Introduction to thermal cameras and heat sensors on drones!

Drones are getting more role in several industries. The fast development of drone technologies makes them valuable tools even in agriculture.

Some people might think about using them for other purposes like hunting too. Thermal cameras and heat sensors are opening new possibilities for most drone users.

Thermal cameras on drones are expensive yet valuable and effective tools in many industries. You can easily mount a thermal camera on drone brands like DJI. Cameras with good quality and big resolution can take more advantage of infrared sensors.

Do drones have heat sensors?

The majority of drones don’t have in-built thermal or heat sensors. The technology of capturing thermal images is named in several ways: thermal camera, infrared camera, temperature camera, etc. 

Behind these names and cameras, the technology is based on the same principles. Almost every object emits some level of infrared radiation.

Heat cameras have an inbuilt system, arrays of many sensors that can sense and measure temperature through infrared radiation. These cameras can translate that data to a thermal image.

drone thermal camera heat sensor infrared camera

These cameras with heat sensors can be mounted on many drones. This way, even a simple drone can become a handy tool in many industries. 

The downside of these infrared cameras is their price because of the expensive technology. Many farmers could take significant advantage of these thermal cameras by inspecting the crop and following any animal activity on the field.

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Many farmers are suffering because boar herds are eating and destroying the crops. These drones with infrared cameras might be a big help to spot any unwelcomed activity.

Can I put a thermal camera on my drone?

Understanding the technology behind thermal cameras might not be easy for everyone, and I have learned thermal image production in our cartography courses.

But there are some aspects of heat camera sensors and their way of working that I still don’t understand properly. 

Fortunately, modern thermal camera manufacturers are making it possible to use these cameras without any previous knowledge. The majority of heat cameras for drones are beginner-friendly and easy to use. 

Because of the significant demand, the sensors and cameras became advanced enough to capture fairly straightforward images and videos in a good resolution.

Drones can be equipped with these thermal cameras even if you are a recreational user. The majority of well-known brands have the shape and size of average drone cameras, similar to a GoPro camera. 

Most thermal camera manufacturers focus on making their products compatible with big drone brands like DJI. From this “collaboration” appeared the DJI Zenmuse XT.

They have combined the DJI gimbal technology with the industry-leading thermal camera manufacturer FLIR. From this appeared easy to use, high-quality system of Zenmuse XT.

Check my article about the best drone business ideas and get some inspiration for starting your own drone service.

How far away does a thermal camera work?

To figure out how far you can be of something and still detect its heat with a thermal camera is influenced by:

  • The size of your target you want to capture with your heat camera
  • The amount of thermal energy the object or surface is giving off
  • The temperature and atmospheric condition difference between your target and its surroundings

So, the answer to how far you can be from the target with a thermal camera is pretty complicated. The most significant influencing factor is the quality and resolution of your camera. 

If your drone is equipped with a high-resolution camera, you have the possibility to use it from even a more significant distance. 

The basic rule of thumb is that your target should be included in at least 3×3 pixels, but some experts advise using 5×5 pixels for better quality. This way, you can get a more accurate measurement. 

If you need a deeper understanding of this topic, you might visit the following article posted by FLIR.

What can you do with a thermal camera on a drone?

The possibilities of thermal cameras on drones are getting bigger from one day to another. Many industries can profit from these infrared images by avoiding and spotting mistakes and opportunities.

Some examples for using thermal cameras on drones:

  • Heat analytics of buildings
  • Surveillance and security of buildings, people, animals, etc.
  • Search and rescue missions
  • Agriculture
  • Hunting?

After reading this shortlist, you already might assume that, in most cases, these thermal cameras are used by specialists for commercial purposes. 

Using them as a recreational drone pilot is not common because of the average price of this equipment. Even the cheapest but good quality thermal cameras are costing around $2000. 

What DJI drones have thermal imaging?

DJI is the leading manufacturer of the drone industry, and they are covering every possible need regarding drones.

They distribute cheaper aircraft for beginner drone pilots who don’t have a big budget but still want a reliable quadcopter.

It’s not a surprise that they are offering more expensive and complex drones too, that are equipped with heat cameras and capable of high-quality thermal imaging.

The list contains the majority of DJI drones with a thermal camera from the cheapest to the most expensive:

  • DJI Mavic Enterprise Dual
  • DJI Mavic Enterprise Advanced
  • DJI Matrice 300 RTK
  • DJI Zenmuse XT2

Other articles you might be interested in:

  1. Can drones function in cold weather?
  2. Can drone propellers hurt you?
  3. What to do when you crash a drone?

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