Elevating Drone Imaging: Infrared Sensors and Advanced Optics

Drones with specialized, advanced optics mounted securely on their unobtrusive bodies can be used to acquire high-quality imagery, even in unfavorable environmental conditions.

For example, a low-flying optical drone positioning itself in front of a herd of antelope can acquire breath-taking footage for a nature documentary, or a drone fitted with infrared (IR) sensors may be sent out at night to determine where large herds of animals are gathered in a desert region.

Infrared sensors or optics for drone provide a seeing eye where humans are unwilling or unable to go.

Infrared sensors or optics for drone provide a seeing eye where humans are unwilling or unable to go. Image Credit: Avantier Inc.

IR sensors are especially suited for night-time work such as this because they are able to detect the infrared light emitted by warm bodies.

In recent years, significant advances have been made in the technology that underpins aerial drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Drones have become higher powered, lighter, and more maneuverable than ever before.

There have also been major advances in the optics used in drones, with many offering users the potential to take high-quality machine vision into areas that have previously been inaccessible to such surveillance.

This article explores the mix of components required to create an effective optical system for a drone, as well as exploring some of drones’ most popular applications.

Applications of Optical Drones

A diverse array of application fields leverages the power of drones outfitted with infrared sensors or other optical systems, from natural resource management and agriculture to research, cinematography, and defense.

Examples of UAV applications include:

  • Evaluating the structural integrity of bridges, towers, and other architectural structures
  • Scanning electrical equipment in buildings, for example, switchgear, fuses, or breaker panels
  • Scanning roofs, facades, and other parts of buildings to identify sources of energy inefficiency
  • Long-range evaluation of crop health and the identification of potential problem spots
  • Monitoring livestock and determining herd movements
  • Measuring dryness or water saturation over a specific area
  • Supporting and enhancing life-saving search and rescue operations
  • Motion detection for security systems
  • Forest fire detection and tracking, or the monitoring or firefighting efforts
  • Aerial photography, including the acquisition of still images and video footage for documentaries, movies, or newsreels

A number of these applications necessitate the use of a drone fitted with a high-quality aerial camera able to produce high-resolution video images, even when operating under adverse conditions.

For other applications, mini drones with passive infrared sensors for thermal imaging may be needed, or LIDAR for obstacle sensing or mapping terrain.

IR sensors and optics for drone enable a wide range of surveillance.

IR sensors and optics for drone enable a wide range of surveillance. Image Credit: Avantier Inc.

Key Considerations in Choosing Optics for a Drone

When selecting an optical system for a drone, it is important to consider the drone’s primary purpose and the environment in which it will be operating. 

Reliability is a key consideration for drone-mounted optics and passive IR sensors because these devices are often required to perform effectively under adverse conditions.

Other considerations include the speed at which the drone will be moving at, whether it will need to collect data in stormy or smoky conditions, or whether it will have to function at very hot or cold temperatures.

Optical systems and sensors for drones must be low-weight and have minimal power consumption requirements because the choice of the drone itself often fixes factors such as available space, weight capacity, and available power.

When designing drone systems, the maximum weight of the optical apparatus should be considered, including lens assembly and any mounts and housing. Available power should also be considered. Careful consideration of these factors is key to finding the perfect optical system for an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.

Stabilizing Drone-Mounted Optics

When taking a photo on a mobile phone, the photographer will do their best to hold the phone still to capture a high-quality, unblurred image. Drones used to capture overhead shots for a movie face the same problem, but keeping the drone stable enough to capture a clear image is much more challenging.

Images recorded by drones are generally stabilized in two ways: using technology designed to keep the drone still, mitigating the effects of wind or adverse environmental conditions, or via image stabilization technology built into the optical system itself.

Commonly used image stabilization technology includes both electronic image stabilization (EIS) and optical image stabilization (OIS). 

In EIS, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor provides information on the drone’s movement, passing this data to software able to compensate for any distortion. IMUs are also used to ensure a stable flight, and these will generally include a three axis accelerator and a three-axis gyroscope. 

OIS technologies record the motion experienced by the sensor, and that data is used to manipulate the imaging device to better compensate for the motion of the drone.

Quality Optics for Quality Imaging

Designing an effective optical system for a drone can be particularly challenging. The system must accommodate a range of constraints, including power consumption, available space, and imaging capabilities, and an imaging system must be stable enough to capture clear images.

However, all of these things are possible using the right combination of optical technologies.

Acknowledgments

Produced from materials originally authored by Avantier Inc. 

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Avantier Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit Avantier Inc.

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