Seeing the unseen through Thermal Camera’s can transform your aerial inspections
Thermal cameras used for Inspections might not be anything particularly new, but having been a key aspect of aerial inspection work for decades the continued emergence of drone technology has dramatically increased the potential for everyday operators to make the most of this entirely different perspective. What previously might have been something the size of film camera suspended beneath a helicopter can now be carried in your pocket or hooked up to many an off-the-shelf UAV.
While DJI might be the major player in the general drone market, when it comes to the forefront of thermal imaging, FLIR is first name that most professional operators will turn to. The company has been around since 1978 and has always had the intention to “pioneer the development of high-performance, low-cost infrared imaging systems for airborne applications”. Though we doubt that they’ll have envisaged where things would be now when they started out some 40 years ago…
More recently, here at COPTRZ we were delighted to team up with FLIR a couple of years ago, with our partnership seeing us as the sole providers of its Vue Pro cameras in the UK. That partnership has only grown stronger since then and we’re happy to be able to offer even more cutting-edge options for those looking to integrate a thermal imaging solution into their aerial operations – because being able to see more than your traditional RGB camera can make a massive difference, saving time, money and in some cases even lives.
Introducing Flir, the world’s sixth sense
The Benefits of Thermal Cameras
Having access to thermal imaging can be crucial in many areas, because it enables you to see what the human eye otherwise can’t. What humans can see is based on light reflecting from a surface (something which is enhanced and optimised for ‘night vision’ cameras), but thermal imagery works on a much longer wavelength that’s beyond our own limitations – and that blind spot can be host to some crucial information which can have a dramatic effect on the safety or efficiency of what’s in the frame.
To keep the science bit brief, everything above absolute zero – which is commonly accepted as the coldest temperature you can get (that’s -273.15° Celsius or -459.67° Fahrenheit) – gives off thermal energy. So while thermal cameras are generally thought of as being a tool to monitor heat, they can equally be used to see variations in colder climates, such as glaciers or frozen tundra. The higher the temperature, the more infrared radiation is emitted, and it is this variation that the camera converts into an electronic signal, and subsequently, an image that the human eye can see.
What those images represent can cover a wealth of areas applied across all aspects of inspection, surveying and more. It could be heat leaking from a roof that could highlight poor insulation or stress damage to a building. Oil and gas companies might use thermal imaging to detect unwanted air or gas emissions that could prove both dangerous and costly, whether it’s on-site or across a network of pipelines. Similarly, it’s becoming increasingly common in utilities and energy, with the capacity to monitor water damage and drainage or the efficiency of solar panels is potentially saving millions of pounds – and the list goes on.
Here at COPTRZ we have recently supplied Thermal Cameras to scientists at Aberdeen University so they can map an active volcano. By comparing the RGB map and thermal map of the landscape surrounding the volcano, John Howell of Aberdeen University is hoping to be able to predict eruptions by spotting movement in the landscape. Watch the trailer for ‘Stromboli with Drones’ below.
Not only could a thermal drone camera for inspection work give you more data to work with – and more data gives you more ways to increase efficiency, reduce costs and increase profits – it can also help you detect and repair problems long before you would otherwise. So what might cost you thousands when it breaks down in six months’ time can instead be identified and fixed well in advance for a fraction of the price.
There’s also the added benefit of thermal cameras not being affected by that visual spectrum of light that we humans depend upon, enabling them to see through tree cover, smoke, poor weather and even operate in complete darkness (all depending on your drone’s capacity for safe operations of course!). This makes them useful in areas such as agriculture, security or mining, and perhaps most notably by the fire service, which can use a suitably equipped drone to get a quick overview of a situation. A thermal camera can help identify hotspots that require urgent attention, or dangerous areas for the team on the ground to avoid while the aerial crew plots a safe path through the flames – and, of course, to see people through the smoke that might be trapped inside a building and guide the firemen to their rescue.
You’ve probably also seen images of other search and rescue teams or emergency services that have successfully used thermal cameras to quickly find missing people. You might have heard about the group of hikers who were found in America after wandering off-trail in dangerous conditions, while here in the UK the police were able to save a man who’d staggered from a crashed car and collapsed in a ditch some 150 metres away in sub-zero temperatures at night. While the ground team was unable to spot him after a long on-foot search, a thermal-equipped UAV was quickly able to pick out the heat signal and guide the rescuers to his exact location. Drones were also used most recently by the Parisian Fire Services while tackling the Notre Dame fires, read out the incident on our blog.
