How Drones use Infrared Cameras in this High Tech World

We’ve all seen the drone market go through the roof over the last decade. Now we learn that they’re no longer used just by the military, the media, or recreationally.

A big reason for their extended use is drones are using infrared cameras these days as well. Many people in the market also refer to them as “thermal drones.” Rather than jump straight into all of the extended applications of drones with infrared cameras, it would help examine what they are and why they are becoming so vital to society.

What Is an Infrared Camera?

A thermal or infrared camera behaves just like any other camera as it displays and creates either a film or digital image of what the lens has seen. The difference is thermal cameras utilize infrared radiation rather than light to generate that image.

The resulting picture does not look like what we see in the everyday world.  Instead, we see an image that displays the heat zones from what the camera lens has observed. These heat images are not visible to the naked human eye.

Thermal cameras produce an image that features red to blue smears, with different shades of color representing different temperatures emitted by humans, materials, and objects. In most cases, blue identifies cooler zones while red indicates hotter zones. But some thermal cameras use other identifying colors.

Initial infrared applications

Infrared cameras are certainly not new; they’ve been in existence for many decades. They were first used in the military to find and target enemies during night operations or in low visibility conditions – like a battlefield enveloped in smoke or fog.

This initial application has expanded into the use of thermal cameras in countless scenarios. What has helped tremendously is that there are now infrared devices that are mountable and even handheld. This has made the technology much more flexible and valuable in various security, industrial, enterprise, and military settings.

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Drones with infrared cameras

Since infrared technology became more compact and mountable, it was only logical to mount them on drones. A big reason was the excellent vantage point that drones can quickly provide – and that they can do this covertly for the most part.

In 2015, as leaders in the drone sector, FLIR and DJI chose to combine their aerial platforms and their thermal imaging technologies to create the first drone thermal camera. This was the DJI Zenmuse XT.

Thermal cameras then began spreading out across the drone market.  As a result, FLIR has produced variations of these drones with infrared cameras to address requests from other industries. And then, other drone companies, like Yuneec, Parrot, and Autel Robotics, joined in as making them available to private companies, farmers, government bodies, and even homeowners.

How Drone Thermal Cameras are used

Now that we understand infrared camera technology, let’s look at some popular uses for drones with an infrared camera.

Building and roof inspections

As you might imagine, thermal imaging from a drone is very efficient as an inspector of any residential and commercial exterior surface. It’s a fantastic asset and can quickly identify energy leaks and other discrepancies in the exterior. A homeowner could save far more than the drone’s cost with a few vital repairs that could head off structural damage.

A drone can also inspect an area much quicker, can be ready within minutes, and does so without risking human life – as was usually the case previously. In addition to this, they can examine a specific problem area and gather much more detailed information.

Solar field inspections

Unknown to many of us, solar field inspections are a very time-consuming process when done manually.  Thermal drones can evaluate a huge solar area in just a fraction of the time. This lowers cost dramatically, and its data is much more precise and helpful. Because of this, solar fields can be inspected more frequently, allowing for greater efficiency in operation.

Various electrical inspections

Electrical facilities will benefit significantly from using a drone with infrared cameras. They would allow authorities to evaluate power lines, substations, and other power distribution systems regularly.

Maintenance personal could routinely monitor the electrical system for damaged components, faulty connections, and overheating spots. And they could do all this from a safe distance. Let us not forget that linemen have perhaps the most dangerous job in the world.

Gas and oil inspections

The fuel industry has two problem areas where a thermal drone could be of great assistance. Those are the inspection of pipelines and refineries. A refinery could benefit from thermal imaging drones with optical gas imaging sensors that can quantify any suspected leaks from a distance. And then, pipelines could be inspected and monitored with this same thermal imaging technology.

These applications come with much less cost as compared to traditional methods. In addition to their unique ability to capture high-resolution thermal images, many of these thermal drones can even connect multiple images into which is called an orthomosaic map. This gives authorities a comprehensive overview of their systems and can make more meaningful decisions in the future.

Agriculture monitoring

The number of drones that are being employed in the agricultural sector has increased sharply in recent years. Leaders in commercial farming have quickly recognized their value in improving crop health and yields.

Drones can do many things for crops. Not only can they inspect crops for health and wellness, but the addition of infrared also allows them to identify any pests that may destroy the plants. Drones are also used to spray nutrients on problem areas and pesticides only where problems exist. This reduces costs, reduces the amount of pesticide used, and keeps them in a smaller space.

Road and bridge Inspections

Drone with infrared cameras is convenient in evaluating the degradation of bridges and highways. Infrastructure is both a constant headache for local leaders and comes at high financial costs as well.

Drones with thermal cameras provide them with a cost-saving method of monitoring the nation’s highway systems. And like with inspecting tall buildings, drones can inspect bridges without endangering personnel – and they can examine them more thoroughly and quickly.

Public safety and security

Thermal drones can completely revolutionize the world of law enforcement and public security. Think for a moment how drones with infrared cameras can help in the areas of surveillance, rescue operations, and firefighting.

Since these thermal capable drones can see people in darkness, it’s instrumental in finding missing persons or escaped inmates. These drones will also quickly identify the origins of wildfires and explosions, as they can see right through all the smoke and see the hotspots from high altitudes.

This means personnel can verify whether an emergency scene is safe – before they enter the premises. Let’s not forget how drones can provide footage in real-time to make critical decisions accurately.

A popular drone with an infrared camera

Now that we’ve discussed how these thermal drones and their cameras operate and how they can be used, let’s look at a specific model. You might be surprised to discover that you could be the proud owner of a thermal drone.

Believe it or not, this one is available to the general public.

Parrot Thermal Drone 4k

parrot - thermal drone 4k

This Thermal Pro drone is compact and a very lightweight version that provides thermal imaging. An efficient device that is always ready for action. It will take your operation to a new level.

This drone, with its thermal camera, is capable is handling the most complex of missions. It offers high reliability and highly precise control. It comes with two cameras: one thermal and one standard, capable of 180 degrees tilt and 3x zoom.

The camera assembly allows for the capture of both visible and invisible entities. Its FLIR radiometric thermal camera displays and measures everything you cannot see as it reveals thermal differences in the region. It comes with a screen size of up to 10 inches.

It has a maximum working altitude of 4,500m above sea level.


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