When you think of drones, you probably immediately think of aerial photography and videography. However, drones have so much more use than just taking photos and videos. Drones have been used for many different purposes, including agriculture, surveying, inspection, maintenance, and even search and rescue operations. The main reason drones can be used for a variety of commercial applications is because many of them are equipped with high-end cameras and not just RGB cameras but thermal and multispectral cameras. Drones with thermal cameras are being used for various purposes and have been especially useful in operations involving search & rescue, security & surveillance, inspection, public safety and agriculture.
In this article, we will be discussing the best drones with thermal cameras in 2022 and how they are being utilised in the real world.
Benefits Of Drones With Thermal Cameras
Drones with thermal cameras have lots of benefits and are being used in a number of commercial applications, the most common use cases are listed below.
Inspection – Whether it’s a simple roof inspection or a more demanding industrial powerplant inspection, drones with thermal imaging capability can make all the difference. Routine inspections can be a health hazard, especially those that require people to climb very high structures or work around dangerous places like railway lines, electrical grids and unstable structures. Drones provide a safer way to inspect places and buildings and with the additional benefit of thermal cameras, inspectors can obtain a lot more data which will allow them to detect and report on issues that will have been missed by a normal RGB camera.
Search & Rescue – Drones provide a new way for search and rescue teams to look for people who are reported lost or in the aftermath of a disaster. They are cheaper than manned aircraft and much faster and easier to deploy which will be of great help in time-critical situations. Drones can access narrow spaces, something that helicopters cannot do and with the technology to stream HD video footage to a mobile device, SAR teams will have full situational awareness of the operation. Drones with thermal cameras also provide the added benefit of allowing for nighttime search missions as the camera will be able to detect body heat and not be limited by the low-light conditions. DJI have an interactive web map that highlights rescue operations around the world that involve the use of drones, as of writing this article, over 800 people have been saved in 39 countries with the aid of drone technology.
Security &Surveillance – Securing and monitoring high-value assets is a major challenge for corporations and Government agencies. They are also labour intensive with the need for regular patrols which can also be dangerous for personnel and a huge financial burden. Drones with thermal imaging cameras as well as night vision sensors will enhance the security capabilities of places of high-value and importance. They are automatically triggered whenever there is a breach in security and keep visual track of any subject and relay live video feed to central command. Drones can also be programmed to patrol the area at regular intervals, this will reduce the need for manned patrols, which will help reduce risk to security personnel and bolster the overall security apparatus of the building/area.
Agriculture – The benefits of using drones in agriculture are huge, they have a number of uses in the management of crop and soil health. Drones are easy to deploy, so farmers, agronomists and other concerned parties can capture crop and soil data on a regular basis. This will allow them to identify any health issues early on and give them the time to remedy the problem before it gets out of control. Drones with thermal imaging cameras are especially helpful as they can be used to detect early warning signs of plant stress, disease, and pests. Drones can also be used to find lost livestock and thermal camera drones will especially be useful for night-time operations. Other benefits of drones in agriculture includes tracking crop growth, optimising fertiliser/pesticide use, improving irrigation efficiency and reducing costs.
Public Safety – Drone technology is being used more and more in public safety operations. Drones provide many benefits for public safety operations, they can be easily deployed by law enforcement officers to follow suspects discretely, and help provide security for concerts, sports events, and other occasions where there is a large gathering of the public. They can be used to map a disaster area quickly so that first responders have an accurate assessment of what the situation is like and that will allow them to make a more informed decision on how to proceed. Thermal cameras are a great tool in firefighting, they help people see through smoke, allow firefighters to identify hotspots and help locate survivors. Drones with thermal cameras will even more benefits for firefighters, especially in high-rise buildings and forest fires.
Best Drones With Thermal Cameras
This is by no means a complete list of drones with thermal cameras, but they are some of the best from the most popular drone brands.
Most of the infrared cameras on these drones form part of a multi-sensor payload, this is more convenient as it will give drone operators the flexibility to capture both visual and thermal data at the same time.
DJI Matrice 30T
This is the latest drone in the DJI Matrice series, the Matrice 30T is a lightweight compact drone that has a folding design which makes it easier to and is equipped with many advanced features. The Matrice 30T comes with many advanced features, it is equipped with 4 cameras plus a high-performance laser rangefinder. The 4 cameras include a zoom, wide and thermal camera and an FPV camera on top that has been optimised for night vision. The drone has an IP55 rating and is suitable to operate in the harshest of weather conditions. The drone has an impressive flight time of 41 minutes and a maximum range of 15km thanks to DJI’s OcuSync 3.0 transmission system. Safety features include DJI AirSense that will alert users of any nearby aircraft, multiple redundancy systems and a 6-way obstacle avoidance system. The Matrice 30T is also compatible with the new DJI Dock which will allow for completely autonomous drone missions at any time of day or night. The DJI Dock acts as a take-off and landing port and will recharge the drone battery up to 90% capacity in less than 30 minutes.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
This is one of the most powerfully built industrial-grade drones, the Matrice 300 RTK comes equipped with many innovative features that makes it suitable for a number of commercial applications. It’s a big drone but comes with a folding design that makes it easier to transport and has multiple payload configurations. Multi-sensor payloads that can be attached include the Zenmuse L1 with LiDAR sensor, the full-frame 45MP P1 camera and the H20T and the Zenmuse XT2. The latter two payloads come with a high-resolution thermal and RGB camera and the drone also supports third party payloads from Micasense with its SkyPort adapter.
