Just a few months after the release of its FLIR Vue thermal imaging camera for drones, FLIR Systems Inc. has introduced the FLIR Vue Pro, ideal for a wide variety of commercial unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operators looking for thermal imaging with data-collection capabilities built right in.
FLIR’s Bruce Cumming, referring to the device as a sort of thermal GoPro, sums up what the technology is bringing to the table: “What FLIR Vue and FLIR Vue Pro do is provide a very easy way for commercial operators to integrate thermal imaging on their airframe,” he tells Unmanned Aerial Online.
Available in November, the FLIR Vue, which starts at $1,499, is the company’s entry-level thermal imaging camera for small UAS operators. It, like the Vue Pro, weighs in at 3.25 to 4 oz., depending on the configuration, and is 1.75 inches cubed, excluding the .8-inch lens.
The Vue Pro, with a starting price of $1,999, offers “enhanced data collection capabilities, in-flight control of a variety of camera functions and easy setup with mobile apps,” according to a company release, which adds that both the Vue and the Vue Pro use “the same, easy, power-in/analog video-out connection.”
“It’s an imager, and then it’s an on-board data storage at the same time – in one self-contained module,” FLIR’s David Lee tells UAO.
The camera’s removable micro SD card stores 8-bit digital video and 14-bit digital photos; then, the images can be brought into software such as Pix4DMapper to create an orthomosaic map or a 3D model of the mapped area, Lee explains.
Cumming notes that thanks to Bluetooth integration, the camera can also be configured from the ground on the user’s Android or iOS device via the FLIR Vue Pro app.
With a “basically platform-agnostic” design and a GoPro-like mount, he says, the Vue Pro attaches to UAS for an extensive range of applications: including utility and roof inspections, precision agriculture, and search and rescue – and even for the “serious hobbyist,” as Cumming puts it.
“It’s sort of a plug-and-play process: As long as you can physically mount it, you can interface perfectly with your system,” he says.
Lee notes that when the company first launched the FLIR Vue at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Unmanned Systems show in May, there was one application he got asked about the most: solar panel inspections.
“I see it as an application that’s going to draw tremendous benefit from UAS technology,” he says.
The main takeaway of combining drones with thermal imaging, Lee explains, is that it allows people to inspect large areas, including expansive solar arrays, at a much faster pace than with standard methods – e.g., with a handheld sensor – or in a less costly, safer manner than with manned aircraft.
The same goes for search and rescue: The Vue Pro and the drone can quickly cover ground and eliminate areas that need no further looking so that a subject can potentially be located sooner.
Concerning making use of thermal imaging at night, although the Federal Aviation Administration, in its proposed rules for commercial UAS operations, says it is limiting flights to only the daytime, Lee notes that the technology is applicable – or even more useful – for most applications.
Sometimes, he explains, the best time to make use of thermal imaging is when the sun is rising or setting. At sunrise, it may be as cold as it will get during the day, so any small thermal differences will be maximized when, for instance, inspecting roofs for leaks.
Comparatively, at the end of the day, “The roof will have absorbed the maximum amount of thermal energy it’s going to in a day,” he says, adding that any areas of damage “are going to show up a lot brighter” through the Vue Pro on the drone.
In a release, FLIR’s Jeff Frank says the new product enables these operators “to provide clients with actionable, temperature-based data to increase efficiency and improve critical business decisions.”
“Building on the pioneering of the original FLIR Vue, the FLIR Vue Pro puts even more thermal imaging functionality and greater flexibility in the hands of sUAS operators.”
The company, Cumming adds, has been in business for nearly four decades and has a “long history in thermal airborne imaging.” As the accessibility of drones has increased and the prices have decreased over the years, the cost of thermal imaging, in turn, has also gone down, he explains.
Although the industry is still limited by federal regulations – or lack thereof – in the U.S., FLIR maintains its goal of “bringing the power of thermal imaging to the commercial drone market,” he says.