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Drone technology for infrared thermography

Drone technology for infrared thermography

You may want to have an infrared survey carried out for a variety of reasons. Infrared thermal imaging technology is ideal for detecting defects and energy deficiencies of buildings and housing stocks. Combined with drone technology, it becomes a limitless tool.

Let's take a closer look at drones.

ENHANCING IRT SURVEYING: FROM FOOTPRINTS TO DRONE FLIGHTS

For 16 years IRT Surveys have been surveying buildings using infrared thermographic (IRT) cameras. Mostly on foot. This means that when it is a high building or a flat roof which needs surveyed, equipment  such as cherry pickers have to be hired. This has cost implications for our clients and Health & Safety implications for our certified thermographers and anybody or building in the surrounding area.

There are other technologies available:

  • Radio controlled tethered air balloons: wind and power lines make them impractical.
  • Telescopic pneumatic mast bolted to a van:  a relatively successful technology that IRT Surveys used for years. Ideal then to capture an entire flat roof in a handful of images. The downsides are time-consuming set up, dangerous in windy conditions, and taking images at weird and unexpected angles. Also from a practical point of view, parking the van at the correct location for carrying out the infrared survey can be problematic. The whistling noise created when driving the van is also distracting. Today, masts are largely a thing of the past thanks to other technological advances.
  • Radio controlled helicopters have been around for years, but are difficult to fly and terrifying with the blades and internal combustion engines wiring away.

Nowadays we use drones. IRT Surveys have a small fleet of drones in the UK operated by CAA approved, ITC qualified thermographers with night-time licenses.

3 ADVANTAGES OF DRONE TECHNOLOGY FOR IRT SURVEYING

Drones are a breeze to fly and present at least three main advantages.

  1. Drones are safe and get the camera to places that are cost-prohibited by any ground based system. From a high vantage point we can also cover large areas in a short window of time.  They are therefore ideal for tall building and flat roof surveying.
  2. They are capable of carrying thermal imaging cameras better than handheld ones to heights that neither a mast nor a cherry picker could reach.
  3. The flight plan can be programmed on a tablet allowing the drone to fly largely autonomously . Since it’s usually us humans that crash the things, this can only be a good thing.

As with any technology, they aren't perfect and and their future will be determined by regulation. Many companies are investing in anti-drone technology now to shoot drones out of the sky. We shall see how this materialises.

CONDITIONS TO USE DRONE TECHNOLOGY FOR IRT SURVEYING

  • The thermographer must have the permission to survey the buildings, the owners/tenants and neighbouring buildings of the activity.
  • An area adjacent to the surveying site must be cordoned off for take-off and landing.
  • A qualified operator has to provide his permissions to operate with certificate from the CAA. Without this the operator will not be insured.
  • They has to carry out risk assessments that are site specific.
  • Finally they also need thermography experience in order to capture the correct data and setting up the correct parameters required for the job in hand.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THE USE OF DRONE TECHNOLOGY IN IRT SURVEYING?

Like all emerging technologies, the sector is full of “give-it-a-go-heroes”. Fast forward 5-10 years they will be gone, the market consolidated and a handful of professionals left doing it properly.

For IRT surveys, it is a nice thing to have available to us. Still 95% of our surveys are still done on foot by thermographers at night in low wind.

Maybe down the line when you call we will simply deploy a local drone to your building and not need the skilled local thermographers to actually take the pictures at all. Their role will become one of convincing you it’s a good idea and to talk you through the findings and recommend solutions based upon technical knowledge and experience.

Looking in the short to medium term, at IRT Surveys, we can’t see the drones replacing a skilled human just yet though. But like the humble hammer, there will come times when you need a drone. It is always handy to have the tool in your box.

Do you have high buildings or flat roofs which require surveyed with thermal imaging? If so, please do contact us for a fast, impartial and clear survey.