Over the past few years, thermal drone technology has become prevalent in many different verticals. From fire detection to search and rescue missions and power line inspection, drones equipped with thermal sensors can maneuver through difficult environments such as tall rooftops and large industrial sites to detect hot and cold spots and collect accurate temperature data while keeping pilots at a comfortable and safe distance.

Whether you are looking to invest in thermal drones for your business or you are a drone pilot yourself, this article will tell you what thermal cameras are, how they are used in the drone industry, what qualities to look for in a thermal camera, and the most popular infrared drones.

Thermal drone

What is thermal imaging and how does it work?

What is thermal imaging and how does it work?

In short, thermal imaging is the process of using the temperature of an object to produce an image. Thermal cameras detect the temperature by recognizing and capturing different levels of infrared light. This light is invisible to the naked eye, but can be felt as heat if the intensity is high enough.

All objects emit some kind of infrared radiation, and it is one of the ways heat is transferred. If you hold your hand over hot coals on the grill, those coals emit a ton of infrared radiation and the heat travels to your hand. Additionally, only about half of the sun's energy is emitted as visible light – the rest is a mix of ultra-shutter and infrared light.

Thermal imaging

The hotter an object, the more infrared radiation it produces. Thermal cameras can see this radiation and convert it into an image that we can then see with our eyes, much like a night vision camera can capture invisible infrared light and convert it into an image that our eyes can see.

Thermal imaging vs. night vision

Thermal imaging vs. night vision

The main difference between night vision cameras and thermal imaging cameras is what they can see. Night vision cameras are like normal cameras in that they both see things in terms of reflected light, but night vision cameras need very little light or they will provide their own light. Thermal imaging cameras do not see reflected light, but thermal energy.

Thermal imaging vs. night vision

Source from flir.com

One disadvantage of using night vision cameras is that their images are not as clear due to poor contrast. Contrast is the difference in colors between objects that makes them stand out from each other. In the dark, everything is pretty much the same color, so it can be hard to see anything despite the magnified light. These cameras also have a shorter range because their visibility decreases the further they get from a light source.

Thermal imaging cameras don't need light to see, so poor contrast isn't a problem. In contrast, thermal imaging cameras produce high-contrast images due to their ability to detect differences in heat. Compared to night vision cameras, thermal imaging cameras are more effective because they can be used in complete darkness and harsh weather conditions. 

What are the benefits of thermal imaging drones?

What are the benefits of thermal imaging drones?

Thermal drones, also known as infrared drones, are any drones with thermal imaging cameras that can provide real-time feedback to assist on-ground activities, such as capturing, tagging, or controlling a target species. Thermal camera drones have a certain number of advantages:

CW-15 thermal drone

More information than ever before. High-quality pictures taken by a thermal imaging drone can be used to map the entire inspected grid or get a complete overview of a building to check for roof damage or energy loss while examining specific details and problems.

Almost no downtime. You don't need to stop your production with a thermal drone inspection completely.

Safer. With thermal imaging drones, inspection teams don't have to inspect at high altitudes or confined spaces, and early detection of problems can reduce the chances of accidents.

Noninvasive. Thermography drones provide non-intrusive surveys whose operation does not interfere with the land or any local or site-related activities.

Reduced cost. Thermal drones have dramatically reduced inspection times, in some cases by as much as 80%, and they have reduced the number of workers needed.

Difficult-to-access environment. An infrared drone works in low-light and low-visibility environments, making it perfect for confined spaces and hard-to-reach locations indoors.

Time-saving. A thermography drone can do in 2-3 days what it takes people 2-3 weeks to inspect.

What is a thermal drone used for?

What is a thermal drone used for?

As thermal drones become more technologically advanced and accessible, many drone applications are emerging in different industry sectors.

To help you understand how this technology can help professionals around the world, we will list below the main applications of drones with thermal cameras:

Public safety and security

Being extremely efficient in identifying the presence and movement of people, thermal drones have already become fundamental to guarantee the security of properties of public and private interest.

publice safety

A police drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera has the ability to identify heat emitted by the human body, which has many applications in the security and privacy industries. For this reason, heat sensors are already widely used to strengthen and guide preventive safety measures in domestic, government, industrial and commercial environments.

