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



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  • I want to drop this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqlptPhFmk0 of someone using a flir camera mounted on a drone. The video is very usable without a zoom.

    Most stepper drivers take a pulse input similar to pwm which would be very easy to integrate with a apm for example the EasyDriver.

    I really think a standalone DSLR mount camera would be the best option. It would be a lower weight and would integrate easily with there current video set-up.

  • Moderator
    Yes, there is an excellent developer kit. Try the APM2.5+, and explore the HiL mode of operation. All the source code and instructions are available, as is a large community of developers and experts for community support. I believe the cost is running around $189 right now, and you will need a reliable bench power supply to drive servos.
  • Scotty
    Interesting. We don't use servos but I believe they are stepper motors (I will check with engineering on that). So how would the APM control this? What would we need to provide in the way of interface? Can you recommend a good developer kit that would simulate what most of you are running in your UAV's? This way I can get the guys playing with some of these ideas.
  • I think three improvements that could be made;

    1 would be to remove those magnets underneath, and remove as much of the casing as posible; weight savings.

    2 would be to integrate a small IMU into the pan tilt mount so you could do self stabilization of the lens, allowing for better tracking and targeting.

    3 would be to break out the servo/stepper motor connections directly. The APM and APM2 are more than capable of producing signal outputs for these.

  • Mark,

    I agree the Quark 640 is awesome and like I said we are working with the Quark right now. The two biggest problems so far with Quark are

    1. The core is not yet perfect in terms of image drift and performance. They will get the image right but it is not there yet.

    2. PRICE. The Quark 640 core costs much more than our entire system. One off pricing on that core is about $8k. Hardly makes for a low cost system core.

    The image will get better and the price will come down. Like I said we are working on projects with Quark and when it is ready we will be too.


    The D15's listed on Ebay are a very special case. These are close out items basically sold at a loss. It might be possible to come up with a thermal box cam that would mount to gimbals made for DSLR type cameras but with an interface for your UAV setups around the 2K mark maybe $2500?  What if the basic cam just had power in and analog video output as Sandro mentioned? You think that would be appealing?  We can put together something like that in a size and weight much less than most DSLR setups.

    Mark Lanning

    We all would love optical zoom but in thermal we can forget about it. At least in Low Cost Thermal. Lenses for thermal cameras are not glass they are usually made out of germanium crystal or other exotic materials. Fixed thermal lenses are expensive themselves but when you start talking about multi element optical zoom lenses forget about it. Keep in mind that due to the lack of sensitivity in thermal sensors (yes all of them) lenses need to be in the f/1 to f/1.4 range to really work. This means that they are very large for a given focal length. Large lenses mean heavy payloads and very expensive products. The f number limitation also means we wont see long zoom thermal cameras in a form factor similar to say Sony Block Cameras. Its just not possible. There are some optical zoom thermal systems. The uncooled systems are expensive and are severely limited in how much optical zoom they can actually provide without getting too large. Cooled zoom systems are a different story and this is what you find in the high dollar gimbals like of FLIR and the like. With the sensitivity of a cooled thermal camera you can get away with an f/4 type of lens which means you can pack some serious zoom into a much smaller package. However, cooled thermal cores without optics are about 10 times the cost of our entire entry level system. Decidedly not low cost.

    The comments and suggestions are awesome please keep them coming as we do our best to come up with a solution for everyone.

  • I agree a box cam that would fit in gimbal made for DSLRs would be awesome and would probably appeal to more markets (S800, CinemaStar). Your D15 camera is listed on ebay for 1000$ so is a price under 2000$ reasonable or would we be looking at more than that?      

  • wow that Quark 640 core is awesome... <25g, < 1W... take that core and add a optical zoom of sorts, standard camera mount and we are in business.. with 13mm lens you get 45 FOV which on a quad would be good.

  • exactly Sandro..  I actually looked for a FLIR system and found nothing in a reasonible price point and form factor.  I just want a FLIR based cam with a standard camera mount... like any Nikon or Canon... then I can use whatever gimbal I have for stabalization.  The lack of a optical zoom I think is problematic. 

    I bet the core of the system isn't all that heavy once you remove the pan and tilt, visible camera and other casings.

  •  You could reduce some Weight with removing the magnets. I am not a big fan of the laser pointer. Reduce the overall height and diameter. Looks like a great product good luck. 

  • I would be interested in just the thermal as everyone with a UAV seems to have a camera and a 20 FOV is really narrow for flying.. not sure what the advantage of a visual camera would be unless it is exactly the same framing as the FLIR and without any sort of optical zoom the visual camera would not be an advantage over my other systems... and just extra weight.   If you had just a FLIR camera payload with a analog output which would be compatible with my 1.280Ghz transmitter and other analog transmitters people fly... that would be cool.. then you should really work on a optical zoom as 20 FOV up in the air would not be so great.

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