Science In Short: Progress Through Technology

High-tech projects now in the works would help with water shortages, poverty, data-gathering in remote locations, and vaccine delivery.

This story appears in the June 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Water is pouring out of the sunny sky thanks to start-up Zero Mass Water, which invented a solar panel system to turn the air’s moisture into potable drinking water. Panels can each produce five liters of water a day, and they’ve been installed in five thirsty countries.

An international team of scientists used mobile phone data to map poverty in Bangladesh. The type of phone, number of sent texts, and call minutes—all economic indicators—were combined with satellite imagery to produce a measure of the country’s poverty.

Minuscule backpacks may transform dragonflies into tiny drones. Solar-powered devices developed for the DragonflEye project are strapped onto the insects and steer them by manipulating their nervous systems. Dragonflies can fly for thousands of miles and gather data out of reach of standard tools.

To boost vaccination rates, particularly in remote areas, scientists have been experimenting with administering vaccines more easily, from an inhalable dry powder for measles to a disk of dissolving microneedles for trial HIV vaccines.