Public security sectors have taken advantage of thermal drones to identify fugitives in difficult-to-reach environments and to help people in risky situations. In addition, thermal drones are powerful tools for the prevention and control of fires of any nature.

If before, large search groups had to risk themselves in dense forests and difficult-to-access environments, now, thermal drones perform a complete scan of a certain area of ​​interest, ensuring the safety of the professionals involved and generating reliable results in real time.

Precision agriculture and livestock

Many unmanned aircraft applications have become popular in the precision agriculture sector and this equipment can be used from pre-planting to harvesting to fulfill a variety of specific functions, such as localized application of fertilizers and pesticides and phytosanitary analysis. of a farm.

Drone for farming

Many variables of agronomic interest can be stipulated and monitored through the temperature of the soil and plants of a crop, for this reason, thermal cameras are of special interest in studies that relate to the monitoring of vegetation and soil over time.

Indices such as the NDVI, which mathematically relate the spectral response of plants to the Infrared and the Visible Spectrum (RGB), are widely disseminated in the agricultural environment to monitor crops and plantations of any nature.

The NDVI is used to identify diseased and invasive plants, the presence of water and nutritional stress, monitor the action of pests and diseases, and guide fertilization and irrigation, among other uses and applications of interest to the management of agronomic projects.

In addition, ranchers already use thermal drones to monitor pastures, control grazing and locate animals that eventually get lost or flee the herd.

There are still many other applications of drones for agriculture and livestock and these areas are becoming even more dependent on aerial mapping with thermal cameras as accessibility to this technology grows around the world.

Solar panels and electrical inspections

Thermal drones are able to identify points of excessive heat, and defective parts and monitor electrical connections, and can be used in studies involving the inspection of the infrastructure of robust electrical installations such as antennas, solar panels, transformers, and transmission lines.

drone power line inspection

Thermal drones minimize the risk of inspectors and engineers, who can work in smaller numbers and at a safe distance from hazardous situations, enjoying incredible results that faithfully represent the structure of a given electrical installation.

Solar cell inspection has proven to be highly dependent on the use of drones and heat sensors. Surveys carried out with this equipment are able to cover large areas of solar panels in relatively short time spans and obtain accurate results about the infrastructure of these facilities at frequent intervals.

Civil engineering and infrastructure

Drones have many applications for civil engineering and architecture and are already popular tools used in various stages of construction, mainly to create Topographic Plans and 3D Models of Reality.

Thermal cameras attached to drones can be used in building infrastructure studies of any nature. By inspecting the external area and roof of buildings through drone surveying with thermal cameras, it is possible to identify failures in the energy infrastructure early, preventing accidents and generating significant savings in electrical network maintenance.

In addition, a drone in construction can be used to quickly cover large areas and monitor structures much larger than a building, such as land and water bridges, railways, viaducts, and gas pipelines.

Thermal analysis of gas transport pipeline infrastructure allows you to instantly identify possible gas leaks. In these studies, fixed-wing drones are used coupled with specific thermal sensors, which use the spectral response in the infrared to identify gases and prevent major accidents.

Biology and animal behavior

It is not uncommon to find documentaries and television programs in which biologists use thermal cameras to monitor the nocturnal activity of wild animals and generate professional footage by monitoring infrared radiation.

Thermal drone for biology and animal behavior

Thermal drones have been used for a long time to guide research involving animal behavior and many drone applications for biology and the conservation of natural resources have emerged as the accessibility of thermal cameras gradually increases.

By using a drone with longest flight time, specialists are able to cover extensive natural areas, perform night recordings, identify the presence of large animals, count them and monitor them from a safe and minimally evasive distance.

These studies can help professionals around the world to understand more clearly aspects related to animal behavior in natural habitats, guiding the creation and implementation of effective measures for the conservation of protected natural areas.

6 Best thermal drones in 2022

Choosing a thermal imaging drone platform is important. The right drone airframe will provide the speed, maneuverability, service range, battery life, and other features that will determine what types of missions your new thermal imaging drone can accomplish.

Below, you'll learn about some of the best drones with infrared cameras you can buy in 2022.


JOUAV CW-15D with MG-120E gimbal camera: Our top pick!

