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FLIR’s Dual Sensor Hadron Signals Progress in Development of U.S. Drone Supply Chain

BY Zacc Dukowitz
12 August 2020

FLIR recently released a dual sensor camera called Hadron, made for drones, robotics, and imaging system manufacturers.

The two sensors that come with the Hadron are an RGB visual sensor and a thermal sensor.

The camera has a small, lightweight design that was clearly created with energy efficiency in mind, and can be used on a variety of different airframes (or other smaller robotics, for that matter).

Introducing the FLIR Hadron™ Integrated RGB/Thermal Module | OEM

Made for Drone Companies, Not Drone Consumers

One big thing that makes the Hadron unique is that it wasn’t created for consumers.

As mentioned above, the Hadron was actually made for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)—companies that make drones, robots, or other imaging equipment. According to FLIR, the Hadron is the very first dual sensor camera ever made just for OEMs.

Which is not to say that FLIR and other camera makers haven’t sold dual-sensor or thermal cameras to drone manufacturers in the past.

Almost all drone companies rely on third parties for the dual or thermal imaging systems they provide in their UAV platforms. Parrot’s new ANAFI USA uses a FLIR BOSON thermal sensor, and even DJI’s Zenmuse XT thermal camera was developed by FLIR.

This is one reason that thermal cameras for drones, or drones that come with thermal cameras, are often expensive. In order to offer thermal sensors on their drones, companies have to create a partnership with a company like FLIR or develop their own, neither of which are cheap options.

The Hadron is perfect for manufacturers to implement into their own platform developments. It allows them to get to the market quickly and provides choice to those shopping airframes to know that the payload side is quality.

– Randall Warnas, Global sUAS Segment Leader at FLIR

The Hadron effectively removes the middleman for drone manufacturers, making it possible for them to buy a dual sensor camera for their drones that will basically work out of the box. Companies can just purchase the number of Hadrons they need in bulk for their drones, without any special arrangement with FLIR required—although FLIR does seem happy to work with companies to help them integrate the Hadron (more on that below).

The big takeaway is that the Hadron could make it easier and less expensive for drone companies to include dual thermal/visual sensors in their drones. These savings could in turn be passed on to consumers, helping make thermal camera drones available to a wider group of people.

About the Hadron

A standout feature of the Hadron is that it’s incredibly lightweight—at .09 pounds, it’s lighter than a golfball.

The Golden Eagle (Photo credit: FLIR)

Light weight was an important feature for both Teal Drone and Vantage Robotics, the first two companies to use the Hadron in their drones. Both companies wanted to push the performance capabilities of their drones, and lowering the weight so that it could fly farther for longer was a key component to doing that.

The Hadron is far away the lightest and smallest combined EO/IR sensor that has ever been commercially available.

– Tobin Fisher, CEO of Vantage Robotics

Here are all of the the noteworthy specs and details about the Hadron module:

  • 12-megapixel visible camera
  • FLIR Boson® 320×240 resolution thermal camera with up to 60-hertz framerate
  • Weighs .09 lbs. (43 grams)
  • Low profile design for flexible positioning on the drone
  • SWaP (Size, Weight, and Power) optimized to help prolong battery life
  • + C optimized—also created to be relatively inexpensive

How Drone Manufacturers Are Using the Hadron

One thing that’s important to note about the Hadron is that it’s not a complete camera.

It doesn’t come with onboard storage, gimbalization, or other features you might expect, since these are left up to the manufacturer.

FLIR has already worked with two drone manufacturers–Teal Drones and Vantage Robotics—to help them integrate the Hadron into their sUAS platforms, proving that this process can help companies make high quality drones for commercial applications.

Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle

Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle is an advanced drone designed to spec for the U.S. Army that uses the Hadron.

The Golden Eagle (Photo credit: FLIR)

Teal Drone’s first consumer drone, the Teal One, had a custom camera that cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement. But incorporating the Hadron into Teal’s Golden Eagle was a completely different experience, because they didn’t have to worry about designing a new camera from the ground up.

Being able to use the Hadron, we didn’t have that big resource drain on the company. We were able to lean on FLIR and their expertise for doing what they do best.

– George Matus, CEO of Teal Drone

The Golden Eagle was initially developed to find people in low-visibility conditions, but it can also be used in a variety of commercial drone applications.

Vantage Robotics’ Vesper

Vantage Robotics is known as the first drone company to get a broad waiver for commercial operations over people, which allowed it to use its Snap drone to work with customers like CNN to collect footage of populated areas.

The Vesper (Photo credit: FLIR)

Like Teal Drones, Vantage Robotics saved internal resources by integrating the Hadron into its Vesper drone. It was supported in this process through help from FLIR engineers, who worked with the Vantage team to develop a micro-gimbal for the Hadron, for use on the Vesper.

The Hadron reduced engineering costs and time. Having it prepackaged in a module like this makes it a lot easier to work with and integrate into our gimbal payload.

– Tobin Fisher, CEO of Vantage Robotics

The Vesper was originally designed for ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) applications, but it can also be used by first responders, wildlife management, and commercial inspections.

Building up the U.S. Drone Supply Chain

The Hadron was first created for the DIUx SRR program (DIU stands for Defense Innovation Unit and SRR stands for Short Range Reconnaissance), a U.S. defense program that encouraged U.S.-based companies to create off-the-shelf drone solutions that could be used by the Army or by private companies.

As Michale Quiroga, Chief Revenue Officer at ASYLON, has informed us, several programs and grant-funded projects like this have been created over the last few years to help grow the U.S. drone ecosystem. With the impending passage of the American Security Drone Act (ASDA), these kinds of programs will be an important part of supporting federal agencies’ drone needs in the near future by helping companies build a thriving U.S. drone supply chain.

Teal Drones is another example of a drone company growing with support from the U.S. government. After developing the Golden Eagle to meet the DOD’s specifications for the U.S. Army, the company is now selling it into commercial markets for applications like mapping and inspections.

If you’re wondering how the ASDA might impact the U.S. drone supply chain, check out this in-depth article we wrote on the topic.

What do you think of FLIR’s Hadron and what it might represent for the future of the U.S. drone industry? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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