Can Drones See in The Dark?

Can Drones See in Dark Guide

On YouTube, you can find a ton of videos where you can see how drones use artificial intelligence to move on its own true the space using a camera, how they open doors, move at incredible speeds through the air and much more. But all this is done during the day while there is light. Can drones fly and see in the dark? Let’s find out.

So Can Drones See in The Dark? For a drone to be able to see in the dark, it must have a built-in night vision camera with infrared light (IR LED). These types of cameras allow you to see in the dark. Most commercial drones have normal cameras that need light to get a clear picture, so you can’t use them to see in the dark.

Did you know that sensors on the drone in most cases don’t work properly if there is not enough light while you fly? The University of Zurich and its research team developed an algorithm called DroNet.  With that algorithm, drones can fly completely by themselves in any environment without the help of a pilot. If the drone has a built-in night vision camera, the DroNet algorithm can also navigate the drone in the dark environment. This will drastically improve the development of drones, and soon almost all drones will be able to fly and see in the dark.

To be able to fly with your drone in the dark environment, the camera on your drone needs to absorb at least a little light so you can get a picture and see where you are in. The principle on which the night vision camera with IR LEDs works is shown in the picture. So, only with that type of  camera you can see in the dark. IR transmitter targets an object, after which the beam is rejected off and returned to IR receiver.

Night Vision Camera – Working Principle

How Night Vision Cameras Work

Night vision cameras allow you to see objects clearly in the dark without the aid of any artificial light. To enable vision in the dark, night vision cameras use infrared LEDs. The human eye can only perceive light in the spectrum from 380 to 740 nm. Since infrared light starts at 740nm upwards, the light rays that the LEDs of an infrared night vision camera emit cannot be seen by humans. The surroundings therefore still appear dark, although the camera shows a bright image of the surroundings.

Night Vision Camera – Electromagnetic spectrum

Infrared cannot show everything. The representation of the video image in the dark depends on the objects in the environment. The better an object reflects the light, the better the representation in the night vision camera. These cameras are becoming more popular, and more advanced models can reach even up to 200 meters in the dark.

Drones Can Almost See in The Dark

Drones today can move at incredible speeds, do amazing things, and much more. But all this is possible during the day, because then you can see the environment in which the drone is in and it is possible to navigate it. But what if you find yourself in a dark environment? You can’t even rely on the sensors on your drone because they won’t work properly.

If the room is completely dark, the pilot will not be able to orient himself in space and time and will most likely crash the drone. Most professional drones that have quality cameras only need a little light to be able to see in the dark. Although there are infrared cameras that can be installed on certain drones, at least a small amount of light is needed to be able to operate a drone in these conditions.

New Artificial Intelligence Cameras

The University of Zurich together with the Swiss research consortium has developed a special eye-inspired camera that has a combination of artificial intelligence with which you can see in the dark, unlike other cameras that most commercial drones have.

“This research is a big step forward as it will allow drones to fly autonomously in low-light environments.” says the Director of the Robotics at UZH.

Prof. Davide Scaramuzza
University of Zurich

In this research, experiments were also done by which the drones were navigated in space and time on their own by using their onboard cameras. Therefore, instead of using the sophisticated sensors that drones have, researchers in the Swiss research consortium have developed a normal eye-inspired camera and a very powerful artificial intelligence algorithm, that can be used in very low light environment and space. The name of this algorithm is “Deep Neural Network

Can I Fly My Drone at Night?

Prepare Your Drone For Night Flight
Flying Drone At Night – Laws & Rules by FAA

For flying a drone at night, you don’t need to have a license or a special permit if you are a hobbyist. You just need to follow certain rules from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This rule applies to drones weighing less than 0.55 lbs (250 g). If you use professional drones (larger models), you need to have a special permit for their use.

It is forbidden to fly near airports, military bases or populated areas whether it is day or night. Therefore, without a special permit, it is not allowed to fly the drone at night for professional use. But nonetheless, it is very difficult to operate a drone at night, so a night flight should be avoided. If you already want to take some photos at night, it is best to explore the area in advance during the day. I wrote a special article on this topic, so take a look: Can Drones Take Pictures At Night?

Future Developments & Night Vision

A lot of work and research is needed in order for drones to develop even better higher-quality sensors, algorithms, and cameras that would enable them to move safely in dark environments. Cameras that were invented at the University of Zurich do not need to capture full light to get a clear picture. This is due to the new software that is able to process the output from the cameras themselves.

Although so far these have all been prototypes and various tests, scientists are well on their way to bringing this idea to life. The ability for drones to see and move recklessly in the dark would really be one big step forward and thus their use would increase even more. We believe that in the next few years, this will be a thing of the past and that even commercial drones will have the technology to safely fly and take pictures in the dark.

Illumination of The Drone

In the case of a night flight, the drone must be made visible by appropriate lighting to ensure that other participants in air traffic can see the drone and, if necessary, avoid it. Every drone must have the position lights that must be designed in three colors, each color being attached to a predetermined position.

There is green lighting on the right in the direction of flight, red lighting on the opposite side in the direction of flight on the left and white lighting on the tail of the drone. The warning lights of the drone must be aligned upwards and downwards in white. The lights used for the position lights must achieve a minimum light intensity of 5 candela in order to meet the requirements of the regulation.


Now that we’ve gone through everything related to whether drones can see in the dark, it’s time to draw a final thought. The cameras that are built-in in drones are normal cameras that are used for taking photos and videos during the day.  Although there are night vision cameras that have the ability to see in the dark, it is not the best quality and it is very difficult to navigate drone in such conditions. As technology evolves along with artificial intelligence, more and more drones will be able to move in the dark in the near future. In many countries around the world, it is even forbidden to fly at night. I hope you learned something new in this article and that we helped you answer the question for which you came.

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