How can Thermal Imaging be Used in Drones?

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

What are thermal imaging cameras? How do they work differently from regular ones?

Thermal imaging cameras measure the temperature of objects from a distance by looking at how much heat they are emitting. Everything that is above 0 Kelvin (-273.15ºC) emits thermal radiation. The higher the object’s temperature, the higher the frequency of this radiation.

While some things such as molten metal, lava and fire are hot enough to emit visible light, cooler things like humans, animals and everyday objects emit invisible far-infrared radiation that has a much lower frequency. Instead of visible light, thermal imaging cameras are specially designed to absorb, or “see”, this infrared radiation, which it then uses to calculate the temperature of the object.

Where are thermal imaging cameras used?

Thermal imaging cameras have found use in a large variety of applications. Some of them are:

Disease Control

With the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China, countries have been scrambling to prevent the spread of the disease into their countries. One way of doing so has been using thermal imaging cameras to scan everybody who enters the country. The cameras can easily highlight people suffering from fever, since their temperature is higher than normal, and authorities can move quickly to detain them.

Building Inspection

Thermal imaging cameras can be used to inspect HVAC systems in buildings by looking for places that are hotter/colder than they should be, such as faulty insulation or heat leaks. Thermal imaging cameras can also detect other problems in buildings that are hiding inside walls, floors, and ceilings, such as water leakages and even pest infestations.

Night Vision

Thermal imaging cameras can be used to provide night vision, because even though there is no visible light, everything still emits infrared radiation. This can be useful for maritime navigation as it can clearly show people and other vessels in the water at night, even when they are out of range of the ship’s spotlights.

How are thermal imaging cameras used in drones?

By putting the thermal imaging camera on a drone, their effectiveness can be greatly amplified as they can cover a much larger area in a shorter amount of time, while also providing access to hard-to-reach places. Some useful ways to use thermal imaging cameras on drones are:

Inspection and Surveying

Inspection and surveying operations can greatly benefit from thermal imaging cameras. For example, thermal imaging cameras can be used to identify defective equipment by detecting abnormal changes in temperature, even though they look fine to the naked eye. Thermal imaging cameras can be used to check for faulty electrical equipment such as overheating wiring and solar panels and can even detect gas leaks in pipes.

Detecting & Locating People

Drones with thermal imaging cameras can be really useful for search and rescue (SAR), law enforcement, as well as surveillance purposes. Since we are usually warmer than our surroundings, we will easily stand out when recorded using a thermal imaging camera. This makes thermal imaging cameras ideal for spotting people, whether it be lost hikers, fleeing suspects, or potential intruders.


Thermal imaging cameras can also locate fire even when it’s obscured by dense smoke. This is immensely helpful to firefighters who may have trouble finding and putting out the fire otherwise, and can also help with locating people trapped inside burning buildings.

In all these applications mentioned, not only does aerial thermal imaging make jobs easier and faster, it also provides a higher degree of safety by keeping workers away from danger – transforming the way we work. If your organisation is just getting started in using drones, don’t hesitate to connect with us to discuss how to build an internal drone team to leverage this technology.

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