Drones with thermal imaging cameras revolutionize the property sector
It can take a long time before thermal or water leaks in a roof are detected. Sometimes a leak isn’t discovered until water starts dripping onto your keyboard. Drones with thermal imaging cameras are a new, revolutionary method of roof inspection, among other applications. Coor is the first facility management provider in the Nordics to use the method. “We can detect all leaks in a 40,000 sq m roof with centimeter precision. No other method can achieve this,” says Morgan Lundberg.
Thermal imaging cameras have many application areas. In the military it is not unusual to equip helicopters with cameras to locate thermal anomalies in the dark. Firefighters use thermal cameras to detect hidden fires or to locate victims through heavy smoke.
Morgan Lundberg, site manager at Coor, recognized a completely different application area for thermal imaging cameras: they can be combined with drones, for instance to detect water leaks. This method could revolutionize the way roof inspections are carried out in the future. “A drone equipped with a thermal camera can be used to detect water and thermal leaks in buildings by flying the drone over the roof and registering temperature anomalies with centimeter precision. This method was developed to detect leaks in district heating pipes and has not previously been tested on buildings. I believe we’re the first in the Nordics, maybe even in Europe, to do this,” says Lundberg.
The results have exceeded all expectations. It takes no more than two hours to analyze a 40,000 sq m roof. In the past this was a time-consuming and complex process that relied on the human eye and qualified guesswork. “The three flights we have carried out so far using this method have given excellent results and one hundred percent accuracy. The beauty of it is that we can quickly inspect very large areas with accurate results at a relatively low cost,” Lundberg says.
Unlike in previously used methods, there is no need to use guesswork to detect the leak’s location. This saves considerable time, money and effort. “Several of our customers have thanked us for detecting leaks that nobody knew existed. In one case, we discovered a leak 30 meters away that would have been impossible to detect without this method,” Lundberg explains.
He points out that the method also offers financial benefits by allowing faults to be detected during the warranty period and preventing errors when planning the building’s budget. After a roof has been relaid, an aerial inspection can be carried out after six months to identify any faults, such as faulty seams, before the warranty expires.
Converting a building is a costly process. The cost can be alleviated by using an analysis of the building’s current condition as a basis for budgeting and investments. “Now we can locate project needs down to the last centimeter to prevent unnecessary costs,” says Lundberg.
A bright future for the method
“I am convinced this will become a competitive method. It will be popular because of the accuracy and cost savings it offers. The possibilities are endless. You can see a lot with a drone and a thermal camera, and it’s up to us to explore the possible applications,” he says.
About the method
How the method works:
The drones’ route is planned using a computer system. First a small drone is flown over the area and takes ordinary static images of the roof. The resulting pictures are geotagged with GPS coordinates. After a rain shower and as the sun is setting, a drone fitted with a thermal camera is flown over the inspection site. When the sun goes down, the temperature drops, enabling the camera to detect abnormal presence of moisture and water. The drone is flown along the same route at night with the help of the geotagging and GPS coordinates to produce a replica using infrared imagery. The infrared images and the ordinary images are superimposed in a computer system, making it possible to see the leak’s location. One person is needed for the drone flight, and at night a different person analyses the infrared images in real time to assure the image quality.
Other applications in which thermal imaging cameras can be used:
- Gas leak detection
- 3D building modeling
- Miscellaneous outdoor inspections
- Road construction, measurement of height discrepancies prior to leveling
- Detection of thermal hotspots in places where there is a fire risk (e.g. landfill sites)
- Prevention of financial loss due to incorrect location of heat-reflective glass façades