Hexacopter Multicopter DJI S800 on air credit Alexander Glinz

What Infrared Drone Package Do I Need?

Choosing the right Infrared Drone for you can be a difficult process… Do I want dual gimbal support? Am I looking for a middle wave infrared or long wave infrared camera? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking while you begin your search for the perfect infrared drone and camera package. This article is meant to provide a general overview to assist in finding what is right for you.

Choose the drone for you

First, it is important to know the specifications of the drones that are compatible with infrared cameras.

High End Drones – Matrice ($5000 – $25000)

…and this doesn’t even include the camera

Matrice 200 series

As we anticipate the 2020 release of the new Matrice 300 series drone, the M200 series of drones still reigns king of DJI’s infrared compatible drones. These multi-weather efficient drones operate through the moderate rain and can maintain steadiness in 10 MPH winds.

Pros
  • Dual Gimbal Support OR single top camera mount
    • The M210 allows for dual gimbal simultaneous operation of digital and thermal cameras. It is recommended to only choose the more expensive M210 drone over the M200 drone if you find use for the dual gimbal support. (e.g layered orthomosaic mapping)
  • Long flight times
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  • Smaller than Matrice counterparts
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  • DJI’s Enterprise Shield Basic Protection Plan (Vendor Dependent)
    • According to DJI, “Enterprise Shield Basic covers two product replacements for damaged DJI drones and payloads (with the exception of XT and XT2) covered by the plan within the one-year coverage period, at a small corresponding fixed fee. Free two-way ground shipping is used when sending products in for replacement. Replacement products issued under Enterprise Shield Basic meet new product performance and reliability standards.”
Cons
  • Price
    • The M200 series are expensive drones. The M210 sells on Amazon for $19,487.74
  • Multiple issues reported
    • Although the M200 series drones are ‘weather resistant’, multiple issues have been reported with batteries and drone malfunctions due to water damage

Matrice 600

The Matrice 600 is the beefy brother of the Matrice family. With a max payload of almost three times as heavy as the M210, the M600 proves itself as the heavy-duty industrial drone for cinematography.

Pros
  • Payload
    • Compared to the M210 the M600 is capable of carrying professional level gimbals, such as the Ronin-MX a 360° operational gimbal that allows for silent motor capturing for professionally stabilized footage. As well as the ability to carry heavy infrared equipment
  • Price
    • While the M210 sits at a whopping $19,487.74, the M600 is sold for 5,699
  • Flight Time
    • Like the M200 series, the M600 is capable of long flights. According to DJI, “With TB47S batteries, the M600 can fly for 35 minutes with no extra payload or 16 minutes with 6kg of payload. With TB48S batteries, the M600 can fly for 40 minutes with no extra payload or 18 minutes with 5.5kg of payload.”
Cons
  • Transportation hassle
    • Traveling with a drone that requires 6 batteries to takeoff can take up an inconvenient amount of space. Typically, the M600 is transported in the M600 Pro Case which weighs in at 52 lbs plus an additional 20 pounds carrying the drone itself. As well as occupying 31.5 x 31 x 30 inches of space.
  • Single Camera Support

Middle-Tier Drones

DJI Phantom 4 Pro

The Phantom 4 Pro is the happy medium between a high end professional drone and one that does not totally break the bank. Sitting at around the $1700 mark from most retailers the Phantom 4 is a great alternative to the Matrice series for middle wave thermal inspections.

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Pros
  • Size
    • Ready for takeoff, the drone weighs 3 pounds with a diagonal size of less than 2 feet.
  • Price: $1700
  • Obstacle avoidance
    • The DJI Phantom 4 Pro version has 4 direction obstacle avoidance upgraded from the Phantom 3 version only bottom sensors, and even further upgraded than the Phantom 4 which has bottom and front facing sensors.
Cons
  • Compatibility
    • Although the Phantom 4 Pro is compatible with infrared cameras, the options are limited to purchasing an external upgrade kit which is recommended to be used with the long wave infrared camera: Vue Pro R
  • Non-Collapsible
  • Gimbal Range
    • The Gimbal Pitch is limited to: -90° to +30°. Which could be undesirable for specific operations.

DJI Inspire 1

Finally, the DJI Inspire 1. No, not the Inspire 2, because the Inspire 2 is not compatible with the Zenmuse XT; the infrared camera that does work with the Inspire 1. The Inspire 1 is the 360° capturing middle tier drone with the ‘freest’ gimbal in the industry. 

Pros
  • Gimbal rotation
    • The Inspire 1’s native gimbal allows for 360° with 125° tilt 
  • No upgrade kit needed
    • The Inspire 1 is compatible with the Zenmuse XT as sold, and is as simple as unscrewing the included camera and attaching the XT.
Cons
  • Flight time
    • The flight time is a very limiting 15-18 minutes.
  • No obstacle avoidance sensors
    • The Inspire 1 must be flown carefully! As this drone does not have any obstacle avoidance sensors like the Phantom or Matrice series do.

 

Choose the camera for you

The most important part of finding the right infrared drone package is finding what camera works best for you. Deciding what wavelength spectrum you need is the first step. More information on the different wavelengths can be found here: What are SWIR, MWIR, and LWIR?

Camera Options

Typically, infrared thermography operates on the long wave infrared wavelengths. Below are the LWIR options for each of the drones listed.

Zenmuse XT and XT2

The Zenmuse XT is the temperature precise camera option for the Inspire 1, M200/210, and M600 with incorporated MSX technology creating professional quality infrared imagery used for a variety of inspection services.

The Zenmuse XT 2 is everything and more… except we are leaving behind the Inspire 1. The XT2 is compatible with only the M200/210 and M600 series drones. The upgraded dual sensors provide side by side 4K digital and radiometric cameras that are equip with a weather resistant encasing that allow for weather resistant flights on board the M200 series.

 

Flir’s Vue Pro

The Vue Pro is the LWIR infrared option for the DJI Phantom 4 pro. This lightweight camera allows for high quality photos and videos for inspection work that does not require temperature specific measurements. (It is important to note if temperature specific measurements are needed over just temperature differences)

 

Next Steps

Finding the correct drone package should continue onward to assessing the purpose for your sUAS. If you are interested in learning more about Infrared, checkout are other articles on the topics here: Getting Started With Thermal Imaging,  How FLIR Uses MSX to Enhance Thermal Imagery, and What are SWIR, MWIR, and LWIR?. We hope you found this information useful. Stay tuned for future updates by subscribing to our mailing list and contact us if you are interested thermal imaging services or drone training.

 




About the Author

Ethan Swansey