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DJI adds thermal imaging to its drones' roster of capabilities

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Its drones can now help fight fires, survey crops, and conduct search and rescue

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The Chinese startup DJI has established itself as the world's most popular brand of drone for consumers and cinematographers. Because its units are powerful enough for professionals but simple enough for beginners, it has also emerged as the number one choice of commercial operators applying for exemptions to fly in the US. And over the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear that DJI also has its sights set on conquering the market for specialized drones that can perform serious industrial applications.

First came an agricultural drone that was customized for spraying crops. And today DJI announced a partnership with FLIR Systems to create a new camera, the Zenmuse XT, to bring thermal imaging to its Inspire One and Matrice drones.

There is no word yet on price, but the camera is expected to debut in the first quarter of 2016. It uses the same gimbal mount already standard on the Inspire One and Matrice, so it can be easily interchanged with more traditional DJI cameras. And while it was not part of this announcement, the same gimbal works on DJI's handheld stabilizer, the OSMO, so it's conceivable that the XT's thermal imaging capabilities could some day be integrated with that unit as well.

In the video below DJI shows off the camera in action: helping firefighters locate the source of a blaze inside a house, checking on the health of crops, and working alongside bloodhounds during a search-and-rescue operation. The commercial drone market is expected to become a multi-billion-dollar industry over the next few years, and DJI is hoping to parlay its early lead among consumers into a big slice of that burgeoning business by layering highly specialized technology onto what was previously a prosumer drone.