Tiny Thermal Cameras for drones...


My first post here, and I'm going to hype my company and its products. I hope you will go easy on me - I'm assured that what we make is of interest to the DIY Drones community!


My company, DRS Technologies, manufactures a small Infrared Thermal camera called the Tamarisk 320.


The camera has a resolution of 320x240, is smaller than a golfball, weighs less than 35g and consumes <1W of power. 

For the past couple of years we have run the DRS Student Infrared Imaging Competition. The SIIC is an open-format, incentive prize competition for students who use thermal infrared imaging in a creative way.  The top project wins $10,000.  For this, the competition’s second year, there is an additional prize category for “Most Viral Video.”   This year DRS received 25 entries, of which 17 include a video for the viral competition. 

Videos range from art projects to drone projects, and all kinds of odd and novel topics in between... 

The viral video playlist is available at:




...and competition details are available at:




Let me know what you think.





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  • Brian,

    We flew this camera with a small DVR and battery, the total weight of the camera and those components is under 200g, that's similar to a GoPro 2 in it's housing.

  • As with the FLIR cams, the USB/Serial I/O is for camera control and setup - video out is either digital or analogue, both options are given. These cams are NOT a 'GoPro' gizmo and generally are never equipped as a pocket IR image recorder. There are some small video solid state recorders commercially available - use one of those if you wish to record, or else TX the video to the ground station - take a look at my blog on the gimbal I did for the TAU-2 camera, and the video A/C antenna and ground tracking antenna - there are no simple short cuts if you want range and good quality (P5) video with these cams.

    @ Stefan-

    There are Chinese manufacturers making 320 X 240 pixel uncooled Bolometers, and they have put into production a 640 pixel unit recently - we have used the 320 pixel unit in a gas spectrometer, and it is VERY good. They will start producing a TAU-2 lookalike I am sure, and only then will the US prices be forced to drop to commercial rather than political levels.

    I will in the coming weeks try an place some IR flight footage on this site so all can see that the IR performance of such cams is good, but not fantastic - you have to see the difference between a 640 x 480 pixel imager and HD video to realize the huge loss in definition and recognition ability. The cognitive requirements to evaluate such IR imagery in the presence of ground thermal noise, aircraft motion, low resolution imager, etc, is not trivial. I have used cooled IR imagers of 1024 X 800 pixel resolution, with inertially stabilised gimbals and optically zoomed lenses, able to recognise a person at 3000meters, not know it is a person, but recognise the face, ie, who it is.

    The cost of such a camera? just shy of $650K US... and it weighs 14kg, with the germanium lenses just over half that weight. So, lets not be misled by all the star wars TV and movie shows as to what an IR camera is - A $5K camera is just that - worth $5K. And as you said Stefan, a sale of 100 cameras will do nothing to reduce the price. !000's maybe.. or when the chinese start producing.


    The Nampilot

  • Living in Canada I am very used to ITAR restrictions.  One thing I did not see was any reference to how to handle the video out.  Onboard recording like a GoPro is one way or transmission to the ground as with FPV flying is another.  The data sheet refers to USB 2 and/or RGB output.  Either of these requires flying possibly a prohibitive amount of extra hardware.  The camera itself is light but maybe a flying useable payload is too heavy.  Are there any ideas for this?

  • Stefan,

    As Daniel said, this is going to be LESS than $5k, and the volume will need to be higher than 100 to make this work.

    We are looking at this with the idea that Moore's law is still in effect. Some early adopters with commercial interests will be ready to buy these this year, and a larger group will buy these next year... then at some point, these types of cameras will be on every smart phone just for fun ;-)

  • @Veikko:

    The fact that there's only 2 or 3 manufacturers in the world that can (may!) produce microbolometer sensors, the fact that 2 of them, including the patent-holder sit in the USA and the fact that thanks to US export-restrictions and the non-interest of manufacturers in consumer-markets there is no mass market.

