Thermal Camera Imaging Brought to Your Daily Life, See Things Like Never Before
The FLIR Lepton thermal imaging sensor is a smaller resolution (80×60 pixels) and affordable priced sensor designed for use in mobile devices providing an affordable thermal imaging capabilities. This is the thermal imaging sensor that is used by FLIR in their FLIR ONE thermal imaging accessory for the Apple iPhone 5 and 5S. The DIY and hardware hacking community has already worked up on a solution to use the FLIR Leptopn sensor along with a custom developed breakout board for various projects. But since FLIR does not sell single units separately, but takes only large orders for the sensors it is hard to get a Lepton sensor to experiment with. One way to do so is to buy a FLIR ONE disassemble the device and take out sensor, the alternative is to go for a group buy. There is a GroupGet campaign for the FLIR Lepton Thermal Camera Core currently running that can help you get a single or a few units for $207.60 USD each and you can also get a breakout board for $45 USD each. This will allow you to interface the Lepton thermal imaging sensor to a custom controller and add thermal imaging capabilities to a project you are working on such as a robot or a drone for example.
It seems that we have reached a time when users are willing to have more and more functionality available for their smartphones, so it is no wonder that we are seeing more and more interesting accessories. That trend could not pass thermal imaging as well, though since the sensors that are used in thermal cameras are still quite expensive some compromise may be required to make a thermal imaging accessory affordable enough. IR-Blue is one such device and it is even an open source project – an affordable thermal imaging accessory compatible with both iPhone and Android smartphone and tablet devices that can increase the functionality of your mobile device. IR-Blue uses a 64 zone non-contact InfraRed sensor array to read the temperature of what you are viewing and the device connects using Bluetooth to your iPhone or Android device to show the temperature readings as colors on the screen.
The only drawback that the IR-Blue has is that the sensor it uses is very low resolution as compared to what even the more affordable thermal cameras do come equipped with, but still when you overlay the thermal information on top of actual image of the same object in the visible light spectrum the results can be quite interesting and useful. The 64 zone infrared temperature sensor used is essentially a 16×4 pixel device, but it still beats using a non-contact infrared thermometer with a single point of measurement and IR-Blue does come with a better price than a mid or high-end non-contact infrared thermometer and still offers better results.
IR-Blue features and specifications:
– 64 Zone Infrared Temperature sensor
– The sensor is factory calibrated for -20 to 300 ˚C (-4 to 572 ˚F)
– The sensor temperature range is -50 to 300 ˚C
– Sensor Field of View (FOV) 60˚ by 16.4˚
– (NETD) 0.25K rms
– Dual mode Bluetooth 2 and 4 wireless connectivity for Android and iPhone iOS devices.
– PC, Mac or anything that supports Bluetooth can be used with your custom application.
– Uses 4x AAA batteries
The IR-Blue works with iPhone 4S, 5 and 5s/5c, the iPad 3 and newer or the 5th gen iPod Touch. Apple devices need iOS 6 or higher. Android devices need Android OS 2.3 or newer to be compatible. You can get a fully assembled IR-Blue device for $195 USD from the creator of the device RHworkshop in the US or for €199 EURO from their European partner FIR Sensors. It can be a fun extra accessory for your smartphone that will allow you to start exploring the world of infrared thermography before deciding if you should get a more serious and thus more expensive solution for thermal imaging.
A thermographic camera, often also referred to as infrared camera (could be confused with digital cameras modified to take photos only in the infrared light spectrum), thermal imaging camera or just thermal camera is similar in design and functionality to a common digital camera, however there are some important differences. While most common digital cameras operate in the very narrow range of the visible light and barely touching some of the “invisible” Ultraviolet and Infrared ranges, thermal cameras operate in the invisible for the human eye infrared range and they can cover a really wide part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The process of taking thermal images with an thermal camera is referred as thermography and what the cameras essentially do is record the level of infrared radiation that an object emits. Thing get even better, because for taking thermal images you do not need to have visible light – thermal cameras can detect the emitted infrared radiation of objects in total darkness and thus their potential for different uses is extended even further.
The thermal imaging sensors used in thermographic cameras do not distinguish colors as they are not operating in the visible light spectrum as we have already said, instead they record the level of infrared radiation emitted from the objects that the camera is pointed at. This essentially produces a monochromatic image with the intensity of a pseudo color representing different temperature (this type of visualization is often used in security thermal cameras). This however is not as easy to distinguish when you need to do thermal analysis, so various alternative methods of representation using false colors representing the difference in temperature as usually used. The most common visualizations of thermal images use black for the coldest areas, then going blue and purple for slightly hotter areas, the mid-range of temperatures is usually red, orange and yellow and going to white for the hottest parts. These false color visualizations usually do come with a small scale next to the image that show the colors used and what temperature the respective color stands for.
Usually thermal images are with a much lower resolution if you compare to what number of pixels the modern digital cameras provide, the reason is that the sensors used in thermal imaging cameras are much more expensive than what a sensor for recording the visible light costs. For example a 160×120 or 320×240 pixels thermal imaging sensors can be considered quite good and these usually are found in thermographic cameras that cost a few thousand dollars while as comparison we are already using multi-megapixel digital cameras in our smartphones with much higher resolution. Another important difference with thermal imaging cameras is that recording video is usually found in very high-end and pretty expensive models, it is not a common thing that you can find available on a more affordable thermal camera. Even if you manage to get a thermal imaging camera that supports video recording the chances are that it will record video at a much lower framerate than you probably are used in seeing in a normal video shot with a digital camera.