Nearly everyone’s recollection of their first thermal image comes from the movie Predator. A mud covered Schwarzenegger used primitive but effective tactics to evade an outer planet hunter laced with the most advanced technology. That movie did bring forth the concept of thermal imaging into the limelight that was at the time only known by a handful of people working in sophisticated labs.
The price of thermal imaging cameras (TIC) initially ran in several thousand pounds. Not only that, the cameras consumed a huge amount of power and also required cooling. Their weight and size made them just borderline portable.
However since then, there has been significant progress in sensor technology and these cameras are now available in sizes that can easily fit a pocket. Even accessories that attach to a smart phone and convert it’s into a utilizable Thermal imaging camera are now available in the market.
As price for these cameras has dropped, they have become accessible to many a tech connoisseurs. With wider availability, the range of their applications has also grown. Today, they are not just the preserve of the R&D departments but are being used by craft practitioners and hobbyists.
Listed below is some of the applications where thermal imaging camera can be used.
- Measure heat loss
- Detect hot or cold spot
- Detect thermal bridges
- Detect electrical hot spots
- Examine pipes behind the walls
- Detect source of seepage and estimate moisture damage
- Detect drafts
Thermal imaging is most heavily used by the built environment industry. As housing standards have been raised, TIC utility has increased several folds. Energy efficiency certificates have to be produced for every property before it is sold as per EU (European union) directive. Thermal imaging cameras are perfect for carrying out energy surveys.
- Identifying fluid levels in containers, steam trap inspection and insulation performance.
- Detecting thermal runaway in battery packs of electric cars
- Inspection of bearings
- Refractory Condition Monitoring
Thermal imaging is being used not only during the design and development of new products but also in preventive maintenance of existing machinery.
- Study of the behaviour and detection of many species
- Detect living creatures in poor visibilities
- Detect bug infestation (termites or hornets’ nest)
Several behavioural studies can be carried out using thermal imaging that were before impossible, for example study of marine species like heat loss pattern in seals.
- Detect visually camouflaged targets
Thermal imaging videos can be often seen on reality TV programs related to law enforcement. They are employed by security force helicopters to detect visually camouflaged individuals or trace them in hot pursuit during dark hours. In other cases thermal imaging has been used to detect home factories used for growing or producing illegal substances.
In Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, a wildlife tour company has had business success using thermal imaging to attract bird watchers. The company Nocturnal Wild life tours Ltd offers the visitors a chance to view creatures during the night that were before impossible to observe. Using TIC has been a unique experience for visitors, who can not only view the animals in real but also record their thermal profiles.
Navigation and Manuvering
Plans to launch TIC as an integral feature on luxury cars are already underway. This will provide the driver information about any living creatures in the rear blind spot and will be useful when reversing.
Thermal cameras are particularly handy for navigation, collision avoidance and search and rescue operations in the sea.
Entertainment and Recreation
As prices have dropped by an order of magnitude, several novel applications of TIC have surfaced. Paintball and laser tag facilities are looking at offering TIC to the players for an enhanced experience. Thermal imaging rifle scopes for hunting during the night are also available in the market.
Although free cell phone apps are available that produce pictures that look like thermal images but beware, they are only graphics effects. Their only utility is impresses gullible individuals.
The price for the small pocket size camera such as FLIR C2 is around £559 (USD 850) while the iPhone accessory that can convert the phone into TIC can be purchased for a mere £180 (USD 275).
It should be noted that for a pocket size camera the thermal range is low. For instance FLIR C2 has a range of -10 °C to 150 °C. Furthermore its image resolution (80 x60) is only good enough for home inspection. More expensive products such as hotshot thermal imaging camera (HotShot LT) have a range of 370°C and a resolution of around 160 x120.
Even higher resolution is required for mechanical or industrial inspections. These cameras can range from £5000 (TESTO 882) to around £14000 (Testo 890-1) and offer resolution of around 640 x 480 pixels. This higher resolution offers better pictures quality at large distances.