Reach for the Sky with IR Thermal Imaging UAVs

Electro-Optic Materials

Whether you call them Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Miniature Pilotless Aircrafts, or Flying Mini Robots, Drones are rapidly growing in popularity. While they are still in the infancy stage in terms of mass adoption and usage, over the past few years UAVs have become vital  in supporting government and commercial applications. Government organizations use UAVs for surveillance, border control, security, and search and rescue options.  UAVs prove incredibly beneficial in places where man cannot reach or cannot access in a timely manner. In the commercial market, UAVs with thermal imaging capabilities are playing a crucial role in monitoring electrical power lines, oil pipelines, firefighting, gas detection, and solar farm panel inspection. Thermal imaging supports many other applications when visibility is poor. All of these applications have a critical common need, and that is a high performing and high quality lens. 

The UAV market requires maximum imaging performance. The detectors are increasing in performance, resolution, and format and as detectors increase in performance, it would not be possible to maximize image quality without the lens. The optical quality and design of the lens is a key factor in image performance and overall UAV capability. This presents lens manufacturers with added complexity and challenge in the design phase. For example, the weight of the UAV is significant, especially on smaller more compact models—the lighter the UAV, the less power consumption and longer flight time.

For many years, Umicore has been designing optics for SWaP-C, with focus on reducing Size and Weight of optics and thereby directly enabling cost reduction and indirectly supporting system level reduction in power consumption.  The optical designs include our own chalcogenide glass GASIR®, one of lightest materials offered for IR. The passively athermal designs reduce the size of the lens and have less moving parts than active designs. Umicore lenses are some the finest in the industry and most challenging to produce, combining extraordinary image quality and the designs are incredibly light in weight, ideal for UAV applications. Umicore’s ability to custom formulate and manufacture its own glass substrates combined with specialized optical coatings and manufacturing technologies have achieved this unique combination of performance factors

An excellent lens for UAVs is the 75mm f/1.0 fixed focal length lens. It's designed with Umicore's proprietary glass GASIR®, combined with its mechanical and optical design, is one of the industry's lightest lenses - 173.4g - at this focal length. This lens is the culmination of the lens makers art as it brings together the highest optical performance with incredible transmission and light gathering ability. UAVs are flown in outdoor uncontrolled environmental temperatures. Umicore's glass maintains a consistently sharp and clear image in environments where temperature variations can be extreme; however, due to the glass's composition, coatings are challenging to apply and maintain. Umicore is one of the first in the industry to implement a proprietary coating process providing superior adhesion on chalcogenide glass for both high efficiency (HEAR) and diamond-like coatings (iDLC) for harsh environments. Umicore's thin-film coating manufacturing process is proven to produce high yields and low costs.

The increased detector performance has required optics manufacturing companies to improve optical quality. Umicore is answering that call, with advanced manufacturing technology and continued investment in research and development to the UAV  market requirements.