The drone has a robust design and an IP45 rating, allowing to be operated in tough weather conditions. It has multiple safety features including redundancy systems for its battery, IMUs, barometers and compass. The drone also comes with an advanced obstacle avoidance system, self-heating batteries, DJI AirSense and two anti-collision beacons.
Flight features includes 55 minutes of flight time, a top speed of 51mph and a transmission range of 15km.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced
The most advanced drone in the Mavic range, the M2EA is a lightweight industrial-grade drone that has been developed for multiple commercial applications. The drone features a dual-camera system that includes an RGB camera with a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor capable of capturing 48MP images and recording 4k video footage. On top of the RGB camera is the infrared camera that has an image and video resolution of 640×512, 16× digital zoom and has a temperature accuracy of ±2°C. Its foldable design allows for easy transportation, and it comes with RTK GPS correctional technology for centimetre level positional accuracy. Other features include omnidirectional obstacle sensing technology, DJI Airsense ADS-B receiver, 10km transmission range and 31 minutes of flight time.
Parrot Anafi Thermal
One of the lightest drones with a thermal camera, the Parrot Anafi Thermal is a compact foldable commercial drone that comes with many powerful features. Its dual camera system is stabilised by a hybrid 3-axis gimbal that has an innovative 180° tilt function. The RGB camera can record 4k video footage at 30fps and captures 21MP still images, while the infrared camera records thermal videos in 1440×1080 at 9fps. The thermal camera has a temperature range of -10°C – + 400°C with a ±5°C accuracy. The drone comes with intelligent flight modes for easier drone missions and comes with 26 minutes of flight time and has a transmission range of 4km.
Parrot Anafi USA
Designed specifically for the US military and enterprise applications, the Parrot Anafi USA has been approved by the Blue sUAS program for use by federal agencies of the US government. This is a small foldable drone that weighs just over 500g and comes with some powerful features. The drone has an IP53 rating, making it suitable for operations in rainy, windy and extremely cold conditions. An innovative feature of this drone is its 3-axis hybrid gimbal for image stabilisation and multi-sensor payload. The payload features a 21MP wide-angle camera and a 21MP telephoto camera as well as a FLIR®BOSON infrared camera. Both the wide and telephoto camera can record 4k video footage at 24fps and have a combined 32× zoom. The thermal camera has a resolution of 320 × 256, and can measure temperature ranges between -10°C – 400°C with an accuracy level of <60Mk. Other features include 32 minutes of flight time, a 5km transmission range, intelligent flight modes and a top speed of 31mph.
Autel Evo 2 Dual 640T
This is a fantastic thermal camera drone that comes equipped with many advanced features and is suitable for a wide range of inspection and monitoring applications. It is a foldable drone, although on the heavier side of compact folding drones weighing around 1.1kg. It features a dual camera system that consists of an RGB camera with a 1/2-inch sensor that can capture 48MP images and 8k video footage. The thermal camera has a resolution of 640 × 512 and a temperature accuracy of ±3°C. The drone. The drone comes with an omnidirectional obstacle avoidance system, 38 minutes of flight time and a transmission range of 9km.
Autel Dragon Fish Series
This is a range of 3 fixed-wing drones from Autel, they are the Lite, Standard and Pro, the main difference between the three are their flight time and payload capacity. The Dragon Fish Lite has a flight time of 75 minutes, the Standard version has a flight time of 120 minutes, while the Dragon Fish Pro has an amazing 180 minutes of flight time. They all have a long transmission range with the Pro version having a range of over 28km. There are a range of payloads that can be attached to these drones, they are the Z3, T3, T3H, L20T, and L50T. Apart from the Z3 which comes with a 4k, 12MP camera that has a 20× zoom function, the rest are multi-sensor payloads that come equipped with a high-performance RGB and thermal camera sensors.
Drone In A Box Solutions
What are Drone in a box solutions? They are fully autonomous drones that can be deployed 24/7. Drone in a box solutions consists of an autonomous drone, a box that acts as a take-off/landing base as well as a battery charging unit and software application for drone flight management and data collection. There are a quite few companies that offer drone in a box solutions, a couple of them I have listed below as their drones come with infrared cameras.
Percepto – One of the leading companies in the world for autonomous site security and inspections, Percepto uses both ground-based and aerial robots for autonomous monitoring and inspection of high-value sites. Their drone in a box solution comes with their Percepto Air Max and Air Mobile drones, both of which come with a dual-camera system that includes a high-resolution RGB camera and a thermal camera engineered by Flir.
Easy Aerial – Another leading company for drone surveillance, security and inspection, Easy Aerial provides a complete drone in a box solution for companies that want to enhance their site security or need regular inspections of their assets. Their drone in a box comes in three designs, free flight, tethered and a hybrid of both free flight and tethered. They have 5 drones that can be used with one of their drone in a box solution, each drone can be equipped with different types of payloads including RGB, thermal cameras and LiDAR sensors.
Cheap Drones With Thermal Cameras?
Unlike high-end photography drones that can be purchased for less than $1000, drones with thermal cameras, for various economic and practical reasons are not as cheap. The cheapest I could find is the Parrot Anafi thermal which costs just over $3000. Thermal camera drones have been engineered specifically for commercial purposes and hence the reason for their price tag.
In conclusion, drones with thermal imaging technology are good news for many industries as they will help resolve issues faster, save lives and reduce overall costs. Drones equipped with thermal cameras can provide early warnings about fires, crop failures, help with rescue operations and enhance security for high-value assets.