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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  • 'We think our video should integrate very easily with existing or low cost off the shelf gear already available.'

    This is very good news!

    "Based on feedback here we are looking at a simple module that could probably fly in a system like that range video one you mentioned for go pro".

    Also good news. If you can make a M1-D in a nice small case with the quality we're talking about, without a gimbal, for approx 2.5k I'll buy it.

    Does it include on board recording?

  • Randall, i left a cost petition on your web page (SPI). I will present this on my company. We are interested in this platform.

  • What a lot of you fail to realize is that SPi is not an open-source company and sells products based on the needs of their market.  Randall correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe SPi is just getting into the small airborne platform UAV market.  StevenG, no thermal camera will EVER be in the price range of a GoPro...not even the cheap Chinese made THERM/IR.  This is an expensive technology and not really suited for the traditional DIY hobbyist but more aimed at geology, geography, biology and surveillance along with several other uses.  Hopefully thermal imaging will come down in price over the years but I don't expect it any time soon.  Honestly, until recently, the only THERM/IR cameras like this I've seen on airborne platforms is military aircraft/UAS and Police helicopters.  While the THERM/IR market is widening, a lot of it is still focused toward government/law enforcement except the handhelds used for temp sensing in electrical and home insulation use.

  • yeah but could you fly that package on a fixed wing?  Seems rather large for any fixed wing which need a lot more aerodynamics.

  • Mark and Andreas

    I think you are both right. For rotor craft it is more important than fixed wing.

  • I read that much people talked about taking out the pan movemente, but they are talknig from their point of view as multicopter operators, however i think that this video platform is more suitable for fixed wing aplications rather than for quads. And in fixed wings platforms the pan and tilt are needed.

  • Randall, after flying last night in 19 mph+ winds with my large blades I can't image people wanting a system with pan and tilt over tilt and roll..  my quad was tossed around pretty good last night (issue with running large blades)  to the point I had to bring it down a bit harder than I would have liked.   I pulled up the video and it was amazingly smooth even though while flying I thought I would completely loose control.  The only way that the video was smooth was because of the compenstation of the flight computer with the tilt and roll gimbal.

  • Erik,

      Ahhh that dreaded third degree of rotation! Yes that would be top of the line to open up the potential of 3 axis stabilization. But alas I fear this will not happen.  This would truly become a complete re engineering effort or as Steven G said get out a clean sheet of paper.  We are looking at novel ways to do the best we can with the 2 axis model we have now.  If this is successful a new 3 axis version may come down the road (albeit a ways down the road).

  • Meez and Andreas

    Along with a stand alone module we are also trying to look at integration of our motors into the PWM format to interface directly with the autopilot gear. Our video is standard analog NTSC and we understand that most people are already flying some type of video downlink radio. We think our video should integrate very easily with existing or low cost off the shelf gear already available.

  • Steven G

    I appreciate your comments and take no disrespect. We use GoPRO quite a bit for marketing videos and such and those things are truly awesome. Terrible sound but the picture and form factor is unbelievable for $200. The Hero3 is even smaller and has built in wifi now. Going back to the quark issue we have even put one of those in go pro housings. So size wise that could be done but it will never be the price range of a gopro and I do realize that that means it will always be out of reach of some hobbyist's. Based on feedback here we are looking at a simple module that could probably fly in a system like that range video one you mentioned for go pro. it would still be pricey though (compared to GO PRO).  Hollywood doesn't really use thermal all that much and when they do aerial stuff they don't mess around. To them our system would fall into the cheap disposable category. For major productions they fly serious gimbals with HD or film cameras.  We are talking hundreds of thousands to millions on these setups. Anyway, we do appreciate the feedback and we are struggling to make this affordable for the widest range of users possible.

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