The CW-15D is a very compact and lightweight drone, but still contains a wide range of powerful features. It features an integrated dual-light gimbal camera with a 640×512 thermal sensor and a 30x optical zoom camera that has AI technology to identify and track various types of moving targets.

CW-15 thermal drone

This electric drone has collision avoidance in two directions, forward and downward sensing. There is also ADS-B situational awareness, which allows the drone to pass through tighter spaces while avoiding obstacles, so you can fly it with confidence.

  • Maximum Flight Time: 120 minutes
  • Transmission range: 50km
  • Max Speed: 61.2km/h
  • Infrared resolution: 640 x 512 (Radiometric)
  • Wind resistance: 10.8-13.8 m/s
  • Operating temperature: -20℃-55℃
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise: Entry-level thermal drone

If you're looking for a good entry-level drone that has a thermal camera, the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drone is a wonderful choice. Featuring a dual camera setup, this drone has a 4K optical camera and a low-resolution (160×120) thermal sensor.

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise thermal drone

The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual includes all modular accessories such as speakers, spotlight, headlight, etc. However, please note that the FLIR thermal sensor on this drone is quite low resolution. So you need to fly low enough to get accurate temperature data.

  • Maximum Flight Time: 31 minutes
  • Transmission range: 8km
  • Max Speed: 72km/h
  • Infrared resolution: 160 x 120 (Radiometric)
  • Wind resistance: 11m/s
  • Operating temperature: -20℃ to 50℃

JOUAV CW-25D with MG-120E gimbal camera: Search and rescue

The CW-25D is a tough oil-electric hybrid VTOL fixed-wing drone that can stand up to the elements and is designed to be highly portable despite its impressive sensor payload. The camera specifications are the same as the CW-15 - 640 x 152 thermal camera, 30x optical zoom camera, and 3-axis. with amazing flight hours, cruise speed, and coverage area, the CW-25D is specifically designed for large-scale surveillance.

CW-25D thermal drone for search and rescue

This long range drone combined RTK and PPK modules allow centimeter-level positioning, and its low latency of just 300 ms makes it perfect for automated inspection tasks. Even in complex environments, the drone can transmit 1080P HD real-time video and data about the aircraft and its surroundings to ground stations via a dedicated communication link.

  • Maximum Flight Time: 360 minutes
  • Transmission range: 50km/100km (optional)
  • Max Speed: 82.8km/h
  • Infrared resolution: 640 x 512 (Radiometric)
  • Wind resistance: 13.9-17.1 m/s
  • Operating temperature: -20℃-55℃
Autel Dual EVO II

Autel Dual EVO II: The smallest thermal drone

The EVO II Dual Drone by Autel Robotics is equipped with a new generation thermal camera with a resolution of up to 640 x 512 @ 30 Hz. It is a highly compact drone capable of capturing subjects in the minute detail from up to 100 meters away. The drone has multiple temperature measurement modes, so you can view a real-time display of the temperature in the central area of ​​the screen. When touching the screen, the temperature of the selected object is immediately displayed.

Autel Dual Evo II

The EVO II Dual has 19 different sensor types that include 12 visual sensors, the main camera, ultrasound, IMUs, and other sensors. These sensors allow you to easily create three-dimensional maps and plan paths in real-time. Plus, with support for image enhancement, you can adjust brightness, contrast, and other image details – all while the footage is being recorded.

  • Maximum Flight Time: 38 minutes
  • Transmission range: 9km
  • Max Speed: 72 km/h
  • Infrared resolution: 640 x 512 (Radiometric)
  • Wind resistance: 17m/s
  • Operating temperature: -10-40°C

JOUAV CW-40D with MG-170E gimbal camera: large-scale surveillance

The CW-40D is one of the latest commercial drones with the ability to carry three payloads and adapt to the mission environment. This infrared drone can be equipped with a gimbal camera, aerial camera, and LiDAR.

CW-40D thermal drone for security and surveillance

The CW-40D features a new display system that incorporates more information into the main screen to help the drone operator navigate around any potential obstacle. Equipping the CW-40D with the MG-170E as one of its payloads allows users to capture higher-resolution thermal information than ever before.

