Professional Paylaod Technical Specs
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Professional Payloads for drones

Professional payloads identify that set of specific tools for performing professional activities that can be mounted on a drone, such as: the multispectral camera, the thermal imaging camera, the radiometric camera, the lidar, the professional video camera, etc. The purpose of this article is to provide a reference to identify the important technical specs that must be taken into account when choosing any type of professional payload for the drone.

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Contenuti

Payload for specific activities

As already mentioned, there can be various types of professional payloads that a drone, obviously also it “professional”, can carry. Some drone manufactures like DJI have also launched into this field, but most professional payloads are not produced by drone builders. A good example is provided by Flir and Workswell.

Among the most known and used payloads for drones we have:

  • Multi-spectral cameras, for surveys in precision agriculture and mapping;
  • Lidar laser scanner, for mapping and surveys;
  • Thermal cameras, for thermographic surveys and analysis;
  • Professional video cameras, for cinematography, photos and surveys.

Each of the professional payloads listed above has a series of parameters (technical specifications) that must be carefully evaluated in the choice.

The only important common parameter for the different professional payloads is the weight of the payload itself which has its relevance to the type of professional drone used. In other words, the weight of the payload must always be less than the payload accepted by the drone. The drone must also be able to house the payload, or the latter must be compatible with the existing payload mounting system or at least use one compatible with the drone.

inally, is igood to recall the strategic role, especially in the future, of the professional payloads in the acquisition of aerial data and the role of commercial microsensors as payloads for the future.

Multi-spectral camera

Multi-spectral cameras are professional payloads used mainly in agriculture to establish a series of information on crops such as health index, vegetation analysis, surveys.

MicaSense Altum Camera multispectral -Termocamera UAv
MicaSense Altum – Source Micasense website

Multi spectral camera Technical specifications

The elements to focus on when choosing a multi-spectral cameras include:

  • Sensor resolution,
  • Filters.

Sensor resolution

The resolution of the multi-spectrum camera sensor is very important, as the quality of the surveys depend on this. Resolutions above 10MP are therefore essential. So the higher the MP resolution, the better is the result.

Filters

The multispectral camera, by its nature must be able to see what the human eye does not perceive, therefore besides the range included in the visible from 380 to 780 nm, it is fundamental the presence of filters for wavelengths related to: Blue, Green , Red, Red-edge, near IR. The presence of filters is therefore fundamental for a multi-spectral camer.

Lidar scanner

The LIDAR scanners (Light Detection And Ranging), are professional payloads used for precision surveys for the realization of 3D images, high resolution maps, etc.

Riegl VUX-1UAV Lidar laser scanner for drone
Riegl VUX-1UAV – Source Riegl website

Lidar laser scanner Technical specifications

The elements to focus on in choosing Lidar laser scanner for drone are the followings:

  • PPR (Pulse Repetition Rate),
  • Max measurement range,
  • Max flight height,
  • Accuracy,
  • Precision,
  • Max measurement rate,
  • Laser wavelength.

Pulse Repetiton Rate

The Pulse Repetition Rate (PPR) indicates the frequency (measured in Hz), with which the laser scanner detects. This parameter influences the accuracy of the data collected. Greater is the accuracy, greater is the result.

Maximum measurement range

Maximum measurement range indicates the range of measurements taken according to the relation to a given PPR and with an established FOV. The higher the maximum measurement range per second, better is the result.

Maximum flight height

The maximum flight height indicates the maximum quota that can be reached in relation to certain PPR for the purpose of survey with well-defined performances reported in the datasheet of the laser lidar.

Accuracy

The accuracy expressed in mm (millimeters), indicates the level of detail that can be reached by LIDAR. For some models it may depend on the flight height and the PPR. The lower is the value provided for this parameter, greater is the accuracy.

Precision

The precision indicates the level of precision expressed in mm (millimeters) at a given altitude. Even for this parameter, lower is the value, greater is the precision.

Max measurement rate

The max measurement rate indicates the maximum number of measurements per second, taken by the LIDAR. Higher is the maximum measurement value per second, better is the result.

Laser wavelength

The laser wavelenght Indicates the wavelength of the LIDAR laser scanner. A Lidar must include wavelengths for near infrared (NIR).

