Humans are limited. We can’t fly, breathe underwater, or survive in high temperatures. So we’ve left much of our scientific endeavors to instruments that extend and collect information beyond our senses, like seismometers that detect waves moving through Earth, lidar instruments that can measure elevation, and sensors that can determine the salinity of the oceans.

Increasingly, a new technology is furthering scientists’ ability to capture Earth’s vast, unreachable spaces: drones. These remote-controlled vehicles—sometimes called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV)—can travel to hazardous places humans try to avoid, like up close t