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Night-vision drones could come to the rescue

Image: Drones
DJI says the thermal-imaging Zenmuse XT camera can go on its Inspire 1 and Matrice M100 drones.

One of the world’s best-known drone manufacturers, DJI, has partnered with one of the world’s best-known infrared imaging companies, FLIR Systems, to create thermal-imaging cameras for aerial vehicles.

But don’t expect to take your DJI Phantom out for night-vision flights anytime soon: These cameras are designed for higher-end drones and specialized applications. And besides, the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t cleared drones for routine nighttime flying.

he cameras coming out of the collaboration between China-based DJI and Oregon-based FLIR are more likely to be used during the day – for example, to help firefighters see through smoke, to help farmers monitor crop health from above, or to assist in search-and-rescue operations. Infrared imaging is particularly well-suited for those applications, day or night.

And sure, if law enforcement agents are looking for the bad guys after dark, thermal-imaging drones can come in handy. Night-vision aerial imagery, conducted using a camera-equipped helicopter, played a crucial role in capturing Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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