Dr. Leigh Torres has a job that would be envied by many.  

Torres, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, spends her time cruising the open seas in search of gray whales. Although spotting them off the Newport coast during their migration period isn’t that hard, getting to know these whales better has been difficult in the past.

Drones are now changing that picture.

“Through the drone footage we can follow them underwater in a completely non-invasive way,” Torres said. 

And it isn’t just at sea. Oregon State University launched over 400 drone missions last year for scientific research. The drone lab takes off-the-shelf consumer drones and arms them with high-tech sensors, custom parts and optical equipment built to spec for research in forestry, wildlife, agriculture and even search and rescue research.

And although drones are just one more tool in the toolbox for science, field research without drones may one day feel as strange as a pocket without a cell phone.