If you’ve ever watched a ghost hunting show or a modern war movie you’ve probably seen thermal imaging in use (or fictionally used in the movies). Chances are the imaging technology was provided by a company called FLIR. They’ve long provided thermal imaging cameras for military and professional use and dominate the market. But the cameras have never made any inroads into the consumer market due to incredibly high cost and technical requirements.
But this month the company changed all that. In July, they launched the FLIR ONE, a case for an iPhone 5/5S with the ability to capture still and video thermal images. Now pretty much anyone can carry around the ability to see “through” things in their pocket or purse.
The technology behind the FLIR ONE and the case is pretty amazing. There are two “cameras” on the back of the case (it doesn’t interfere with or use the iPhone camera). One is an infrared sensor smaller than a 5p using something dubbed “Letpton technology” that makes it so small and lets it work in the dark. The other camera is a standard camera. It captures an image at the same time as the sensor to provide context to the often confusing thermal image (and it requires light to work).
What the FLIR ONE software does is overlay (in a smart, very calculated and proprietary way) the standard image with the infrared image. They claim this makes understanding exactly what you’re seeing in the thermal image much clearer. These images of a car and door seem to prove the point. Without the outline of the objects in the original image it would be hard to guess what you were looking at.
And it’s that feature that makes it fun to play with. I’ve seen some hands on reviews where people posted videos of their friends drinking a cold liquid to see how it changed their body heat. Others have done some “invisible” writing using their hands, feet, or other hot item. Of course without the FLIR ONE you couldn’t see any of these things, or any of the more practical reasons FLIR proposes you use it for: checking to see if campfires are actually extinguished, looking for leaks in plumbing, or finding overheated circuits.
There’s no doubt that there are plenty of professional uses for the FLIR ONE, but the new form factor leveraging the iPhone makes it more attractive to many. The cost is also more reasonable than a full blown FLIR device. For a modest price of $350 (£208), anyone in the U.S. could pre-order with shipping stated to begin this week. By mid-August the company expects to release the case in Europe, though the price isn’t yet specified.
I mentioned in the headline we should get ready to stream video in infrared. FLIR ONE allows you to take video easy enough, though several reviews commented the video quality isn’t very good. As this device makes its way into the hands of many geeks, professionals, and perhaps juveniles I think there will be a surge of infrared videos going viral – by using it in ways the company probably never imagined. If I had one I know that’s what I’d be doing with it, assuming I could keep it away from my kids.
But as much as I’d like to play with it, I think I’ll wait around for the next version to be released. Hopefully there will be a bit of a price drop to go along with it. What about you? What would you look at in infrared first?