Wake up and sense the coffee. One day last September, that was the job of a research team led by Clark University earth scientist Stanley Herwitz, a proponent of low-cost wireless aerial imaging for the masses. Rising well before dawn, Herwitz’s team rolled Pathfinder Plus, a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from NASA, onto a U.S. Navy runway on the island of Kauai, HI, and launched the plane into the sunrise. They guided the craft by radio to a height of 6.4 kilometers over the rapidly ripening fields of Kauai Coffee, the largest U.S. coffee plantation. There, commercial cameras under the UAV’s wing snapped digital photos of the fields at both optical and infrared frequencies and transmitted them in near-real time to image specialists who used them to identify the ripest plants and guide harvesting machines. The plantation managers “were real happy with getting a complete view of their fields,” says Herwitz, whose proposal for a UAV science mission beat 45 others in a NASA funding competition. His hope, he told Technology Review senior editor Wade Roush, is that UAVs will circle continuously over inhabited areas, relaying images that could be used to plan farm irrigation, reduce traffic jams, manage wildfires, and direct disaster relief. “Everybody associates UAVs with the Department of Defense,” Herwitz says. “Defense may invest in this, but the reality is there will be some positive commercial uses of these aircraft.”
A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?
Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.
A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate
Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.
10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023
These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway
Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.