This VTOL drone has superb environmental adaptability and can not only take off and land on mobile platforms such as vehicles and ships but also perform well in high salt, high humidity, and high altitude areas.

  • Maximum Flight Time: 600 minutes
  • Transmission range: 100km/200km (optional)
  • Max Speed: 90km/h
  • Infrared resolution: 640 x 512 (Radiometric)
  • Wind resistance: 13.9-17.1 m/s
  • Operating temperature: -20℃-55℃
DJI Matrice 300 RTK

DJI Matrice 300 RTK with Zenmuse H20T Thermal Camera

The DJI Matrix 300 RTK is a great drone with a heat sensor camera. It features some top-notch specs and is ideal for you if you don't mind spending some extra money on a quality drone. The RTK drone has a transmission range of 9.3 miles, a flight time of 55 minutes, a 6-way detection capability, and IP45 protection against water and dust. Literally, everything about this drone is best in class!

DJI Matrice 300 RTK thermal drone

A super tough drone, the Matrice 300 RTK can be used even in harsh environments. When paired with the DJI Camera Zenmuse H20T, the drone gets enhanced features that include 4 sensors, a laser rangefinder, wide-angle, zoom, and a thermal camera for heat imaging.

  • Maximum Flight Time: 55 minutes
  • Transmission range: 15km
  • Max Speed: 82km/h
  • Infrared resolution: 640 x 512 (Radiometric)
  • Max wind resistance: 15m/s
  • Operating temperature: -20℃ to 50℃
How does thermal camera work?

How does thermal camera work?

To create a thermal image based on the captured infrared radiation, there are a bunch of small measurement devices inside the thermal camera that collect infrared radiation, called microbolometers, one for each pixel. From there, the microbolometer records the temperature and then assigns that pixel to an appropriate color.

As you may have guessed, most thermal imaging cameras have extremely low resolution compared to modern TVs and other monitors - in fact, the very best resolution for thermal imaging cameras is only about 640 x 480.

How does a thermal camera work

Source from gst-ir.net

How to choose a thermal camera?

How to choose a thermal camera?

Thermal cameras have many features and functions, the most important of which are:

  • Field of view, or angle, is expressed in degrees. A wide angle will make it possible to visualize the environment of an object and to quickly browse an area. A reduced angle will allow him to control small surfaces, and to be more precise, as when controlling the installation of an electrical panel for example.
  • The total resolution of the image is expressed in pixels. As with digital cameras, the higher the number of pixels, the more detailed your image will be.
  • Thermal sensitivity indicates the measurement accuracy capability that a thermal camera can have.
  • The temperature range is expressed in the range of temperatures that a thermal camera can measure. The majority of thermal cameras range from -30 to +350°C . However, there are more powerful cameras that can monitor industrial installations up to over 2000°C.
  • The different viewing modes can, for some cameras, juxtapose a thermal image on a digital image, which makes it possible to view the area being measured. The thermal image can appear as a watermark, or conversely, the contours of the thermal image can be superimposed on a digital image.
  • The focus influences the sharpness of the image, the quality of measurement, and therefore the precision of the result. Some thermal imaging cameras already have an autofocus system, while others require you to focus manually.
What is the best thermal camera for a drone?

What is the best thermal camera for a drone?

The thermal camera is an additional accessory to your existing drone. You buy them separately and install them yourself.

MG-120E Gimbal Camera

The MG-120E is the best thermal imaging camera that integrates a high-resolution infrared sensor and a 30x optical zoom camera. With JOUAV's leading stabilization technology and intelligence, this camera can quickly turn aerial data into powerful information. MG-150E features AI recognition, auto-tracking, accurate target location, and more to help law enforcement agencies capture and monitor unfolding crime scenes and provide accurate and timely information. With it, you will not miss anything.

MG-120e thermal camera

MG-150E Gimbal Camera

The MG-150E is a new thermal imaging camera for JOUAV's CW-40D UAV series. This thermal imaging camera offers high resolution, clarity, and lots of detail. The thermal camera has a 640*512 infrared sensor, a 30x optical zoom camera, and 4000 Meters Laser Rangefinder. Using it, you can find missing and trapped persons or animals at night or in low-visibility situations.

MG 150E thermal camera

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