Many people want to fly their drones at night. However, there are not many drones that have night vision or infrared cameras. Therefore, you may want to consider adding a night vision camera to your drone. But how do you do it? Drones are very light and well-balanced and even the smallest addition to the drone can cause it to have significantly lower battery flight time and even cause stability issues.
The simplest way to add night vision to your drone is to purchase a light infrared camera which you can secure to your drone. You can add infrared lights for illuminating the environment to get a better image. Alternatively, there are great options for buying a drone with inbuilt night vision.
There are a number of companies which specialise in adding night vision to your drone. As the technology improves and the electronics are able to be miniaturised more and more drones are able to carry an extra thermal imaging camera which can see at night and at night vision to your drone.
Here is a rundown of some of the products which you can purchase to add night vision to your drone.
Ways to add night vision
If you already have a drone that you are confident flying and you want to add night vision capabilities to it, you must purchase an extra unit to attach to the drone.
You have to make sure that you use a drone that has a 25 to 30 minute battery life without any extra cameras attached to get approximately 10 to 15 minutes of flight time with the extra weight and reduction in aerodynamics.
Alternatively, you can simply take off closer to your mission turnaround point so that you can be assured that the drone will return to the takeoff location without running out of power.
Add an infrared camera
Adding an infrared camera securely to a drone is harder than simply sticking on a go pro Mount (or other Mount) and flying away.
You have to make sure that the camera is secured solidly onto the main body of the drone and that it has got no potential to come into contact with the propellers or interfere with the stability of the flight in any other way.
This often means purchasing a camera which has been specifically designed to fit the drone that you currently have.
Here are the companies, and the current products, that are making infrared and night vision cameras suitable for a range of drone technology.
This small camera is designed to be flown on a range of different types of drones. The thermal camera is equipped with a LWIR microbolometric sensor with a 640×512 pixel resolution. A bolometer is a device for measuring the power of electromagnetic radiation that is hitting the sensor. It does this by measuring the heat of a material using temperature -dependent electrical resistance to measure the absolute temperature.
The infrared camera has a large thermal temperature range measuring up to 1500°C and has a normal camera that comes with full HD and an unrivalled optical ultra-zoom which can be as much as 10 times zoom.
It is precisely calibrated in the laboratory of the manufacturer before being sent away and has a number of interchangeable lenses so that you can capture exactly what you want to record.
In the post processing options you are able to combine the thermal imaging and the normal camera to present a 3D map of photos.
The back of the camera is able to connect to a wide variety of other devices through cables and also includes a low latency live video streaming and command link so that you can fly with confidence and see what the camera is seeing in real time.
The camera is packaged up into a relatively small payload and weighs less than 430 g which makes it very convenient for a number of high end consumer drones.
The same company as the camera above also produce a security version of their infrared camera which is specifically designed for security and search and rescue operations. It is a thermal camera which is designed for use with drones and has a 30 times optical zoom on their normal camera and has a night vision cut filter delivering incredible imagery in lowlight.
The WIRIS Security thermal camera offers an unrivalled resolution of 800×600 px – and its thermal sensitivity clocks in at 40 mK.
With a 10 times optical zoom the normal camera is clear even at a minimum light of 0.0008 Lux – which is approximately 0.0008 of a candles brightness. That is very sensitive.
Because this thermal camera is geared towards the security and search and rescue markets the camera has one of the highest resolutions on the market.
Interestingly, the camera is in a certain category of product which means that it does not have to be approved for sale and export by the people that import security sensitive devices. The drone weighs a little bit more than the unit, above, and is less than 780 g which is packaged up into a form of 111 x 80 x 103 mm.
Drone expert, based in the Netherlands, offer a number of powerful thermal gimbals and cameras for all DJI Mavic two models.
Their thermal imaging solutions have been specifically developed for the drones that they are working with which means that the thermal camera is continuously stabilised according to the flight systems of the drone. The thermal camera is held at the front and the storage module which is at the rear of the Mount is perfectly balanced for these drones.
The drone cameras come with an automatic hot spot detection which will enable you to be able to find people and hotspots very quickly. This is invaluable in search and rescue missions. You will immediately see a message in your display when a hotspot is detected.
You can look simultaneously at the daylight and thermal view with a double camera setup. The thermal drone setup is equipped with dual cameras with both a normal camera and a thermal camera which means that you have daylight and thermal imaging to look at simultaneously.
If you are using this drone out in the field for surveying purposes you can use the built-in automatic GPS hot spot detection which displays the real-time GPS coordinates of the measured hotspots.
It is easily detachable from the drone which means that if you are using your drone for more than thermal imaging capture you can simply take it off in just a few seconds without any fiddly screws or electrical connections.
This company are world leaders in building custom drone solutions for thermal vision drones. They are based in the United States and they want to place thermal imaging capabilities into the hands of customers simply and cost effectively.
They have a number of cameras which are able to work with a number of drones such as the DJI Mavic air, the Mavic Pro and pro platinum as well as the Mavic to zoom and pro. They also have capabilities for the Phantom 4 pro as well as the inspire and Matrice series drones.
