Drones With Thermal Imaging – Amazing Tools Helping Advance Drone Adoption Across The BoardAugust 18, 2019 12 By Scott Hinkle
Every day, more and more uses are popping up for drones in virtually all industries. One of the first use cases, outside of photography and videography, was thermography. At first, thermal imaging was an afterthought. Drones were thought of as toys and flying cameras. Now, even though it’s technically still a flying camera, drones are being designed specifically for thermal imaging use and are popping up everywhere.
Even the category of thermal imaging uses for drones is seeing new use cases on an almost daily basis. It’s really interesting to see how people are using these flying tools in multiple industries.
Today we’re going to take a look at drones with thermal imaging, why we may want to consider getting one of our own, some typical use cases, models to consider and after-market options. In the end, I hope this post helps you to determine if you want/need a thermal imaging drone and, if so, which options to consider.
Table of Contents
Let’s get started…
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Why Consider Drones With Thermal Imaging?
There are many reasons you might want to consider a drone with thermal imaging. Let’s take a look at a few that might trigger the need:
Let’s face it, everyone with a drone is publishing images, using all the various intelligent flight modes and photo/video gimmicks. I can’t tell you how many orbit or meteor shots I’ve seen on Facebook. People started getting interesting with light painting at night. I can only imagine the kinds of images you can create with thermal imaging.
You might have a need to know the thermal values of a pipe, area or other item but that item may be difficult or unsafe to reach. A thermal drone may be the perfect tool for your specific needs.
Search & Rescue
You can’t really beat thermal cameras when it comes to search and rescue. Body heat can be easy to detect in the dark of night or through tree canopies, etc.
Check out the hot spots and know where the fire is moving. Use the thermal data to plan more effective efforts.
Crops are the bread and butter of many farmers. Thermal imaging can be used for determining crop health and even planning irrigation layouts and water use.
Need to track a perp in the dark? Thermal imaging can make that a simple task.
These were just a few reasons, off the top of my head, that I could come up with as to why you might want to consider a drone with thermal imaging. This list is not exhaustive and I’m sure there are plenty more reasons out there.
Now, let’s take a look at some typical use cases…
What Are Some Typical Use Cases?
I touched on several use cases briefly in the previous section but I wanted to expand just a bit on some of them.
Drones are used in all types of inspection instances. That said, thermal imaging can give even more information in specific circumstances. Take pipeline inspections for example. Hot spots can indicate metal fatigue or other issues that might need to be looked at. Another example is using thermal imaging (among other instrumentation) in unsafe areas such as radiation zones. Drones have been used in Fukushima and Chernobyl, saving people from being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
Search and Rescue
As I stated earlier, thermal imaging can help locate lost people in the dark or in difficult terrain and canopy cover. Here is a post showing a drone with thermal imaging helping in search and rescue efforts:
This post shows a search and rescue company focusing on lost animals is looking to obtain a thermal imaging drone to help in their efforts:
Thermal imaging, when it comes to firefighting, is extremely helpful. Now, in most cases, thermal cameras can’t see through walls but, when certain extreme conditions exist, they actually can. Firefighting efforts can be greatly enhanced with the use of thermal imaging. Locating hotspots, tracking the fire’s progress and more can be used to help firefighters place resources where they can be the most use. Check out this post showing firefighters using a thermal imaging drone to help them fight a fire:https://mavicmaniacs.com/positive-press-drones-used-to-help-firefighters-track-and-put-out-the-notre-dame-inferno
Although not a thermal imaging drone, here’s another article showing an actual firefighting drone being used:
Crop health is crucial for many farmers. Thermal imaging can go a long way toward helping farmers plan and address their crop needs. Here’s another post I wrote that not only touches on this but other drone uses in the farming industry:
I’ve been seeing more and more reports of drones being used in law enforcement. From suspect tracking to documenting events and interactions, drones are making so much headway that law enforcement agencies are creating whole new departments focusing on drone use. Thermal drones make night operations easier, offering a different way to track suspects and assess scenes.
Again, there are other use cases, these are just the ones I’m familiar with. If you know of others that should be included, let me know by commenting below. Now, let’s take a look at some models you might want to consider if you’re looking for a thermal imaging drone…
What Models Should You Consider?
There are various models out there, each with their own pros and cons. Now, I don’t have the budget to buy these drones so I’m going to provide you with a few that I think will fit most user’s needs. If I miss a model or if you think a model I list here isn’t appropriate, please let me know by commenting below:
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual
This is the prosumer (even though DJI calls it enterprise) model of choice with two built-in cameras, an optical 12-megapixel camera with optical zoom and a FLIR thermal sensor camera. This is a great option for the occasional thermal pilot or those that need both options to be readily available. Check out my review post here:
This is a great option for a budget thermal drone. The downside is that Parrot has said that they’re getting out of the “toy” drone market. I just don’t know what that means for this model and future support. Still, at around $1500 (at the time of this post) it’s one of the more affordable options out there.
Again, this is another great option but has the same potential issue. What is Parrot going to do with this current model and will it be supported going forward? Still, this drone is a slight upgrade from the Bebop-Pro.
These are the three semi-affordable solutions for most of us out there. That’s not to say that they’re a lesser solution than their more expensive counterparts. I’m just trying to list the ones that are easier to get into.
Now, if you’re in need of a more professional solution, I’d recommend taking a look at the next section and consider adding a camera solution to your drone of choice…
Are There After-Market Options For Existing Drones?
Now, if you need a more powerful platform or already have a drone you’d like to retrofit, consider thermal camera solutions you can add onto your platform of choice. Here are some models to consider (I’ve included the Amazon links where I could find them but all 4 options can be obtained from DSLR Pros):
Zenmuse XT2 R
This camera can be fitted onto the DJI Inspire and Matrice models and offers dual-sensor imaging (visible and thermal).
Another dual-sensor option that can be fitted on a wide range of drones.
FLIR Vue Pro
This is a single sensor option (thermal only) that can be fitted on a wide range of drones.
This option is another single sensor solution but offers a bit more. Digital zoom, live feed directly through the DJI Go app, Geo-tagging and more.
These are just 4 options available to you. There are more to choose from but it’s hard to make a recommendation without knowing your specific needs and use cases. Check them out and see if they are a good fit for you, if not, keep looking until you find the right fit.
Another option you might want to consider is an after-market solution. There is a company that will mount a thermal camera on an existing DJI Mavic Pro model drone, for example. There are two options to choose from, offering different thermal resolutions, and allows you to see both the visual and thermal views through separate displays.
In the end, the most important thing is to get the setup that works best for your needs. For me, I already have the DJI Mavic Pro so I’d probably consider the retrofit option. That said, I’m more likely to go for the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual.
Well, there you have it. When it comes to Drones with Thermal Imaging, what solution works best for you? Will you go with the drones with thermal imaging already integrated into them or will you go with an after-market solution? Only you can make that decision.
Now, I’d like to hear from you… Do you have other use cases for thermal drones that should be listed here? Do you have experience using a thermal drone and would like to share your thoughts? Is there a thermal camera solution I didn’t list here that you think should be? Do you happen to know what Parrot’s plans are for supporting the Bebop and Anafi thermal drones going forward? Please let me know by commenting below.