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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  • Randall thank you for writing to the community with a clear intention to contribute to the diy community.

    I have a suggestion that might benefit those who are seeking stabilized hd 1080p 50p video capabilities on a pan/tilt gimbals.This might be a good solution for gimbals that are low cost, simple,small and light but still be able to provide perfectly smooth footage

    Sony hdr cx730e camera has this amazing stabilization available. All the optics along with the sensor "float" inside the camera allowing it to compensate for all the vibrations on the pan and tilt axis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONrnEOZm0XU 

    I have an aerial video company that utilizes multirototr helicopters for aerial video, power line inspections etc. We were using dslr cameras before but ever since sony hit the market we were blown away by its capabilities. It even has the ability to be completely controlled from the ground where we can zoom in up to 24x and the footage would still be very smooth as well as start and stop shooting and take pictures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_mwLVPWqhU ,  https://vimeo.com/51195323 

    There is also panasonic x900m that has roll compensation built in as well, but panny's stabilization works on a different principle  Its not so much mechanical but more of a software solution. Pannasonic is also very sensitive to small vibrations as it tends to have some rolling shutter effects. 

    To make the long story short ,I think the technology that stands behind these cameras can easily be adapted to the pan/tilt gimbals you are already offering or even smaller ones, without the need of re-engineering in order to add stabilization on all three axis. I think that even using these cameras after being stripped down of all the unnecessary things along with a simple RC cam switch and a thermal camera in a one compact box solution could be a very useful , under 500gr, payload option for many fixed or rotary wing uavs. This stabilisation technology like the one on sony , personally saved me a lot of money and time since I no longer need to post process/stabilize  my footage before giving it away to clients. Raw footage is rock solid even if flying in  high winds. I absolutely have no need for big$ gimbals like dji zenmuse with this camera. Stabilization technology that these cameras use should be looked into and incorporated in different packages and yours seems to be the perfect candidate IMHO. 

  • I havent had a chance to read through all the pages but here are my thoughts based on experience.  I work for company that produces unmanned aircraft for the military and services to operate/maintain them.  On a day to day basis I operate a turret that has EO/IR capabilities and cost over $250k.  It also weighs 35lbs.  It is a very impressive system.  With your turret in the $4k range it could be very competitive to other alternatives out there for small UAS.  Without seeing or knowing the performance of the sensors, I believe software capabilities will set you apart from the competition. I think the folllowing features would be great on a system like this:  

    • Use INS data from an autopilot for stabilization or a dedicated sensor.
    • Feedback data to the autopilot about depression and azimuth so the AP can calculate an approximate focal position on the ground (good for situational awareness)
    • Ability to lock in depression and azimuth based on aircraft (for expample straight to the right and 45 degrees down relative to aircraft)
    • Ability to lock in depression and azimuth based on north and the horizon
    • Ability to track a GPS position
    • Ability to overlay any and all data onto the video (like depression and azimuth, approximate gps position of focal center, compass, etc.  These settings must be custimizable so the operator can be tailored to their needs)
    • Ability to easily set a pan/tilt rate.  This is useful for tracking moving target.  Basically you would hold the joystick so it slews the camera to keep the target in the picture then you press a button and it continues to slew at that rate.  You can then adjust the slew rate using the joystick.  Another click of the button cancels the slew.
    • Drift compensation.  Sensors tend to drift slowly sometimes in stabilization so having the ability to hold the joystick at a position that prevents drift then a button to set that as drift compensation is crucial.
    • Presets for camera positions. 
    • Im not sure how much processing power you will have onboard but being able to lock onto a target using contrast/color or shape is very usefull and found in pretty much every turret in the industry.

    I think people need to realize this system is probably isnt aimed at a hobbyist but the small uas industry that needs a low cost sensor for smaller systems. Also turrets are not generally customized for specific aircraft.  Instead the aircraft manufacturer has to determine the best way to mount and utilize the sensor.  So things like  extension/retraction systems and integration to aircraft systems (autopilot and such) is typically the responsibilty of the aircraft manufacturer.  The sensor company should be focused on providing the most flexible system possible and plenty of support/docmentation to integrate it.

