Raytheon turns swords into plowshares

Celebrated science fiction author Philip K. Dick published Project Plowshare as a serial between November 1965 and January 1966. The story, later expanded into the novel Zap Gun, is set in a world where seemingly deadly new weapons are “plowshared” into consumer products. It is ironic that just a few years after that novel was set, a defense giant is quite literally turning a new weapon system into an agricultural tool.

Defense giant Raytheon is well known for putting the “ray” into raygun. They developed the infamous Active Denial System that is designed to zap rioters with a non-lethal millimeter “pain ray”.

Active Denial System at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

Raytheon realized that technology which can heat human skin at a distance can also be used to heat crops that are vulnerable to frost. One crop that is very sensitive to frost is grapes. In 2005 Ontario’s overall yield of processed grapes fell by 54% due to injuries sustained by the grapes during winter. In 2007 California experienced $800 million in crop losses due to freezing temperatures with navel oranges being the hardest hit.

Existing methods of frost prevention include heaters, wind machines, sprinklers and helicopters in emergencies. These methods all have significant downsides. They are either noisy, costly, inefficient or are only effective under certain environmental conditions.

Two moths ago Raytheon deployed a prototype of their newly developed Tempwave system to an Ontario vineyard. Tempwave sits atop a 25 feet pole and is powered by the grid. When its sensors detect weather conditions that may result in frost, its low-level microwave delivers energy directly to the crop without wasting energy on heating the intervening air. As long as the Tempwave system has enough power delivered to it, frost protection is guaranteed.

The Tempwave tower at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario
Tempwave proof of concept in Californian orchard

From the Raytheon press release (19 April 2010) …

Canadian horticulture research center has contracted with Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) to install a prototype microwave frost protection system at its Ontario vineyard.

Tempwave(TM) is a Raytheon-developed system that uses low-level microwave radiant heat to prevent frost damage to crops. Microwave energy is transmitted from towers located in an orchard or vineyard changing the energy balance that slows cooling to prevent freeze damage.

“The agreement leverages Raytheon’s expertise in radio frequency applications with the Canadian research center’s mandate to introduce innovative horticulture technologies,” said Lee Silvestre, vice president for Mission Innovation at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. Mission Innovation is charged with exploring and applying Raytheon technical expertise to address global challenges outside Raytheon’s traditional core business interests in defense, homeland security and other government markets.

The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario, Canada, is a center for horticultural research and innovation whose charter includes commercializing and delivering new technologies to market.

“This new prototype technology will help ensure Ontario vineyards and orchards are protected when temperatures fall below freezing and jeopardize tender fruit and grape production,” said Dr. Jim Brandle, the center’s chief executive. “Our partnership with Raytheon is a new chapter in Vineland’s on-going research to protect Canada’s food supply.”

The contract calls for Raytheon to install a prototype system in the center’s vineyard, prepare it for operation, and support initial testing during a four-month period. It is part of a working agreement for each party to contribute its expertise to test and market the system worldwide.

I would never have guessed that the alien Heat-Rays described by H.G. Wells would one day be put to use in making vino.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Now THAT is a exceptionally neat idea!

  • MrMaigo

    Microwave on a stick!
    Might work great for deicing roads… or if you want to get 1984 about it, against riots

  • SpudGun

    Considering that anyone who lives within a mile of overhead power cables or a cell phone tower ends up having slightly irradiated lumpy headed children, this glorified patio heater gives me the willies.

    I’ll be watching the news avidly for reports of ‘mootants’ roaming the vineyards of Ontario in search of brains.

    Hmm, I’m wondering if you set this rig up in a cornfield, would you get a Jiffy Pop apocalypse?

  • Henry Bowman

    I’m glad I’m not running a wireless rural ISP service in a cold climate. 🙁

  • Bahumat

    Okay, but how do they protect retinas from the microwave energy? Retinas of your eyes are extremely sensitive to microwave energy.

  • Anon

    Turn it off when walking near it…

  • Farmer’s Kid

    Well if you wander into a farmers field and suffer microwave burns you should still count yourself lucky he didn’t go old school and unload a 12 guage into you.

    Microwaves are directed energy, much like light. So unless you go into where they are shining, you will be fine.

    Of course if you could leave these on or pulse them, you could also rid the place of vermin and pests in short order. Think of all the pesticides you could save (and pesticides can cause mutations).

  • wildcat

    Just imagine what this system is going to do to beneficial wildlife like bees, moths and butterflies…

  • Corban

    @spudgun – Microwaves are non-ionizing, so that doesn’t happen. Pesticides will do more damage to you.

  • Michael

    What’s with people thinking that the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of fruit by a couple of degrees is going to pose a hazard?

    You’re routinely bathed in much more intense and energetic radiation every time you’re in daylight.

    You’d need a parabolic reflector ten feet wide focused onto your head to actually inflict damage (again, like daylight).

    People are scared things they can’t sense or don’t understand. Just because it’s invisible energy doesn’t mean it’s a death ray.

  • The killer app for this technology: Extending the backyard grilling season to year-round! Just nuke everyone to keep them warm! Why am I the only one who sees it?

  • Nick Stone

    It has been suggested (although unproven) that food cooked by microwave might, in some way, be harmful to health. Right now, if an individual is concerned about this, then that individual is free to avoid microwaved food. However, if raw fruit is subject to microwaves before it even leaves the farm, then that choice is denied us. Needless to say, I am opposed to this technology. Wait fifty years till we really know whether or not microwaved food is compromised in any way.

  • How is this thing even close to safe? drive up and nuke people?

  • Ha

    wildcat, Bees aren’t around in winter.

  • SpudGun

    @Corban – yep, pesitcides are indeed dangerous – but having harmful pests ‘nuked’ away doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. You will excuse me for being a bit sceptical, but pulses of high energy radiation on my spudatoes makes me highly nervous.

    I am old fashioned that way.

  • Joerg

    In England they once made some experiments with 8000 cats feeding them with only microwaved food (everything, even the water was microwaved). They checked the chemical changes on the food and didn´t note any significant changes. But after about 4 months none of the 8000 cats survived. Microwaves do more than just heat up the food (or fruits), they alter their energy which is vital for our organism. Would you like to end up like the cats? Not me! The bad thing is, they won´t tell us if they used the system with the production cycle – almost like gene food. Don´t we have already more diseases then before, even with all our medicine and high tec?

  • Schmoo

    “Wait fifty years till we really know whether or not microwaved food is compromised in any way.”

    The way we’re going, in 50 years we’re not going to need frost protection on any of the few places on the planet that are still above sea level…

  • 5liz

    Microwaves in our food? Next our food is going to be constantly bombarded by higher energy, more damaging UV radiation that has been shown to cause cancer.

    Little did you know, it’s happening RIGHT NOW. That’s right. The sun that we depend on for life is contaminating our crops!

    /Wildcat may have a point there though?

  • Damask

    [citation needed]

  • Don

    Won’t that antenna be remarkably easy to hit with and RPG?


  • smokinggun

    could be used for snow plowing