Drones, simply put, are unmanned aerial vehicles that can fly on their own with the stock software provided by the manufacturer or can be remotely controlled. Drones these days have added features like drone thermal cameras, which have a wide range of applications from farming to hunting game.
Drones can get fit with an altitude radar which are electronic devices that calculate the height of the drone relative to the surface of the terrain or sea level.
It functions by emitting a signal to the ground and measuring the time it takes to reach the drone again after it bounces off the ground.
The time taken gets input into the software embedded in the drone, and the distance is measured. This height calculation can help the drone to maintain a standard altitude when the drone is flying. Radar Altimeters are crucial for terrain mapping as well as navigation.
Thermal Imaging in Drones: Need of the hour
In recent years, drone thermal cameras have become widespread in numerous sectors. From identifying the areas burning in forest fires to prevent them from spreading to conducting a recon before a rescue party enters a dangerous mission, thermal imaging can help the drone maneuver in tight spots where human reach is limited.
It can also help in power line inspection and finding parts of the machinery or pipeline that are overheating or cooling down due to a fault that can be resolved without the person not having to enter the pipes. The drones can measure accurate temperature levels without a chance of an accident happening on the industry premises.
In this article, we will discuss the technology behind thermal cameras, how the cameras are used in drones, and the different features of a thermal camera.
The process of Thermal Imaging: How does it work?
Drone thermal cameras use infrared to detect the temperature radiating from the surface of an object. The readings are then fed to the software to create an image. The cameras capture the radiation intensity by detecting different levels of infrared rays. Infrared radiation is not visible to the naked eye but can be felt on the skin if the object’s temperature is high enough.
For example, the heat of the coal can be felt radiating from a grill along with infrared radiation.
The rule is simple, the more an object’s surface temperature, the more unchallenging for the drone’s thermal camera to see it.
Difference between thermal imaging and night vision
The stark difference between a night vision camera and a drone thermal camera is what they can see. Night vision cameras function like regular cameras as they both produce images based on reflected light but a regular camera needs light to create the image. A night vision camera can produce its light source and doesn’t need much natural light. The thermal camera needs infrared radiation to create an image based on thermal energy.
Night vision cameras are at a disadvantage because the images produced don’t have a lot of contrast. Contrast helps in identifying or differentiating between objects in a photo. During the nighttime, everything is reduced to black and white, and it is hard to capture images of objects farther away from a light source.
Thermal imaging adds color to the images and doesn’t have a problem if the objects are distanced significantly from each other. There are differences in contrast which can be seen in real-time on the camera due to differences in heat levels.
Advantages of thermal imaging
Drone thermal cameras have the following benefits added to them:
- Thermal drones can provide a lot of terrain or structural data based on the temperature signatures emanating from the assigned geographical grid in a short time.
- If there is a problem associated with a temperature imbalance in a piece of factory machinery, the hindrance can be fixed without shutting down the production line.
- With the help of drone thermal cameras, the maintenance team can detect problems early on and reduces the chances of more hazardous accidents from occurring.
- Since drones eliminate the cost of manual labor, it becomes pretty cheap to inspect an area. It reportedly costs 80% lesser to carry out recon with drones.
- It reduces the time to gather information using drones. Drones can reduce the time from two to three weeks to two to three days for inspection to complete.
Applications of thermal image processing
The drone thermal cameras can help in the following ways:
- National Security
- Livestock Monitoring
- Administration of fertilizers in farms
- Infrastructure and Construction Engineering
- Powerline Inspection
- Tracking the movement of migratory species.
To sum it all up, drones with thermal imaging in conjunction with altitude radars can be used to provide non-invasive solutions for inspection, navigation, mapping, and carrying out surveys without the risk of the inspection team intervening in the activities of the area.