The lightest most economical system suitable for nearly all sorts of drones is the VuIR Boson fixed mount camera.
It doesn’t have a gimbal but is able to click on to the side or the top of the drone in order to not block any of the sensors. It is very easy to remove and install it just snaps on and off and runs on its own battery which means you don’t need to use any cables between the infrared camera and the drone.
They say that they are able to get 20 minutes of flight time on the Mavic Pro and about a 13 minute flight time with the DJI Mavic air. The tilt angle is manually adjustable since it is not able to be controlled via a gimbal.
These are the best options for you at the moment for adding night vision to your drone. If you don’t want to work in low light environments you can also add extra lights to your drone.
Sometimes if we want to see in the dark all we have to do is bring our own light. There are a number of ways that you can add bright LEDs to your drone and if you are technically minded you can use the following YouTube video to add a couple of bright lights to your drone.
Another option is to add extra lights to your drone or example, you can purchase a lighting kit from a company such as lumecube.
these are lightweight and durable thermoplastic mounts that clip onto your Mavic to pro and zoom drone so that it won’t damage the propellers when attached.
There is a massive 80° beam angle lens which helps create a nice widespread for your drone camera to see in the dark. It has a 1.5 hour battery life at 100% brightness and you can adjust the brightness using Bluetooth controls. The drone mounts are adjustable so that you can fit them to a variety of different drone sizes and it only weighs about 1 ounce per mount. They are charged with a USB-C cable.
Buy a drone with night vision
Besides adding an extra set of lights to your drone or adding a night vision camera you can purchase a drone with night vision for thermal imaging capabilities built in.
The drones that are mentioned in this article are:
- Walkera F210 Professional Deluxe Racer Quadcopter – this drone has an adjustable angle and high definition night vision camera which enables real-time image transmission to the headset. It is able to see a detailed picture at night or low light situations.
- ANAFI Thermal – With a weight of only 320 g this is a very compact and portable drone. The Anafi can be set up in just a few seconds and the camera is stabilised on five axes which means that the optical sensor always picks up the best photo possible.
- Zenmuse L1 – This drone was released by DJI in early 2021. It is a lidar aerial surveying module with a camera that contains a 1 inch sensor. The lidar solution can be used with the Matrice 300 RTK and any other DJI drone where you can change the payload such as the DJI Terra.
This may not be the best option for you if you do not want to always fly in low light conditions or capture night and thermal footage. Choosing a drone that has both capabilities will allow you to capture with the original camera whilst also capturing extra data such as the thermal imaging component.
Event camera – new science
The event camera is at the leading edge of science when it comes to seeing in low light or in the dark. Davide Scaramuzza’s lab at the University of Zurich present a camera which is perfect for small and fast-moving robots and drones.
Point them at a stationary picture and they won’t show you anything but soon as there is motion the event cameras show you that motion on a per pixel basis at a very high refresh rate.
They are very sensitive to low light and don’t get blinded by bright light either. Here is what happens in the event camera in real time even when you turn off the light:
I suspect that we will be seeing more and more different type of cameras like the event camera for drone technology in a variety of applications and fields.
Who would want to add night vision?
There are a variety of reasons why you may want a night vision drone. And it’s not just because you want to take photos of people and use it for surveillance. Here are some popular and common uses of night vision drones.
In mining operations you can use night vision and infrared imaging to see through dust and dirt that is generated during typical mining processes.
One of the first applications of this type of technology can be to protect any security assets or military bases. Flying a drone at night enables you to see far and wide and the thermal imaging will also make people objects stand out very easily so that you can detect any threats or issues which you may have to solve.
Photography and night-time imaging can be used to collect some interesting art and unique perspectives on your surroundings.
Using a combination of lidar, thermal imaging, and real colour photography you would be able to capture some very interesting and unique perspectives that would be very hard for other people to replicate.
Here is a photograph using long exposure so that you can actually use the drone to paint images in the sky. This image is courtesy of Lumecube.
Search and rescue
Search and rescue missions often involve looking for people and animals. Luckily, people and animals give off a distinct infrared signal as they are significantly warmer than the surroundings. They can use this information to pinpoint the lost person or animal in a cold environment very easily.
There are a variety of drones able to also use the zoom so that they can zoom in on an object in the distance. Given the perfect height advantage as well as infrared capabilities finding someone has never been easier. Even in very dense vegetation.
In this article, we have looked at all of the ways that you can add night vision to your drone. You can choose to use the drone that you already have and attach a night vision and thermal imaging set up to your drone using third-party accessories and additions.
You have to make sure that each of the things that you attach to your drone has been specifically designed for the drone that you are attaching it to. This means the drone will be balanced, stable, and safe during the flight. You have to make sure that the infrared camera is not interfering with any of the propellers or other parts of the drone such as the sensors.
Another option that you have for adding night vision to your drone is to attach some very bright LED lights which can illuminate the immediate area and make your drone its own light source. This is by far the easiest thing to do but you do have to accept a lower flight time due to the extra weight the drone is carrying during the flight.