Written by Michaela Jackson
Thermal technology, particularly thermal cameras, is a relatively new and advanced technology. It is based on infrared radiation, a type of light that the human naked eye cannot see but can feel asheat. Although the discovery of the existence of infrared light used by thermal cameras was made in 1800 by Sir William Herschel, it wasn’t until 1840 when Herschel was able to produce the earliest known thermal images on paper, a phenomenon which he named a “thermograph”. It took yet another 89 years until the very first infrared camera was invented in 1929 in the heat of WWI for defensive purposes.
Soon after the use of thermal cameras became common in the military due to their superior night-vision capabilities, the first still-image thermal camera was invented in 1947. Although it was a slow and arduous process, its technology continued to evolve and improve.
Today, thermal cameras are more versatile and accessible than ever before. Their many uses include:
- Safe Driving Aids: Thermal cameras and their infrared sensors are excellent for seeing in the dark because they do not require any ambient light to work and they are capable of detecting possible road hazards at extremely long distances. That is why they are great for helping drivers who must drive at night or in dangerous conditions.
- Pandemic Control: Infrared cameras can be used as mass fever screeners to help control the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and add an extra layer of safety to the workplace during this time.
- Search & Rescue: Thanks to thermal cameras, search and rescue operations could be performed more easily and with a higher success rate because of the heat signature emitted by all humans and animals, which is detectable by thermal cameras. This heat signature can be seen through even the roughest conditions like vegetation, rubble, smoke, etc.
- Helping Law Enforcement & Military Personnel: Infrared cameras can help law enforcement and military in several areas, such as detecting concealed weapons or suspects, safer driving for fleets of police and military vehicles, long-range aim assistance and more.
- First Responder Assistance: First responders are some of the most important people in our communities because they perform some of the most dangerous and stressful jobs. Oftentimes their job requires them to drive at extremely fast speeds, so thermal cameras could be a great help in providing a safer way to drive at night or in inclement conditions. They could also be a great help to firefighters to detect where fires are hottest and where they are spreading to.
- Hunting & Other Outdoor Hobbies: In the hunting world, it is important to be able to detect live targets and recover them after a successful hunt. Thermal cameras can help detect wildlife even through dense brush and vegetation, in any weather.
- Private & Commercial Security: When you are in need of advanced security systems to give you protection and peace of mind, thermal cameras are the best security solution. With long-range detection that works perfectly despite darkness levels or vision-obscuring weather, thermal cameras will never fail to provide security for your home or company.
- Building Inspections: Thermal cameras are useful for checking for leaks in pipes or roofing, showing where insulation is needed, electrical issues, and other safety concerns in construction.
There are many more uses for thermal cameras and infrared imaging. One might think that this advanced and versatile technology would not be easily accessible to everyone. However, that could not be further from the truth.
Modern Thermal Cameras: Increased Accessibility to the Public
When thermal cameras first came into play it was almost exclusively for military purposes because of how advanced and expensive the new technology was. However, once the single-image thermal camera was introduced, people began to work on developing the technology further. The image processing speed increased drastically over the years as more resources were put into developing thermal imaging technology. Even so, thermal cameras would not reach consumer level until the late 20thcentury, where it went on to grow increasingly popular among commercial andprivate enterprises.
Now that thermal technology has improved and become cheaper to produce, it is accessible to the general public. The market for thermal cameras is growing year by year as infrared sensors and thermal imaging becomes more and more affordable and the technology becomes more effective.
However, some people have an unrealistic view of what “affordable” thermal camera prices looklike. This might be due to prices of normal cameras which capture visible light, like the Canon and Nikon cameras everyone knows so well. To those who do not realize the production differences and how advanced a thermal camera is, they might seem expensive. Below is a breakdown of the parts that go into the production of thermal cameras to explain why they are priced the way they are.
Thermal Camera Price: Material Cost and Process
Materials for the building of thermal cameras:
- 1.High-Quality Germanium Glass Lens: While regular cameras use optical glass or plexiglass, thermal cameras use germanium to create their lenses in addition to regular glass. Germanium glass has a high refractive index, which is a measure of how light filters through a material. The germanium used to make this lens is precious material and is not easily (or cheaply) obtained, transported, and refined and shaped into a high-precision lens. In fact, germanium can cost over $1,500 per kilogram in its raw form. This does not include the transportation and labor costs.
- 2.Focal Plane Array (FPA): The focal plane array, or FPA, is a type of bolometer (a detector for radiation) used inthermal cameras. The FPA is a product with a highly scientific and technological composition, made of vanadium oxide materials. The smaller the detector surface size, the smaller and lower cost the optical system is (source). However, FPAs are part of export-restricted materials in the United States and France. In addition to that, part of why FPAs sport a high cost is because they are easily affected by the environment, consume too much power, they are not easy to integrate, and have low mass production stability.
- 3.Circuit Board: The circuit board for thermal imagers are extremely sophisticated, especially if they have fileless auto-check technology. To control the temperature of the circuit board, it uses a phenomenon called baffle, which cools the temperature. The use of baffle can cause another phenomenon called picture freeze, so the balance is quite delicate. Only a few companies in a few countries have the technology to do this, so these technology monopolies also lead to high prices.
- 4.Algorithm: Infrared cameras translate heat signature into images, which is made possible with the algorithm. A quality algorithm can help to reflect the imaging details and the accuracy of the temperature. Different algorithms are needed in different applications to highlight the imaging clarity. The resolution and focal length of infrared thermal imagers also need to be selected according to their own requirements. This algorithm is built into the camera, which is why it counts as an internal part and expense.
All of these and more, including labor costs, shipping costs, and years’ worth of research are required to make these innovative thermal cameras.
Best Thermal Camera: Speedir
If you are looking for a reasonably priced thermal imager, visit Speedir and take a look at their products. Speedir is a thermal-imaging company who produces top-of-the-line thermal cameras for public and commercial use. Thanks to over a decade and a half of research in the advanced technology of thermal night vision. The high-end cameras they produce are known in the industry for being consumer-ready, affordable, and user-friendly.
Speedir’s Thermal Cameras:
- The Night Owl Thermal Night Vision Camera: This diverse and reliable thermal imager is both affordable and high definition (with a 384x288 thermal sensor and 720x480p output resolution). It is versatile in that it can be connected to any screen or video input, and can be used in automotive, drones, industrial inspections, security, fire and rescue and more. Its thermal sensors can detect animals, pedestrians, and vehicle beyond your headlight beams up to 3000 feet. It does not need ambient light to work and can see through harsh conditions like fog, smoke, dust, rain, and snow. The Night Owl thermal camera from Speedir is one of the top affordable thermal imagers on the market today.
- The Night Owl Plus Infrared Deer Detector for Car: The Night Owl Plus combines the reliability of the Night Owl thermal camera with the smart assistance of artificial intelligence. With AI that will alert the driver audibly and visually of hazards up to 400 feet away, and a longer still thermal camera detection range of 3000 feet, this camera is the ultimate in safe driving aids. The Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) provided with this thermal imager is perfect for enhancing fleet and independent driver safety at night and during dangerous conditions.