Thermal imaging camera maker FLIR Systems has started working with drone maker DJI Technology on infrared cameras that can be attached to DJI's drones.
The partnership could expand the drone market, making the small flying craft significantly more useful for firefighters, police, farmers and others that use thermal imaging.
As a start, FLIR has developed a version of its Tau 2 thermal imaging camera for use on DJI drones. The Zenmuse XT, as it will be called, will be available in early 2016 at a price yet to be announced.
Infrared cameras produce images with high contrast between areas of high and low temperature and are useful in a number of situations.
In a YouTube video, DJI presented the drone being used by firefighters. The infrared camera provides a quick look at what areas of a structure and hot and cold. In the image below, the roof appears cold, which indicates the fire hasn't yet spread to the upper level of the building and so the roof might be safe to walk on.
Security services such as police departments use thermal imaging in several applications, including the detection of people during searches. As a person is typically much hotter than their surroundings, they often appear bright on the images, even during nighttime.
Farmers too are using infrared imaging to monitor their crops and more efficiently plan irrigation schedules, track diseases in plants and predict fruit yields.
With sometimes large areas of land to cover, farmers are already using small aircraft to survey their land and drones provide a compelling alternative.
FLIR and DJI plan to offer two versions of the camera: one with 640 x 512 pixel resolution and another with 336 x 256 pixel resolution.
While no price has been announced, a FLIR camera offered to smartphone users provides a clue. The FLIR One camera, for iPhone and Android has a lower 80 x 60 pixel resolution and costs US$250.
The collaboration between the two companies is something of a no-brainer. FLIR already makes camera systems that are used on military and emergency aircraft and these agencies are increasingly eyeing drone technology as a useful way to carry out low-cost aerial surveying.
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