Parrot Anafi Thermal – the ultimate compact thermal inspection drone

Parrot Anafi Thermal

In years gone by even considering having a thermal team as part of your everyday inspection crew might have seemed like something of a luxury item. With expensive equipment coupled with the demand for specialist training, having access to this crucial data might have been considered too much of a stretch for many a company’s resources. Thankfully those days are long gone and, whilst you can certainly still benefit from higher-end hardware and some bespoke training to fully understand and maximise your results, with the likes of the Parrot Anafi Thermal it’s never been easier to add aerial thermography to your working portfolio.

We’ve previously looked at some of the more specialised aerial solutions, such as DJI’s recently upgraded M200 V2 Series, among others, which are compatible with the Zenmuse XT and XT2 thermal cameras. However, the Parrot Anafi Thermal offers an all-inclusive, ultra-compact and lightweight package, with the FLIR Lepton 3.5 radiometric sensor housed alongside the high-quality visual camera – and you can flick between the two and even combine the thermal and visual images on the fly. Coupled with the ever-impressive SkyController 3 and Parrot’s own FreeFlight 6 app, you’ve got everything you need to get started right out of the box.

As a fun fact the Anafi takes its name from a Greek island. It was originally just a codename for the working project but the name stuck. At its launch, Parrot founder and CEO Henri Seydoux told us that in-house the team had given it the acronym of “Another New Astonishing Flying… Machine.” But while that didn’t quite work, the Anafi Thermal certainly gives them a ‘I’ for Inspection drone which would fit the bill – with everything from building inspections to power and utility providers, firefighters and first responders, private security and anti-poaching all perfectly viable applications for this easy-to-use and highly portable package.

Better by Design

The original Anafi was launched just over a year ago, and was followed shortly afterwards by the Anafi Work, which added extra batteries and a year’s subscription to Pix4Dmodel to the mix. Rather than using the traditional ‘X’ frame, the Anafi went for an extended body, taking inspiration from the biology of flying insects. With the battery housed at the rear (or the abdomen) it gave a natural counter-balance to the camera housed at the head of the drone, with all the electronics bundled in the centre (or thorax) to give it a nice equilibrium that led to some impressively smooth flights.

Echoing the likes of the DJI Mavic Air, the Anafi has a robust and foldable frame that makes it great for popping in a backpack and whipping out as and when you need it – ideal for ad hoc site inspections or even just as a companion tool for on-foot surveys. The Anafi Thermal is a little larger than its predecessor (though somehow 5g lighter at just 315g) but – thermal camera aside – remains much the same in terms of core specs, with a top speed of 34mph, wind resistance of up to 31mph and a potential range of 4km (permissions pending).

 

The quoted flight time of 26 minutes is a minute up on the original, but that’s based on hovering in optimum flying conditions, so the reality is likely to be around 21 to 23 minutes. One upside is that the Anafi Thermal comes with three batteries as standard, so you can carry around more than an hour’s flying time on your travels. The package also comes with a multi-hub charger to recharge them all at once and the model is USB-C compatible, which means you can hook it up to most ports commonly found on laptops (and trains if you’re lucky) for the added bonus of charging on the move.

One nice touch with the Anafi range is that its gimbal can be rotated 90 degrees upwards as well as down, giving you full 180-degree rotation on the vertical. In inspection terms this is great for getting a close-up view of ceilings or scouting underneath power lines or anywhere else where the mobility of the camera is just as important as the agility of the drone itself. It also throws up some great shots if you simply wanted to get creative!

The Anafi Thermal does have a few other welcome additions to the package, including the option to set and maintain your altitude, create some virtual boundaries around your site with its geofencing system, pre-set and repeat missions and flights with the FlightPlan software, and make use of its automatic one-touch Return to Home (RTH) function. The Smart Batteries can also judge how much power is needed to get the drone back to you using GPS and if it reaches a critical level will initiate the RTH function and bring it safely home.

