The Power Of Thermal Imaging With Drones

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Thermal imaging has come a long way in recent years, from vague pixellated pictures to highly detailed images looking more like a photo negative than a bunch of heatspot blotches. Drones are one of the key advances in thermal imaging technology, taking cameras to places they’ve never seen before!

So why are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) becoming such a cornerstone of thermal imaging projects? Let’s take a look at some of the uses of thermal imaging across industries, and how drones are changing the use of this cool technology.

Thermal Imaging For Search And Rescue

It might be one of the more obvious categories for thermal imaging, however in the past thermal imaging cameras were either strapped to a helicopter or hand-held by people on the ground. There are two clear problems here: helicopters cannot see under canopies such as forests, and people travel at a limited range of speed.

Bonus: View the Zenmuse XT Tutorial Video here (in videos tab)

A drone covers both of these problems! It can fly under canopies, into buildings, essentially anywhere it may be required. Advanced cameras such as the Zenmuse XT series by DJI make detection of missing people even easier, as temperature alerts can be activated – meaning as soon as body heat is detected, for example, you’re going to know about it.

Firefighting With Thermal Imaging

You might think that fighting fires with a camera designed to spot heat is a bit nonsensical – but wait! In actual fact, firefighters the world over are starting to use drones as a key tool in battling blazes. This is because the advanced cameras like the Zenmuse XT can help detect key hot spots in a fire. What this means is that teams on the ground who are working out the best approach to a blaze can identify potential problem areas, avoiding sending their firefighters into overly dangerous places.

In addition, a drone can provide immensely helpful feedback post-incident, determining areas of safe heat levels, as well as hidden hotspots (fire in the walls). It can even help determine the cause contributors to the fire, for example identifying areas which may have included accelerants.

Flare Stack Inspections

Plants and offshore rigs will often have a combustion system called a flare stack – which looks like this:

Thermal imaging is useful for flare stacks.

These need regular close inspection to ensure the stack remains safe while in operation, and that any essential maintenance and repairs are carried out in a timely manner. However, it can be super costly to shut down a flare stack to inspect it – and that’s where drones with thermal imaging cameras come in!

A drone can fly very close to a flare stack even while it’s in use, and the thermal imaging technology can help identify problems with the operation – such as detecting cracks in the structure. This saves so much money, as the flare stack can be inspected without needing to shut it down, and the problem areas can be identified immediately – so engineers know the exact spot to locate and fix without a lengthy in-person stack inspection.

Precision Agriculture

The final one for today: precision agriculture. What this means is using huge (and we mean HUGE) data sets captured by surveys – usually by drone – and using this information to create smarter crop rotations, improve crop yield by spot-treatments, and manage land more effectively.

Thermal imaging is ideal for precision agriculture as the temperature differences across a field site could affect which crops are planted where. You may have some land which is always shaded in one corner yet always has full sunshine in the other – this is where thermal imaging could determine ideal crop placement even within the same field.

Thermal Imaging Cameras For Drones

There are many different types of thermal imaging cameras for the Inspire drone: the lower-spec ones will do the same job but yield less data to analyse, while the top-end cameras will log everything. There is also the Micasense Rededge and Parrot Sequoia for other drones. The Zenmuse XT camera series is the thermal imaging camera of choice for the COPTRZ team because it makes the DJI Inspire 1 or Matrice 600 very versatile with payload options.

If you’re interested in discussing thermal imaging for your company, call us on +44 (0) 1709 599458 for details.

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