Thermal Cameras and Drones

At AerdiA we recently purchased a thermal camera to be outfitted on one of our commercial drones. Now you may ask how can this benefit you? Below we will go through the various areas and how they are best utilizing thermal imagery, also known as thermography.

A simple Google search defines thermography as the following:

noun – the use of thermograms to study heat distribution in structures or regions.

But let’s dissect that slightly and determine exactly how best to incorporate thermal imagery into your projects to best give you the quickest and best information available.Thermography is simply the use of a specialized camera that reads the temperature variances of the subject you are recording. Long has the military used a FLIR or Forward-looking infrared camera system on most of their aircraft. That same technology is available today via drones and vehicle mounted systems. While we are not able to see five miles away, the use of thermal imagining within a close range is not only optimal but helps aid in a safer manner.
Based on information directly from FLIR, we learn how an IR, or Infrared camera works.
An infrared camera is a non-contact device that detects infrared energy (heat) and converts it into an electronic signal, which is then processed to produce a thermal image on a video monitor and perform temperature calculations. Heat sensed by an infrared camera can be very precisely quantified, or measured, allowing you to not only monitor thermal performance but also identify and evaluate the relative severity of heat-related problems.*1
Now, I am sure you have seen a thermal camera on TV or via the internet showing some of the mission flown overseas via the military. You may be asking, why this is of value now that we can put it on a low altitude flying UAV? There are many times when knowing where a heat signature is beneficial. Below we will go over each area and what the thermal image would provide.
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Construction (AEC)

Within the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industries, thermal images are a huge beneficial element. Thermal images can give you an idea where leaks are or were within a building envelope or roof. Thermal scans will show locations where water is currently sitting or was sitting. They can also provide a snapshot of the key areas like windows seals or subsurface cracking within concrete siding.

Oil and Gas

The introduction within the Oil and Gas industries has to lead to safer environments and more employees heading home each day. By simply doing a thermal scan of a pipe section that has a value hold high pressure back, you are able to know if that valve is functioning as expected or if there is a mini or major issue with it. If there is a major failure of that value section, the entire pipe will read the same heat signature. If the value is doing its job, one side will read hotter than the other side beyond the valve. Quickly thermography mounted UAVs remove what could have been an employee manually checking that location. In the case of rupture, that employee could have been severely injured or worse, killed.
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Real Estate

Some of the key sectors from AEC also apply to the real estate markets. Are you purchasing a new commercial facility or residential home? Thermal scans can make
sure that what you buy matches what the seller states as true. Imagine if you buy a large building, 12 months later the roof caves in unexpectedly. Having a thermal scan done before that could have uncovered issues that would have been discussed before purchase.
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Solar Panels and Power Distribution Centers

Solar panels are just recently becoming more and more common due to lowered pricing and the need to find alternative solutions. Some systems come with a
computer aided program that will monitor the panels to ensure they are producing and there are no problems. If the customer does not have a computer system, they are sometimes unaware of the lack of production from their solar farm. A simple scan of the panels will show which are working and which are not. Based on the fact that the panels convert solar energy into electricity, panels that are not working do not run as hot as an operational panel.
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Power distribution centers are another location where safety is crucial. Most of the parts contained within a PDC are highly energized with large amounts of electricity. Some of those items will fail through normal operations. By using a thermal scan, we are able to identify those malfunctioning parts. While we are not yet to the point that a UAV is capable of fixing those parts, we are able to limit the amount of time maintenance personnel are subjected to those unsafe areas.

Search and Rescue, Public Service

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Much like the benefits afforded to the military, some of those are available to those that service our public sectors. It is 2 am, and you just noticed your elderly parent with dementia is not in their room. After searching your home quickly, panic sets in and you call the local authorities. Quickly they dispatch their departments UAV with a thermal camera into the wooded area behind your home. This wooded area, 30 acres large, would have taken many hours for the authorities to comb by foot. Within twenty minutes, they pick up a heat signature of a human and send the foot search directly to that location. Your elderly parent was found within 45 minutes of your phone call vs. a possible 8 hours or more.
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Another incredible use would be with the local fire department. There is a four-alarm fire at a chemical warehouse in the center of town. Upon arriving, they see that the building is constructed of cinderblocks and has minimal windows. All of the windows are blown out and flames are completely engulfing the small holes. They know based on prior intelligence the chemicals inside are located at four specific locations but do not know where the fire is currently. The normal process would be to send in various groups to determine what they are up against. Now, they call the police officer that has the UAV with the thermal camera to scan the building. Within minutes, they have a thermal video showing which locations of the building is burning hottest and are able to send the hose teams there and put out the fire before it spreads to the deadly chemicals.
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Thermal Cameras and Drones

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