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The night vision drone, discover our complete guide

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Today, the night vision drone is used by security agencies and inspection teams to help them in their missions. This new technology can be deployed very quickly and can cover very large or difficult to access areas, being much faster and more efficient than human ground control. This is a real time and productivity saver for all those who have to make important and quick decisions based on the field data obtained. The drone proves to be a real asset at night, indeed, search and rescue operations also take place during this period when visibility for humans is reduced. To meet this need, quadricopter brands have developed a multitude of tools.

What is night vision?

Before starting, you should know that human vision is limited to a small spectrum of visible light. The other parts of this spectrum such as infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays and range rays cannot be perceived with the naked eye. However, a camera is able to capture these different light waves. In other words, night vision allows you to see in dark and very low light environments. Thanks to the development of new technologies, night vision is now possible since a few years thanks to thermal imaging.

How does thermal imaging work ?

Thermal imaging works by detecting the heat, or heat signature, that is naturally emitted from objects. These cameras are equipped with infrared lenses and highly sophisticated sensors to capture invisible infrared frequencies to measure surface temperatures. At night, ground and environmental temperatures cool, while the bodies of missing persons are warmer. It is this thermal difference that is detectable, which makes night vision drones a significant solution. Nevertheless, these thermal imaging cameras remain very sensitive and can be affected by many factors such as surface conditions, object reflectivity or weather conditions.

What camera for the night vision drone?

DJI Zenmuse H20T

The DJI Zenmuse H20T thermal camera was specifically designed for the Matrice 300 RTK drone and features four sensors:

  • a 1/2.3 inch 12MP wide angle sensor;
  • a 1/1.7 inch 20MP sensor with a 23x zoom;
  • a laser rangefinder with a range of 1200 m;
  • a 640 x 512 pixel radiometric thermal camera.

DJI Zenmuse H20N

The Zenmuse H20N thermal camera is capable of detecting light sources as low as 0.0001 lux and has starlight sensors built into its zoom and wide angle cameras. Combine it with thermal and zoom cameras and a laser rangefinder for a versatile hybrid payload to match. Two thermal imaging cameras offer 2x and 8x zoom respectively, for a maximum total zoom of 32x. Find hot spots and inspect areas in detail. The H20N also supports synchronized zooming between Starlight thermal and night vision cameras. Users can shade the images simultaneously. This multiplies efficiency and makes it easier to compare details side by side.

Which drone to choose for your thermal photogrammetric surveys and at what price?

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced

The Mavic 2 Enterprise is extremely compact and lightweight and contains a wide range of powerful features. It has a built-in 640×512 thermal sensor, capable of 16x zoom and 30 Hz frame rate. The drone’s RTK module enables centimeter-accurate positioning, and its ability to work with 240 waypoints makes it perfect for automated inspection missions, even in complex environments.

DJI Matrice 30T

The M30T is a rugged DJI drone built to withstand the elements and designed to be highly portable despite its impressive sensor payload. The camera specifications are identical to those of the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced with a resolution of 640×152 and 30 frames per second. The M30T’s control system is particularly advanced, with a 7-inch widescreen display on the dual-stick control system designed for corporate drone pilots.

DJI Matrice 300 RTK

The M300 RTK is DJI’s most technologically advanced drone, with the ability to carry up to three payloads simultaneously. At most, the drone can be equipped with one ascending turret and two descending turrets. The M300 RTK uses a new display system, incorporating more information on the main screen, to help the drone operator navigate around potential obstacles. Users can capture unprecedented levels of high resolution thermal information with this device.

Our safety tips for your night operations by drone.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of recommendations that we advise you to follow once you have selected your equipment and are about to begin your thermal survey missions:

  • No matter how many hours of flying you have under your belt, it is always a good idea to follow drone safety tips to avoid any mishaps.
  • Make a pre-flight checklist and follow it carefully. While it may be tempting to get the aircraft airborne as soon as possible, it’s even more important to make sure the GPS signal is strong and the Return to Home (RTH) settings are correct when flying at night.
  • Look 5 to 10 degrees off center of the drone to help compensate for possible nighttime blind spots. But since it is more difficult to maintain a line of sight (VLOS) at night, you can also use a visual observer to help you.
  • If you are not familiar with the area you will be flying in, consider locating the area in the Google Maps satellite view to better understand the topography.
  • You can also fly at a higher altitude to avoid potential obstacles such as trees and power lines.
  • Land your drone immediately if you cannot determine its position relative to another aircraft.
  • Use a landing mat and light the landing site so you don’t lose track.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your equipment and check the forecast to make sure the weather is compatible with your drone.

The different fields of application of the night vision drone ?

Search and rescue

The usefulness of night vision drones in search and rescue operations has been proven. They are able to find the heat signature of a human being in distress and can make a difference. Managing rescue missions in deep forests or after natural disasters such as avalanches is a complex undertaking. Drones equipped with night vision cameras can help keep accurate track of victims and rescue personnel.

Emergency response

Thermal cameras can serve as essential threat detection tools when emergency rescue or hazmat crews need to navigate quickly and safely through dark and unpredictable areas. From uncovering chemical hazards in seemingly innocuous locations to fighting forest fires, even after the sun goes down and helicopter operations stop, night vision drones have become a force multiplier that keeps crews safe while allowing them to accomplish more with each mission.

Monitoring and inspection

Large industrial sites and other strategically important areas can add an extra layer of security to their perimeter by conducting nighttime surveillance with drones. And in the event of an emergency, such as a power outage, crews can quickly inspect changes in the heat signatures of individual components and find where the failed unit is located. Many types of industrial and construction inspections can also take place at night with the help of night vision drones.

Wildlife Management

Thermal imaging sensors are one of the most effective ways to locate animals, whether for wildlife counts, habitat mapping, behavior observation, or providing medical assistance after a wildfire.

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