There has long been a strong market for thermal imaging. But industry advances, placing high-quality thermal cameras within drones, has opened up huge opportunities in everything from safety to surveillance, law enforcement to search and rescue.

Drone with thermal camera

Thermal sensors are increasingly being used with drones, giving users the chance to ‘see’ from an aerial perspective, no matter the light or ground cover conditions. Those investing in the technology include everyone for government agencies to private companies and the industry looks set to develop even further.

Why use thermal drones?

There really are no limits to the uses of thermal technology in drones. Fire rescue services are investing in them to monitor wildfires and even track potential victims, even when dense smoke makes surveillance possible with the naked eye. Police forces are using them to track suspects, day or night.

Search and rescue is on key area which has really benefitted from the introduction of thermal imaging in aerial drones, picking out the heat of a human body in the wilds, from mountains to forests, and coordinating the correct response.

Infra-red cameras mounted within powerful drones have vital implications for the future of the defense industry but also provide multiple benefits for commercial use.

Gone are the days of fixed cameras for surveillance or the costly use of helicopters. These small, unmanned flying devices can reach places their alternatives cannot access and are infinitely more discreet.

So it is perhaps no surprise that industries as diverse as archeology, where thermal infrared images can help locate buried artefacts and structures, to conservationism, using cameras to track potential poachers, are investing.

Equally, thermal imaging from a drone can detect gas leaks, help manage traffic and guard the perimeter fences of sensitive businesses. They are used in surveying and mapping, the agricultural industry can manage livestock remotely. Thermal drones can also be used for environmental and safety compliance, as well as performance, in the oil and gas industry.

Drones with thermal imaging for security and surveillance

The drone and thermal imagery industry, known as aerial thermography, has developed a strong security and surveillance demand. Powerful cameras mounted within drones can help with everything from monitoring borders and perimeter fences to observing happenings at large events.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have also used thermal imaging in anti-piracy operations on the coast, criminal investigations and anti-terror operations. Pipelines and power lines can all be monitored and maintained more effectively with UAVs. These drones also ensure lower costs by not using helicopters and higher levels of safety due to the lack of personnel involved.

Necessities for effective surveillance

Companies and organizations deploying drones with thermal imaging to conduct surveillance or security rely on several key factors when choosing their equipment.

Flight times

Longer flight times are a key factor in order to ensure a persistent aerial presence, while tactical flexibility is also key. Thus allowing users to switch between scheduled missions and event-driven outings to ensure all eventualities are taken care of.

Noise footprint

For security use, a low noise footprint is imperative. Early intrusion detection and effective situational awareness and communication are also vital to ensure users can react to situations as they develop.

There is normally a pay-off between resolution and stealth. The further a drone is from a target the less likely it is to be detected but the more compromised the thermal imaging could be. Interestingly, the intelligence and defense sectors are working on intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) to ensure the use of thermal drones is as beneficial as possible.

Situational Awareness

These imperative skills rely on timely and accurate communication from the drone to the user. Situational awareness (SA) also allows a drone to carry out operational responses to security incidents.

Many ISTAR operations require a discreet presence and the ability to function and monitor without detection. Therefore, it is important to have a rotor design which minimizes noise. As well as strong sensor payloads, which enable sufficient distance from objects of interest.

Through the effective collecting data and intelligence, the drones help with target acquisition. And also learning about different operational environments.


Finally, flexibility is key when it comes to surveillance. Drones need to be able to change flight paths mid-mission in order to pursue a target if necessary. This includes detecting and identifying movement in the distance to begin with.

A multi-rotor AUV reduces the noise footprint so it is indiscernible at less than 200 meters. The strong thermal sensors will still pick up the necessary imagery.

The high endurance needed by these commercial surveillance and security drones includes manoeuvrability in times of high winds. And the ability to hover around a point of interest. The longer flight times ensure that entire flights routes aren’t taken up factoring in the Return to Landing function.

Read more about drones in security and surveillance here…

Intelligent commercial drones with infrared technology

Even within this relatively new area of the surveillance and security industry, huge leaps are made with the deployment or artificial intelligence (AI).

High capacity connectivity ensures a broad and secure bandwidth over an extended range, providing real-time feedback during operational conditions. Intelligent sensing harnesses object detection and tracking and uses AI to create a superior ISTAR solution that is extremely effective in the field.

In contrast to consumer drones, these commercial solutions use Beyond Visual Line of Sight technology to further enhance object detection and tracking.

The following table highlights the difference between consumer class drones and a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones:

UAV ComparisonRegular UAV (Consumer)BVLOS UAV
Typical flight-time15 – 25min45 – 90min
Typical payload200g (simple)Up to 2kgs (complex, powerful)
ConnectivityTelemetry / FPVHD download of up to 24Mb

The Airborne Drones solution

Airborne Drones focuses on the design, manufacture, and marketing of long-range drones (including 10km, 20km and 35km). And with the ability to carry payloads of up to 8kgs, for industrial strength commercial use.

Whether you are looking for a single drone or a fleet, it is easy and cost-effective to upscale depending on your project. The intelligent monitoring systems make ISTAR much more effective.

When it comes to thermal imagery within commercial drone technology, The Atlas-T is the ideal solution.
It provides for:

  • Persistent aerial presence with long flight times
  • Improve situational awareness with powerful sensor payloads
  • Early intrusion detection with thermal sensors and low noise footprint
  • Night time operations with thermal sensors
  • Tactical flexibility with both scheduled and event-driven missions

Discover how you can future-proof your business with the use of thermal imaging drones. Contact Airborne Drones for your security solution today.

Also read about drones with night vision cameras..