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FLIR thermal cameras integrated with UAVs

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article image FLIR’s Quark 640 thermal sensor is integrated in the Huginn X1 drone to give customers a thermal vision option
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A leading Denmark-based manufacturer of UAVs has integrated FLIR’s Quark 640 longwave infrared thermal sensor into their Huginn X1 drone to give customers a thermal vision option.

Sky-Watch designs and manufactures quad-rotor UAVs for military, law enforcement, security, firefighting, and search and rescue applications. 

Originally, the X1 drone was designed to manage a single payload. But Quark’s compact size allowed Sky-Watch to design a dual-payload version that was capable of simultaneously operating a Quark thermal camera core and a visible spectrum camera. 

Sky-Watch caters to customers in emergency management, encompassing fire brigades, police, security, and search and rescue. All of their customers have a common need to be able to see at night so they can find missing or camouflaged people. Night vision cameras were too bulky for their platform. Michael Messerschmidt, Sky-Watch Business Development Manager explains a thermal solution is much better for base protection and compound protection.

After scouring the market for the right thermal camera core to use on the X1, Sky-Watch decided to use the Quark thanks to its size and form factor. Messerschmidt added that its small size allowed them to place a daylight and thermal camera next to each other, enabling dual sensor capability, which was unique on this small platform.

Once Sky-Watch selected Quark as its thermal payload, they faced a few challenges integrating the core into their system. First, they tried to design their own interface board to power the core and stream video. However, their design created too much noise so they turned to the VPC interface board FLIR designed specifically for Quark and found that it worked perfectly.

The second challenge involved calibration, or flat-field correction (FFC), which is necessary to maintain a more uniform thermal image. Since Quark does not have a shutter, an FFC must be performed using an external reference source. Sky-Watch solved this by developing a pan/tilt on the Quark that tilted it inward to face a ‘flat field’. This action sends an FFC command to Quark to correct the image. Quark initially calibrates whenever it’s powered on, but the X1 drone operator can initiate an FFC calibration at any time from the user interface. 

Once Sky-Watch plugged into the Quark VPC, they created all the controls and software that operated the camera. From a ground station, an operator can control X1 from more than a mile away with the user interface. 

Control features include video recording via live feed on the ground station computer; designating a waypoint route and points of interest on the way prior to launch; and guide in real time based on live video feedback. 

Flight time for a single payload is 23 to 24 minutes; for a dual payload that time drops to about 21 minutes.

Sky-Watch also added another layer of protection for the Quark by designing the X1 with a front-mounted payload. When the X1 lands, Quark automatically turns upward from the ground to protect the lens.

Quark gives Sky-Watch a competitive edge because it increases flight time. X1 is the only platform of its size that weighs less than 1.5kg and has dual sensor capability. 

Sky-Watch integrated a Quark 640 longwave infrared thermal sensor into its Huginn X1 quad-rotor UAV. Its combination of size, performance, and thermal capability makes it a standout in the small UAV market.

FLIR thermal imaging cameras are available in Australia from FLIR Systems Australia .

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