    FLIR has been trying to do something about that by coming out with products for enthusiast consumer markets, like sport-boat owners, hunters and by making an aftermarket vehicle camera system for SOMEWHAT reasonable prices, but this also found it's limits in US export restrictions. FLIR cams might be affordable, but the consumer market models usually have 160x100 pixels resolution which makes them more of an expensive show-off toy than something really usable for a wide range of consumers.

    Technically, a microbolometer sensor is not at all challenging or even complicated to produce. It's all political.

    DRS is not going to change anything because they belong to Finnmeccanica - a huge defense industry trust. They don't have any interest in consumer markets - probably wouldn't even know how to approach them. That's clearly shown by their price estimate.

    @Joshua Ott:

    Price and volume are surely intrinsically tied but a $5k unit (which already is produced in quantities) is not going to suddenly be only $999 or even less just because 3DR stocks 100 instead of 50. Let's be realistical here :).

  • Joshua, I am in the market for one and maybe two reasonably priced small IR cameras.

  • I wanted to chime in here, and give a bit of clarification on the price point question.

    We (3DR) asked Daniel (DRS) to be very general with regard to final retail pricing on this camera. As everyone knows: price and volume are intrinsically tied -- so, until we can figure out what kind of sales volume is realistic, there is no way to set a final retail price for our customers.

    Products like the Tamarisk 320 are an exciting new tool in the nascent UAV prosumer market. Because this market is still being formed, it requires a bit of prognostic thought before making commitments to large order volumes.

    Threads like this are a valuable tool in determining what the real world demand for a product like this will command.

    Thank you all for the valuable feedback and thoughtful insights. The high level of expertise and experience in the DIY community is always impressive!

  • $5k u gotta be joking.
  • Seeing the more information posted, a camera between $2k-$4k seems plausible to me.  Especially for a higher refresh rate than the cheaper models you can get right now. 

  • Note last line...

    Tau 640 Export Info


    The  International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) details the regulations  governing the export of defense related materials and technologies. The U.S.  Munitions List (USML) categorizes goods and technologies governed by the ITAR.

    FLIR’s  640x512 thermal imaging products and related technical data and information are  controlled for export purposes to the ITAR. Data provided at this web site has  been approved for public release, and is not export-controlled. It is a  violation of the ITAR to export or re-export technical data pertaining to  FLIR’s 640x512 thermal imaging products (other than data approved for public  release) without first receiving authorization to do so from the U.S.  Department of State. This restriction does not apply to the “slow video” versions  of FLIR’s 640x512 thermal imaging products that operate at frame rates of less  than 9Hz.

    Due to the  export status of FLIR’s 640x512 thermal imaging products, any purchase,  receipt, and/or use of any related technical data (other than data approved for  public release) is contingent upon an agreement to abide by all export laws and  regulations of the United States, including, without limitation, the ITAR.  Further, it must be acknowledged that export or re-export of technical data  related to FLIR’s 640x512 thermal imaging products (other than data approved  for public release) is not allowed without the requisite authorization from the  Directorate of Defense Trade Controls of the Department of State.

    In  addition, § 122.1 of the ITAR states that “Any person in the U.S. who engages  in the business of either manufacturing or exporting defense articles or  furnishing defense services is required to be registered with the Directorate  of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).” It is the responsibility of any organization  that buys, receives, or sells for export purposes and/or  uses a FLIR 640x512 thermal imaging product in a manufacturing process to  register with DDTC in such cases.

    Violations  of the ITAR are extremely serious and can result in fines, debarment, and  criminal sanctions. Please direct any questions or concerns regarding the  export status of FLIR’s 640x512 thermal imaging products to Krista Larsen,  FLIR’s Director, Export Compliance Traffic, at (503) 498-3316.

    Again,  ITAR compliance for FLIR’s 640x512 thermal imaging products applies to the  full-rate (30Hz & 25Hz) versions of the camera, and does NOT apply to the  “slow video” versions that operate at frame rates of less than 9Hz.

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