To provide a sense of scale, the FLIR Vue is pictured beside the GoPro HERO sports camera.
Not only are the two similar in size, their weights are within a few grams of each other.
The Roswell Flight Test Crew
has used FLIR thermal-imaging
cameras to demonstrate the
potential use of drones to first
responders, as seen here during
a structural firefighting exercise.
The FLIR Vue makes this
capability available at a fraction
of the cost.
Thermal imaging for all
The Roswell Flight Test Crew was fortunate to be given an early opportunity to integrate a thermal-imaging camera into our FPV systems. No doubt it helped that we were among the first to demonstrate how multirotor drones could
assist firefighters, and also that FLIR Systems—the world’s leading manufacturer of
thermal cameras—is located practically in our backyard.
Being a pioneer was not without its challenges, however. First, thermal-imaging
cameras were absurdly expensive when we started experimenting with them—a
bare camera core was $10,000. Had FLIR not provided us with the hardware to
demonstrate its potential, it would have been completely beyond our means.
Second, actually making the camera work with our FPV system wasn’t a step that
we could take for granted. The camera required its own stable and consistent power
supply, which meant putting a separate battery onboard the aircraft—not an optimal
solution when you’re trying to save weight.
Furthermore, the video signal coming out through its nonstandard connector
was described as “NTSC-ish”—almost, but not exactly, like the National Television
System Committee standard that is used for video transmission in the US.
However, the effort was worth it. The uses of a FLIR-equipped drone are myriad.
Structural and wildland
firefighting, building and
search and rescue, scientific
conservation, and wildlife
management—the list goes
on, but these applications
would only achieve their full potential if
thermal-imaging cameras could be made
less expensive and easier to use.
A Vue for You
Fortunately, FLIR Systems—now an
ongoing sponsor of our adventures—saw
the same potential that we did and set
about building a camera specifically for
drone use: the Vue, and now the Vue
Pro. Physically, the Vue series of cameras
closely resembles the FLIR Tau camera
cores that we have used for the past
several years. However, they have been
streamlined and optimized for use on
sUAS and the price has been drastically
reduced to approximately $1,500 for a
still-very-capable base model.
The Vue doesn’t include all of the
same features as the Tau, but they aren’t
features you will miss while you’re
using the camera onboard a drone. The
advantages are substantial.
First of all, power gets into the camera
and video comes out through a standard
10-pin mini-USB connector—exactly
the same as you would use for a GoPro
HERO sports camera. That makes it easy
to integrate into an existing FPV system.
If that’s your plan, I suggest adding a
remote camera switch to your aircraft,
so that you can change back and forth
between the FLIR and the more familiar
view provided by your visible-light
camera on the fly.
The Vue also resembles the HERO in
its overall physical dimensions, weighing
between 92 and 114 grams depending
on its configuration, versus 89 grams
for the HERO4 without its protective
enclosure or 152 grams
The Vue Pro,
announced last year
at the InterDrone
Exposition in Las
Vegas, adds even more
capabilities. It records
8-bit thermal video or
14-bit still images onto a
standard micro-SD card.
That’s huge. To capture
clean video from our Tau,
we had to put a separate
DVR downstream from
93 Model Aviation JANUARY 2016 www.ModelAviation.com
ADVANCED FLIGHT TECHNOLOGIES