Written by Jake Carter
We’ve watched drones become increasingly popular in recent years. They are now commonly used not only by hobbyists, but by professionals too. Those of us who want to fly for a living need to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 exam to prove we know aeronautical terms and safety laws. Passing requires a score of 70% or above and will earn you a commercially-certified remote sUAS pilot’s license valid for two years.
Often, we see drones buzzing around, capturing footage at weddings or other special events. But some of the less-well-known applications of professional drone work involve the use of thermography: you know, that really cool effect where cameras pick up the amount of heat (infrared thermal radiation) given off by objects. This is achieved using a thermal imaging camera. Let’s check out some of the amazing ways certified drone pilots can make money using drone aerial thermography.
1.) Search and Rescue
One of the most important applications of aerial thermography involves locating missing people. A drone pilot can assist public safety officers in their search for someone who is potentially trapped or lost in the wilderness. By responding with urgency and accuracy, we could help save lives. Aerial thermography can be used during any time of the day or night, as it involves a camera that reads heat, not light.
2.) Fire Fighting
Similar to search and rescue, firefighting efforts are urgent and often involve saving lives. Drone pilots can use aerial thermography to gather information about a fire, such as its location, size, and temperature. They can also help locate people who might be trapped in burning buildings or wildfires. Drones can ‘see through’ smoke and help incident commanders keep track of their personnel during large firefighting efforts.
3.) First Response
First-responders have specialized training and are among the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency. This could include a car crash, natural disaster, crime scene, or terrorist attack. Drone pilots could be called to such a site to quickly gather information using an aerial perspective. Thermography would help identify bodies of potential victims, witnesses, and criminals, or relevant materials such as liquids and gas.
You might recall the time when aerial thermography helped first responders locate one of the men responsible for the appalling bombing that took place during the Boston Marathon in April 2013. A helicopter detected the man’s body as he lay hidden inside a docked boat. “We have what’s called a FLIR — a forward-looking infrared device — on that helicopter,” describes Colonel Timothy Alben of the Massachusetts State Police. “It picked up the heat signature of the individual, even though he was underneath what appeared to be the ‘shrink wrap’ or cover on the boat itself.”
4.) Solar Farm/ Solar Panel Inspection
Inspecting solar panels from the ground is nearly impossible given their height and skyward positioning. Manual inspections are also very time-consuming, expensive, and dangerous. A drone can scan large solar panel installations in a matter of minutes, easily identifying module faults, string and system faults, and problems with how well the solar panel modules are mounted. Even one malfunctioning cell causes decreased power output of its entire panel.
5.) Roofing & Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Inspection
Manual building inspections are time-consuming and dangerous. Drones can assess both residential and commercial structures quickly, without placing anyone on the roof! Aerial thermography will identify trapped moisture problems, hidden damage spreading through underlying structures, and areas of energy loss.
To learn more about thermography, and see many great small-scale applications of its effectiveness, check out this entertaining video by Mehdi Sadaghdar. He demonstrates how thermographic cameras can help us detect problems with air flow and moisture.
6.) Power Line Inspection
Thanks to the use of aerial thermography, drones can inspect power lines with no risk to employees. They can detect any faults or damages that might otherwise result in electrical fire, which can save money, materials, and lives. Aerial thermography is especially useful with power lines that are high-voltage or difficult to access. It can even evaluate power lines in transformer stations, systems that are very large with control elements that are tough to access.
7.) Cell Tower Inspection
Until recently, cell-phone towers had to be inspected by brave men and women who were willing to climb hundreds of feet to check for working circuitry. This was not only hazardous to employees, it also resulted in high insurance rates. Aerial thermography allows us to accurately assess how well the cell phone tower is functioning. AT&T has already adopted the practice of inspecting cell towers using drones.
8.) Pipeline Inspection
Pipelines help us transport all sorts of material, from hot water to crude oil to sewage. But like all pieces of equipment, they, too, are imperfect. Drone aerial thermography can fly above the entire length of pipeline and detect potentially hazardous situations. This could include broken underground pipes, damaged tubes, and defective heat insulation.
As technology expands, so do the opportunities available to professional drone pilots. If you’re interested in pursuing the type of work described above, you may need to do a lot of outreach to local organizations. That’s because some of these applications of drone use are new and have not been widely implemented yet.
Pitch your ideas directly to the people you’re interested in working with and lay out the clear benefits of cooperation. You may be able to work directly for hire or be paid to train other professionals to use drones in their line of work. Whether or not you use your drone to make money currently, always fly with respect to local laws. Stay safe and see you in the sky!
Jake Carter is a drone enthusiast and writer at RC Hobby Review follow him on Twitter @RCHobbyReview or Facebook @RCHOBBYREVIEW