Even entry-level consumer drones can now can see infrared radiation

3DR has now announced a gimbal mount for integrating FLIR cameras with the popular Solo model, a beginner-friendly "smart" quadcopter.

Solo drone with thermal gimbal

Photo: 3DR

Thermal cameras have been integrated with high end commercial drones to produce aerial images of infrared (IR) radiation that is invisible to the human eye. Now, even casual recreational drone pilots can see the invisible .

3DR has now announced a gimbal mount for integrating FLIR cameras with the popular Solo model, a beginner-friendly "smart" quadcopter that launched last year. Solo is known for its autonomous features, which are backed by the processing power of twin Linux computers on the copter and the controller. Now that power can be used for more than just taking regular photos and videos.

Until recently, consumers who wanted to add thermal cameras to drones had to either use expensive UAVs, hard-mount their thermal cameras, or come up with hacks to attach IR cameras to their drones. This isn't easy or very effective, since the imagery that is captured is blurry.

A gimbal -- a motorized gyroscopic device that stabilizes a camera -- solves this problem. 3DR's Roger Sollenberger explains, "It's like putting a Steadicam on a drone. If you don't have a gimbal for your camera, whatever imagery you're capturing will be shaky and pretty much unusable."

Amateur drone operators have taken stunning photos and videos with gimbal mounted GoPros, but thermal cameras have lagged behind. Last December, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI came out with the Zenmuse XT, a gimbal mounted FLIR sensor. This week 3DR unveiled its thermal gimbal, which is an important step for Solo, and affordable consumer drones in general.

"This puts high-quality, actionable aerial thermal imagery -- which is incredibly valuable for a host of applications -- within reach of many, many more people," says Sollenberger.

The 3-axis stabilized Made for Solo gimbal is now available for pre-order from OEM Cameras. It sends a live feed of IR imagery straight to a user's mobile screen. Commercial drones have used IR imaging for applications such as construction, infrastructure and grid inspection, search and rescue, and crop management and forest health.

In a press release announcing Solo's thermal gimbal, 3DR writes, "Solo's ease of use, autonomy and price point, when coupled with the FLIR, radically democratize this ability, making it easy and efficient for any commercial user to get the IR data they need."

Recreational pilots won't have quite as many potential uses, but now that the technology is more accessible, there's no doubt we'll see some creative thermal drone projects emerge.