Low Cost Thermal Pan Tilt Zoom (FLIR PTZ) Gimbal WISH LIST

What would you like to see in a thermal pan tilt platform to make it effective for UAV usage?

I am with a company called SPI Corp and we manufacture a low cost multi sensor pan tilt platform called the M1-D. The M1-D initially was developed for use on ground vehicles but due to its light weight, small size and low cost it has become very popular with folks in the aerial imaging world including both manned and unmanned craft. We are anxious to make this an even better product for UAV usage especially in the low cost market. We are reaching out to the UAV community for help in this endeavor (especially you guys at DIY Drones).  What we would like to know is what technical features would make our system even better for use in UAV's? If you could have anything you want in a low cost UAV Gimbal imaging system what would you ask for? What would be the bare minimum you would need to make the M1-D pan tilt thermal camera a workable UAV solution?  Current imaging systems are extremely expensive. It is our hope that by starting with our current low cost solution, and with a little help from the community, we can come up with a low cost UAV solution that will enable everyone to incorporate advanced imaging into their UAV project.

Our current system specs:

Fully enclosed pan tilt gimbal

Sensor Payload - Thermal Imaging, CCTV and Laser Pointer

Diameter of ball - 4.5"

Diameter of base - 5"

Height - 6.5"

Weight ~ 2lbs.

Pan - 360 degree continuous

Tilt - 90 degree

Pan Tilt Speed - Pan: 0.05~220°/sec; Tilt: 0.03~140°/sec

Video Output - Analog Composite single line NTSC or PAL

Communication Camera Control - RS/485 PELCO-D protocol

Inverted Mounting - Yes capable

Hardware specs such as size and weight are obviously difficult to change. What are the key features that you would need to integrate into your UAV project? Are there specific interfaces that are commonly used? Please post comments and let us know what you would like to see in the M1-D to make it even better for UAV imaging.

We look forward to your input.

Thank you

Randall Kolchins



Views: 25586

Comment by Jamie Glover on December 11, 2012 at 11:36am

We were just talking about this camera this morning.  One thing that was discussed is how o incorperate it in a plug and play style format for the PTZ to be operated off of the APM Board. Im not an electrinics guru, and I havent had much experience with how the PTZ currently connects, but I would assume a futaba style connector for the servos would be the biggest help.


Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on December 11, 2012 at 11:44am

Price is obviously a big deal.  What is the ballpark price of your system?

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on December 11, 2012 at 11:50am


The 2 lbs weight is a real killer. It would take a fairly large model to carry your present configuration along with all the other onboard hardware.

Just a thought.



Comment by Carl Campbell on December 11, 2012 at 12:18pm

Well first off what is the optical zoom as you advertise it as a Pan Tilt Zoom camera?

What do you classify as low cost? Under $2000?

Are you using Genuine FLIR thermal imaging cores or are you just using a marketing buzzword as an abbreviation for Forward Looking Infra Red?

Comment by Randall Kolchins on December 11, 2012 at 12:22pm

Jamie, this is good information. Please excuse my ignorance but what is an APM board? Our system is controlled by serial RS485 commands using the PELCO-D protocol. We would like to understand the electronics and setups that you guys are using for UAV's so that we can either develop a "plug and play" solution or give you the information to make your own. Here is some information for you on PELCO-D, RS485 and Arduino. Any thoughts from you guys on how this should all work together would really help us in the direction we need to go to put something together for you.

This company is the place to go for serial work. They have a lot of resources for RS232, 422 and 485. The sell an analyzer and converters so you can read and write commands on your PC. These tools are great for figuring out serial commands from existing devices. They also explain Pelco-D


This is a codeproject page that has Pelco-D in C#. Good reference.


Here is an RS-485 Shield for arduino


Comment by Randall Kolchins on December 11, 2012 at 12:28pm

R_Lefebvre and Thomas J Coyle III,

For a pan tilt mutli sensor system the 2lb weight is pretty low but we do understand that in the airborne world weight is very critical. We are working on some ideas to shave a little off but as I mentioned these types of hardware changes are difficult. For price we have our entry level system with thermal camera, visual camera, laser pointer and pan tilt base at $3900 MSRP. For a system like this with all these features and thermal sensor that is very low cost. Other airborne systems seem to range from $20k to $100k+.

Comment by Hunter Parris on December 11, 2012 at 12:33pm

APM is the ArduPilot Mega board.  It is essentially an Arduino.  The RS-485 Shield looks interesting.  Any APM programmer have any input as to the programming capabilities of the APM software and hardware?

Also, the two pounds isn't that much for a decent sized UAS.  the batteries people are using on the X-8 and such are over 2 lbs.  So a fuel-powered high wing loading UAS shouldn't have a problem carrying this under the CG.

Comment by Randall Kolchins on December 11, 2012 at 12:34pm

John C

We are looking into the PWM interface. Help me understand how you use this.

Do you use an RC Radio to send a command to the Arduino for translation?

Would you like to use a stick on an RC Radio to control the camera pan tilt?

Would you like the camera to be autonomous based on data or triggers you input? In other words would you have an Arduino read GPS signals and then autonomously position the camera based on location, altitude or other variable?

What about video? Do most people have video downlink radios or do they have digital recording in the aircraft for later review?

Do you have a good resource to point us to that outlines the typical electronics setup in your UAV projects?

Comment by Randall Kolchins on December 11, 2012 at 12:38pm


Thanks for the explanation of APM. BTW I should have mentioned the power requirements of the M1-D. Currently it is a 12VDC system.

Comment by Hunter Parris on December 11, 2012 at 12:44pm

The APM uses our RC signal input for mode switching and outputs a PWM signal to the RC-style servos to autonomously control and stabilize the aircraft.  To make it more Plug & Play and user-friendly for the APM, the input signal being directly compatible with the APM (i.e. PWM for servos), would make this unit ideal for a sUAS thermal imaging device using the ArduPilot.  Also, the APM incorporates servo-driven camera gimbals and can automatically stabilize the camera and a simple point and click on the ground station software to tell the camera to look at a particular location on the map.  


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