Dual Camera Set-Up

The dual camera set-up for a thermal system isn’t new – we saw a similar set-up with the recently unveiled Flyability Elios 2. In this case, the part that warrants the extended Thermal name is the FLIR thermal camera, capable of shooting MP4 video at a resolution of 1440 x 1080 and 9FPS, and 8MP JPEGs. In addition it has options to shoot single stills or to provide Timelapse and GPS Lapse sequences – the former taking shots after a customised delay (typically a few seconds), the latter doing likewise but over a specified distance.

These modes make it easy to orchestrate your flights in order to get all the images you need to get a full overview of the location in question – say, for example, a thermal survey of a solar farm to look for hotspots and potentially damaged panels – and possibly to import into photogrammetry software such as Pix4DModel for further analysis, mapping and modelling.

In terms of aerial thermography functionality, the Parrot Anafi Thermal is equipped with three key modes: Absolute enables you to set your own temperature range (handy if you know what you’re looking for or what would be out of place), Spot mode is similar but highlights the hottest and coldest spots in the shot to clearly show any anomalies, and Relative provides a coloured scale from the maximum to the minimum temperatures on display – useful for a more precise analysis of any given location.

Plus, there are several colour palettes to suit your tastes: white hot, black hot or the general blue to red ‘rainbow’ to illustrate cold to hot temperatures and the model is also compatible with FLIR’s own tools and systems, which can be useful for added analysis and editing, as well as exporting data as PDFs – although this currently only applies to photos and not video.

Sitting neatly above this is a Sony CMOS 1/2.4” RGB camera, capable of recording video up to 4K Cinema (4096 x 2160) at 24FPS, with lesser resolutions offering greater framerates if you wanted smoother footage at the cost of a little detail. It can also capture 21MP stills, with the option to shoot DNG (RAW) files as well as JPEGs, and comes with various photography modes for grabbing images as single shots, a ‘burst’ sequence, on a timer, bracketing (using several shots with different settings) and automated panoramics.

Best of Both Worlds

Perhaps one of the best aspects of the dual camera set-up is that you can instantly flick between the two with the press of a button, and even combine the two so half of the image is thermal and the other standard RGB. So, for example, in a search and rescue situation you can use the thermal side of the system to locate a missing person’s body heat, while using the RGB camera to remain familiar with the surroundings and guide the rescue party to exactly where they need to go. Similar systems are already in place to help rangers fend off poachers in Africa and to help guide firefighters through the smoke in a safe and controlled manner.

Another welcome feature of the Anafi series is the introduction of a digital lossless zoom up to x2.8 in full HD (down to x1.4 if you’re in 4K UHD). The standard zoom goes up to 3x, but the benefit of this lossless zoom system is that it generates more pixels than the resolution demands so when you zoom in the software doesn’t have to guess what’s there (or crop the image to maintain the required resolution) and instead uses real-world data so the image remains largely flawless. In any inspection scenario, being able to zoom in for a closer look without potentially losing a key piece of the image can be crucial.

The SkyController 3 comes with a handy tablet holder, enabling you to view the action on most tablets up to 10 inches – with the FreeFlight 6 app compatible with both iOS and Android devices. You can use it to livestream the action at 1280 x 720, with the Anafi boasting an impressive wireless system (each leg has its own Wi-Fi antenna with a reflector built in as a neat trick to further boost the signal). So if you are in a position where you can test the controller’s quoted 4km range for BVLOS inspections, then the Parrot Anafi Thermal should hold a strong and steady signal.

Overall the Parrot Anafi Thermal is a great all-in-one and off-the-shelf solution for anyone looking to make a move into aerial thermography, or who simply wants to improve the data collected from their existing visual inspections by seeing what the human eye can’t. It can deliver excellent results to suit all but the most discernible of thermographer (in which case a more costly option such as the aforementioned M200 V2 Series with an XT2 camera would be viable) and comes in a lightweight and wonderfully portable package that’s easy to use and can be deployed in a matter of seconds. With a package like this you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune or be a fully-trained expert to take your first flights into the world of aerial thermography.

 

 

 


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