The Big Idea: Thermal Imaging Cameras for Smartphones




predator-poster.jpgLet’s step into a Wayback Machine to my former life when I worked on thermal imagers. You see them in popular video games like Call of Duty, in spy films especially, and even in the occasional Science Fiction thriller like Predator or Spectral. In the working world, these thermal imagers are called FLIRs, which stands for Forward Looking Infra-Red. FLIRs are classified as such because as online aircraft RADAR looks from the sides of the cockpit, FLIRs can look out the front. This is why engineers designated them as forward looking IR devices. When I first worked on FLIRs, which was some time ago, you can imagine how expensive devices that could register temperature changes from people and objects would be.

That was then, of course. Welcome to the now.

It should come as no surprise software developers are making low cost FLIRs compatible with—what else?—your smartphone. You might think that is a bit of an indulgence, but as someone who worked extensively with FLIRs, this is a concept that’s appealing to me. There are a lot of applications of FLIRs. For example, you can look at heat profiles on the roof of a house, see where you’re losing the most heat during the winter. You can use your smartphone, or even an older phone you own, and add to your home security system a FLIR in order to spot potential criminals hiding in the bushes. Security remains one of the top reasons why the military use FLIRs so often as they make nighttime operations less dangerous.

Infrared Thermal Image of Radiator Heater in houseThe innovation transforming smartphones into FLIRs can be found online as FLIR ONE. FLIR ONE is a camera attachment (one of three models) available for iPhone and Android smartphones. With its new image processor and higher resolution visual camera, FLIR ONE comes in at modest $199.99, and clips into the bottom port of your iPhone or Android phone. It does what an infra-red camera would do, and it works seamlessly through your smartphone. However, FLIR PRO—a more ruggedized version of the FLIR ONE—comeswith a higher resolution thermal sensor, perfect for service personnel working on a comprehensive thermal analysis of your house and where you are in need of more insulation. The FLIR PRO comes in at $399.99.

Now let’s be honest: thermal cameras are not a thing that everybody needs, but they’re fun. Oh yes, they are a lot of fun to use, and FLIRs are the kind of thing you can find practical uses for once you get accustomed to it. And you know what? I may buy one. That FLIR and its various models are making FLIRs more affordable, more compatible, and easier to use can only be a good thing.

And if you’ve seen Predator, you know that maybe having some extra tech within reach can be a real lifesaver.



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.