick to meat and potatoes.
The New Prleans Historic Voodoo Museum [“Seven All-American Curiosities”] emphasizes the sensational because tourists crave the exotic. But for visitors like me, a believer in the religion, the museum is also a place where voodoo practitioners can connect with one aneach other, a vital service for a faith with no central organization.