The Role of Drones in Thermography

Drones can cover a large area of space in a very short period of time, using aerial thermography to find people can potentially save lives.

Thermography is the use of thermograms (images of radiation) to study and measure the heat (thermo) distribution in structures, regions, or bodies. An example of this would be detecting tumors or other abnormalities. The amount of radiation emitted by an object increases with temperature, thus thermography allows one to see variations in temperature. The science of thermography, therefore, is the application of these heat readings to locate abnormal pathology or function in the body. Infrared thermography (IRT), thermal imaging, and thermal video are examples of infrared imaging science.

Thermography is also a printing technique by which a wet ink image is fused by heat or infrared radiation with a resinous powder to produce a raised impression.

Since infrared radiation is emitted by all objects with a temperature above absolute zero according to the black body radiation law, thermography makes it possible to see one’s environment with or without visible illumination.

Drone operators are now able to see invisible temperature data due to thermal, or infrared, sensors. Deployed on drones, thermographic sensors make it possible to collect radiometric data over wide areas and hard-to-reach places.

Built-in visual imaging, heat analytics, and infrared intelligence, have made thermal analysis accessible for a wide range of applications, such as:

  • Scanning building electrical equipment, such as breaker panels, fuses, bolted connections, and switchgear.
  • Identifying overheating equipment in electrical plants, substations, and towers.
  • Pinpointing the source of water leaks and energy inefficiencies in building roofs and facades.
  • Investigating the impact a fire is having on a building’s structural integrity.
  • Identify the location of fire victims, either within a house or a forest fire, so that firefighters know where to focus their energy and time.
  • Measuring crop foliage temperature to identify heat stress, water use, and plant metabolism.
  • Surveillance and security.
  • Search and rescue (SAR).
  • Inspecting HVAC units.
  • Inspecting wind turbines.
  • Inspecting cell towers.
  • Inspecting power lines.
  • Inspecting solar power.
  • Inspecting roofs, heating and air conditioning.

Thermal sensors measure the relative temperature of surfaces, whether they are geologic, organic, or man-made. When long-wave infrared radiation is emitted from these surfaces, and reach the thermal sensor, it heats up a microbolometer, which changes the electrical resistance. These changes are then stored as data, which can be processed into thermal imagery.

Heat can be quantified when using thermal sensors. This helps the user to gauge thermal performance and evaluate the relative severity of heat-related issues.

It’s often helpful to pair thermal, or infrared, sensors with a standard visual camera. This allows the user to blend photography with thermography and use a variety of color palettes.


There are many ways to make money in this sector. One of the attractive markets is fire departments because of the numerous advantages of having drones assisting them in their challenging work. Aerial thermography may even lead some of them to provide drone training so that they can have their own people use drones when needed.

More drone companies are making it easy to incorporate thermal imaging into drones.

As thermal sensors become smaller, lighter, less expensive and more widely available on drones, more commercial drone applications are integrating aerial thermography.

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