When considering the present and future of thermal imaging drone technology, it's worth delving into the technical principles that make thermal cameras function. Understanding how thermal imaging equipment works can inspire more effective use of the technology and new deployment approaches for thermal drones.
The core of a thermal drone is it's thermal image camera. So what is a thermal image camera and how does it work?
The first thing to know about thermal cameras is they don’t work like regular cameras. Regular daylight cameras and the human eye both work on the same basic principle: visible light energy hits something, bounces off it, a detector receives the reflected light, and then turns it into an image.
Thermal imagers make pictures from heat, not visible light. Heat (also called infrared or thermal energy) and light are both parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect visible light won’t see thermal energy, and vice versa. Thermal cameras capture infrared energy and use the data to create images through digital or analog video outputs.
Thermal cameras use specialized lenses that pick up IR frequencies, along with thermal sensors and image processors to render the results on a visual display. When an infrared camera is mounted on a drone, the device is typically placed on a gimbal, which stabilizes the image and lets the lens rotate a full 360 degrees.
The thermal sensors within these advanced cameras, technically known as microbolometers, have received notable updates in recent years. Today's options do not require the exotic cooling materials used in the past, making them much more affordable.