The rules and regulations formulated by the Federal Aviation Administration restrict drone flights to particular time slots and light intensity levels. How can drone operators fly without drone night vision at night with these rules in place? Are there any techniques available to enhance the drone’s visibility in darkness?
The FAA rules dictate that drones can only be flown during the day time or with civil twilight hours which is just about half an hour before or after the sunset.
This can be quite an issue with companies operating drones commercially. Drones are being employed for search and rescue missions, shooting films, recording video footage for news and by law enforcement agencies. The reassuring news here is that if your drone shows compliance to all the typical rules formulated by FAA, then you can get a kind of night waiver if your drone portrays visibility of at least a three nautical miles radius.
This prerequisite can be obtained using numerous techniques. Let’s have a look at few of the methods that are either being employed or are currently being developed.
High intensity lighting
A lighting system resembling the headlights on a car seems to be one of the obvious choices for enhanced night visibility. We can come across numerous solutions in this regard. Entrepreneurs have been integrating spotlights into their devices while a lot of people have been trying out the DIY stuff.
However, there are a number of companies who have been introducing 1000W lighting systems to drones to achieve about 0.25 million lumens. Such high intensity lighting systems could be handy for security, filming and search and rescue.
There are also others who are banking on the simpler solutions that include attaching flashlights to drones.
What is really appreciable about this technique is that the three nautical miles visibility radius condition is met even in the harshest of weather conditions.
Infrared cameras for drone night vision
Tech giant DJI collaborated with FLIR, an infrared imaging company, in 2015 to come up with a thermal camera imaging solution for drone night vision and navigation. Thermal cameras intercept infrared radiation that is being emitted by objects. Warmer objects appear red while the cooler ones appear black. This grant drones the ability to detect objects even in the absence of visible light. These cameras are a great option for commercial drone pilots but are probably not meant for beginners owing to their expensive price.
It, however, is also possible to develop your own camera to capture images in the infrared light spectrum with the help of an affordable camera and an infrared spotlight. This can be accomplished by disassembling the camera, detaching the IR filter, augmenting a visible light filter, and installing the assembly to the drone along with an IR spotlight while paying heed to the payload weight restrictions. The IR spotlight is not visible to humans.
An innovative approach
Scientists in Switzerland have come up with a research paper on a navigation system that is capable of operating in low-light conditions with high dynamic range and with any motion blur issues. This is accomplished with a nice blend of conventional cameras and dynamic vision sensors (DVS).
Cameras function by sending frame by frame images, while a DVS, regarding a drone night vision, only identifies and transmits the variations in a scene at the pixel level. Issues related to blurring can crop up in a scene due to high-speed motion with a conventional camera in use while with a DVS, sufficient information is not available in the scene is static. The team combined the conventional camera’s intensity frames with the DVS’ inertial frames to conjure a hybrid solution that is functional in daylight conditions or low light conditions at fast speeds or in static scenarios.
It is a great experience to be able to operate a drone 24/7 and this expands the entire horizon of opportunities for the use of drones.