New Thermal Imaging Software Helps Drone Operators Keep It Cool

DroneDeploy's new Thermal Live Map allows users to see live thermal imaging data from a flying drone.

A building in Thermal Live Map view. (Image courtesy of DroneDeploy.)

A building in Thermal Live Map view. (Image courtesy of DroneDeploy.)

Drone software company DroneDeploy recently announced the launch of its Thermal Live Map, a thermal mapping tool that allows drone operators to see temperature variability on the ground in realtime. The tool joins the company’s recently released Live Map, which performs the same kind of real-time data transfer for visible-spectrum light.

Previous thermal imaging software was generally low resolution and relied on post-flight analysis of the images. Ryan Moret, southern regional field solutions manager for McCarthy Building Companies, had been lobbying DroneDeploy to release a tool like this one for almost a year. “You have countless solar panels. You fly the thermal camera over, and maybe you break it down into a grid,” said Moret describing the situation to Engineering News-Record. “Every time you find an abnormality, you mark it on a plan to give context of where the photo was taken—and do it all day long sitting in the desert working on snapshots, using whatever markup tool we have.”

With Thermal Live Map, drone operators can get live thermal footage from their drones streamed directly to their smartphones, without needing an SD card or an Internet connection. The display is colorcoded to show temperatures, and operators can view both the data as it’s collected and the larger image it’s being “stitched” into. The map. which is saved to the phone or tablet, syncs to the cloud once the device is connected to the Internet.

Real-time thermal imaging can help solar panel operators like McCarthy easily locate overheating panels, but it also has many other possible applications: finding cracks and temperature leaks in buildings, locating people lost in dense terrain like forests, and even helping firefighters locate where a fire is hottest.

“Rather than searching for a needle in a haystack, you have a map to tell you right where to look,” Grant Hagen, virtual design and construction manager at The Beck Group, said in the company’s statement on the new software. “The work input to value output with drone-based thermal imagery is game-changing. It’s unlike anything else in construction technology right now.”

But the revolutionary tech isn’t available to everyone. The software is limited to iOS devices, and can currently only be used with DJI drones because of DJI’s Occusync transmission technology. When asked for an explanation of the phone limitations, the company explained that the diversity of Android phones mean that an Android version is a long-term project:“Starting with iOS has allowed us to deliver this solution to customers much faster. We’ll continue to evaluate making Live Map available to our Android customers, but no specific date has been set at this time.”

In the meantime, customers like Moret appear satisfied with the new software. “We’re excited about what it can do for us,” he said. “This could be so much easier. It definitely will speed getting from a photo to something that is meaningful and putting it into the team’s hands.”