    That's my brain dump after working all day with really big and expensive rc planes all day and week in support of our troops overseas :)

  • A few questions...

    early on in the discussion, the idea of the laser pointer seemed to have been tossed aside.

    however I had a question on that, is it, or can it be an IR laser? (aka naked eye cant see it, but the optics can.)

    If were pulsed laser for example would it be useful in distance calculations via the optics as well?

    Tracking of course is next on the list. however what is the laser used for in your example package?


  • Hi Randall, this is a great camera and for thermal imaging $3900.00 is a huge bargain, a lot of fixed wing and Multicopter drones could handle this camera very well.

    Generally speaking I could see it in 2 primary usage modes: Recording, continuous or directed to SD card type media or Continuous live broadcast and control during flight (or both).

    In my estimation the simplest way to start with this device is not to incorporate it with the APM at all but to maintain separate autonomous control. Basically a separate transmitter controlling tilt and yaw with an operator equipped who is viewing a live feed monitor. This only requires conversion of transmitter servo signals to your yaw and tilt controls and a 480 mhz transmitter to downlink the video stream.

    For fully automated flight and AI controlled operation of your camera on a fully autonomous APM flight, the best way would likely be to incorporate a separate Android / Linux or Board type PC which performed the bulk of the control and which itself was tied to the APM board so a minimalistic connection of only that data necessary to exchange could be maintained. The APM does not have intrinsic RS 485 and it is already "heavily" occupied with its existing control tasks so off loading to a more video capable platform would be the best way to handle it.

    Just my opinion of course, but I will honestly say that if you can provide what you have described for $3900.00 and weighing 2 pounds, it's something I would be interested in, that is a fantastic bargain for a real thermal imaging pan / tilt camera.

  • I see your target specs would be like this one: http://skydroid.co.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/thermal_...


  • Developer

    Randall, after reading the comments until this point I'm still keeping my first suggestion early on this thread.
    I believe that all you guys need to do is create just a small thermal cam with a well shielded "cubic" metallic enclosure and a pin-out containing GND, VCC and Video_OUT. So, we can buy or create our own pan/tilt/roll gimbal or pod devices. Like many others said here, I agree that a 1/4-20 tripod base would be a nice choice.

    Trying to go straight to the point: What is the dimension(w x h x d) of just the core that you have there on M1-D?

  • I have a client who wants to put a system like yours on a UAV. What I would really like to see from your company to make this as easy as possible would be 3 connectors coming out of this unit, 1 for pan, tilt, and zoom. All using a PWM interface.

    That would let me put Pan and tilt in the capable hands of the APM, with the option for manual control, and it would let me put zoom straight to a pot. on my TX.  Is that something that you could do?

  • I would love to have additional extension/retraction system as an option to this camera.

  • I think you guys shoudl invest some time and effort in the engineering department in a pan/tilt system where the imaging core is modular... so you can use your core as a straight up imaging core for existing UAV camera gimbals PLUS mount it in your pan and tilt unit with the visible camera and laser pointer.. then you wouldn't be making two completely different products but one product that goes/mounts into the other.  Plus I bet a lot of your customers would find the ability to take out the imager from their pan and tilt as a added benefit/feature that might sell them on it.    Since you could mount it in a handheld unit, tripod mount it or on a UAV.  the existing package (above) seems quite limited in application.

  • Hunter,

       Yes we are just getting into this small UAV market.  We have been in thermal and the pan tilt market for many many years and the M1-D is our latest thermal pan tilt product. From the marketing side I have seen a lot of interest from the airborne community in the M1-D so I am trying to figure out exactly what the community wants and needs. I am trying to make a case to my company that we should invest some effort in this market and for that I need to guage what the market volume might be and present what I think the best changes we could make to effectively supply that market. So, I am looking to you guys for help. I think the DIY community probably has the most experience with the widest array of gear and is really plugged into the philosophy of "just make it work". No we will probably never have a $300 imager but I hope with your help we can come up with something relatively affordable that does most of what you want.

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