Top three Thermal Cameras for inspections
Here at COPTRZ we have three main FLIR solutions on offer; two with FLIR’s name on the box – the Vue Pro R and the Duo Pro R – and DJI’s Zenmuse XT2 which was made in collaboration with FLIR, with its Tau 2 sensor at the heart of operations. Each has been designed specifically for drone operations, to help expand your existing aerial inspections and open up new avenues to further enhance your professional environment.
Before we go into a little more detail, one thing to point out is that the ‘R’ in those model names (and which also applies to the XT2) stands for radiometric. The reason this is important is because a radiometric system is capable of giving a precise temperature for every single pixel within an image (accurate to around 0.01 degrees), whereas some older and/or cheaper systems would only offer a general indication based on whether one pixel is hotter or colder than the one next to it – and so a radiometric solution means far more accurate data down to the millimetre.
Offering a relative simple and comparatively cheaper thermal solution, the Vue Pro R is a standalone thermal camera. It’s similar in many ways to the Duo Pro R but doesn’t have an RGB visual camera sibling mounted alongside to offer the best of both worlds. But if you only need a thermal imaging camera, or if you already have a perfectly good RGB camera that you can combine with the Vue Pro R, then it’s a great model to have.
Much like the Duo Pro R, it integrates MAVLink technology which can be coupled with GPS to provide precise geotagging of every image taken, while the accessory port enables you to connect it directly to your drone’s flight control system. Plus the FLIR app gives you in-hand control over many of the settings, like changing the colour palettes (as different contrasts of colour make it easier to see certain things) and other image optimisation features, without having to drag a laptop along with you. It’s also compatible with the likes of Pix4Dmapper to help transform those images into 3D maps or detailed orthomosaics.
As mentioned, the key difference with the Duo Pro R is the addition of a 4K, 12MP visual camera built into the system, which in turn makes this model that little bit larger and heavier. You can easily swap between the two cameras depending on your situation, and also combine them using the Picture-in-Picture option to immediately compare and contrast the two images – helping you to identify exactly where a potential issue highlighted by the thermal camera is located in the visual world.
As well as HDMI and USB ports for your digital/analogue outputs, conveniently there’s a memory card slot for both cameras so you can store the information separately, as well as combining them for more detailed analysis or just to produce some nice overlays!
With the same Tau 2 sensor as the Duo Pro, the XT2, though a larger model, is essentially the same in terms of its thermal capacity – although being a DJI model it perhaps unsurprisingly comes with a few extra bells and whistles thrown into the software. These include a HeatTrack function which acts like a ‘follow me’ mode for a targeted object or hotspot, and a TempAlarm which enables you to set the sensor to look for anything with a certain temperature range.
There are added photography features, such as a burst shot option which can capture 3 or 5 pictures in a quick sequence, and an interval feature that lets you set the camera to take repeated shots from between every 2 to 30 seconds – which can be great for general survey or inspection work where you just want to set the drone off on a few straight lines to cover a whole field or swoop around a building.
Will my drone fit a Thermal Camera?
As with all drone accessories, you should always check that everything is compatible with your craft of choice before making a purchase. In this instance, as you might expect the XT2 is limited to DJI models – currently the M200 series (and its V2 alternatives) and the M600. The Vue Pro R and Duo Pro R are compatible with other makes and models, but they are still limited. One solution for the latter is to get it bundled with the Gremsy T1 Gimbal (which in turn is compatible with several other cameras under 700g), but again you’d need to be sure you can fit it to your drone.
It’s also worth noting that the FLIR models are available in different combinations of thermal resolution (640×480 or 336×256) and differing fields of view which can change things (not least the price!), so it might be worth talking things through with one of our resident experts or doing a little research of your own before deciding what’s best for you!
But whatever you decide upon, there’s never been a better or easier way to transform your business with an easy-to-use thermal solution that could well save you huge amounts in time and money, as well as ensuring your workplace is safe from the many hidden dangers that the human eye can’t see.
“We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of commercial industries utilising thermal imaging, with surveying, inspection and emergency services being the early adopters. COPTRZ are already working with several businesses in these industries and we are delighted to be able to continue supporting them with the best drone thermal imaging cameras in the world.”
Steve Coulson, Managing Director, COPTRZ
Interested in Thermal Camera’s?
Interested in thermal cameras for your inspection or surveying business?
Do you have a drone currently but want to find out your options for adding a payload with thermal capabilities?
Or are you in the emergency services and you are interested in using thermal cameras for public safety applications?
If your answer is YES to any of the above we are here to help. We have UAV Strategist who are experts in the field of Surveying, Inspection and the Emergency Services. We have packages, finance plans and enterprise bundles for all budgets can help you introduce thermal drones to your business with all the training and licences required. Whether that’s a standard CAA PfCO, OFQUAL 5 Chief Pilot Training, Thermography Training or a Bespoke Enterprise Training Package.
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