Thermal Camera

The thermal imaging cameras allow to perform thermographic surveys with drones in the building and solar sector to identify defects such as detachments, infiltrations in the buildings and malfunctions in the solar panels.

Flir Vue Pro R Themral camera for droens
FLIR Vue Pro R – Source Flir website

Thermal Camera technical specifications

The elements to keep in mind when choosing the thermal camera for the drone are:

  • Thermal camera sensitivity,
  • FOV and IFOV,
  • Thermal camera resolution.

Thermal camera sensitivity

The thermal camera sensitivity expressed in oC indicates the smallest measurable temperature difference between adjacent pixels. For a manual thermal camera it is of the order of <0.04oC.

Lower  is the value, more accurate is the measurement of the temperature in a certain point.

FOV and IFOV

FOV and IFOV are two spatial parameters of the thermal camera and indicate the FOV (filed of view) the maximum covered area (view) from the camera at 1 meter away, while the IFOV indicates the minimum size of the object framed by the thermal camera expressed in mm (millimeters) 1 meter away. The IFOV is therefore an indicator of the level of measurement in terms of object size that the thermal camera can see.

Thermal resolution

The thermal resolution of a thermal camera indicates the number of pixels (horizontal and vertical) of resolution. For manual thermal cameras, a good level is 320 x 240 pixels (but even higher resolutions can be achievedi.

To learn more about the subject of thermography with drone it is suggested to read the article in the Blog “Thermography with drone“.

Professional video cameras

Professional video cameras are multi-purpose professional payloads, in the sense that they can be used for film shoots, photos, but also for surveys and aerial photography with drone.

Dji Zenmuse X4s Video camera gimbal 3 3 axes for drones
Zenumuse X4S – gimbal 3 axes – Source DJI store

Professional camera technical specifications

The elements to be analyzed in choosing the professional camera for the drone are:

  • Photo resolution,
  • Video resolution,
  • Photo-video format.

Photo resolution

The photographic resolution in Mpixel is the one fundamental element to keep in mind when choosing the professional camera for the drone. Higher is the resolution, better the photo quality will be. Also keep in mind that different professional camcorders offer different resolutions for the different formats such as 3: 2, 4: 3 and 16: 9.

Video resolution

The video photographic resolution, is an important aspect in the professional camera’s technical specs as a professional payload for the drone. 4K resolution, Ultra HD must therefore be present. Furthermore the number of frames per second fps must be sufficiently high in relation to the resolution offered, higher is the number of frames per second the more the video will be fluid.

Photo-video format

Finally, last but not least, in the choice of the professional video camera is the output format of the photos and videos. The presence of the RAW format for the photos offers the opportunity of a better post-processing of the same photos, compared to the JPG formats.

Likewise, for the video sector, the possibility of having output formats such as MP4, MOV, DNG RAW (Digital Negative) is important.

The DNG format, which is not proprietary, lends itself in particular to filing long-term streamers, in the sense that it has become a standard like ISO and therefore all future software products, they will certainly have the opportunity to read and manipulate this format.

Payload power

Another important apsect, or parameter that must be taken into due consideration in the choice of the professional payload for the drone is the power supply system of the payload itself. Considering that all payloads need an energy source to function, it is good to know where they will absorb energy: whether through a stand-alone battery system or through connection to the drone’s energy system. In this last case it is good to carefully evaluate the connection methods (which require the intervention of experts), and the impact of absorption on the autonomy of the flight of the drone. Therefore plug-play professional payloads with autonomous power sources are preferable.

Conclusions

The choice of a professional payload for the drone must therefore be made first of all in relation to the type of activity that one wishes to carry out with the drone, and cannot disregard the technical specs of the payload. So it is essential to know what are the important features of professional payloads for drones so that they can be evaluated even autonomously.


Note regarding the images: The images of the payloads showed in the article are taken from the websites of the individual manufacturers who are the legitimate owners. The names of the manufacturers and the related links to the websites are mentioned under each image. The use of images has the exclusive purpose of a better understanding of the contents of the article. The foreground image was created by 4mydrone.

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Last Updated on/Ultimo aggiornamento – 27/07/2020

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