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New Tech Tuesdays: Thermal Imaging Has a History, and Its Uses Are Still Heating Up Tommy Cummings

New Tech Tuesdays

Join journalist and Mouser technical content specialist Tommy Cummings for a weekly look at all things interesting, new, and noteworthy for design engineers.

Thermal imaging, which is based on the science of infrared energy emitted from all objects, has been behind the development of hundreds of applications. The technology’s beginnings can be traced to the 1950s with defense and military applications, but thermal imaging is now a presence in everyday life.

The emergence and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic put thermal imaging products in headlines while touching people's lives worldwide. In this context, thermal-imaging systems accurately measure the surface skin temperature without being physically close to the person being evaluated.

Thermal imaging also has other practical applications, including security, diagnostic devices, and Internet of Things devices. They are ideal for detecting air quality, gas leaks, overloaded electrical circuits, and more. They have public-safety uses in police surveillance, firefighting, search and rescue, maritime navigation, road safety, etc. Who doesn't stare at the TV screen when news reports show a thermal camera from a police helicopter tracking down the heat given off by criminals on the lam?

In this week's New Tech Tuesdays, let’s check out thermal-imaging products from FLIR, Fluke, and Amphenol.

Heat Search, Preventative Maintenance, Skin Temps

Forward looking Infrared (FLIR) thermal imaging sensors are becoming crucial components in many of today’s latest technologies, including manufacturing, robotics, medical, and standalone devices for thermal monitoring.

Devices such as the FLIR Lepton 3.0 and 3.5 Micro Thermal Camera Modules are capable of discerning thermal differences with greater resolution and sensitivity than with previous generations. The Lepton 3.0 and 3.5 Micro Thermal Camera Modules offer the same 160px x120px, 12 micron, uncooled focal plane arrays (FPA) with the Lepton 3.5 now with a calibrated radiometric output across the entire 19,200 pixel array. The Lepton 3.5 also increases the scene dynamic range to +400°C providing even greater flexibility for demanding applications. Both modules are smaller than a dime and feature a CCI (I2C-like) control port and video over a video data serial peripheral interface (SPI). The modules are crucial components in automotive applications, robotics, smart buildings and smart cities, augmented and virtual reality products, and Internet of Things devices.

Fluke TiSx5+ Thermal Imagers make project management look kind of fun. The imagers are handheld point-and-click devices ideal for mechanical inspection and preventive maintenance. They identify potential electrical, and mechanical temperature issues faster with their high-resolution images on 3.5" VGA Touchscreen LCD displays. The TiS55+ and TiS75+ have built-in personal assistants, allowing information to be embedded into saved images. Thousands of images can be organized into the device and made sharable in real-time. Multiple measures also can be saved to the cloud with Wi-Fi upload and free storage for up to 5GB with Fluke's proprietary storage cloud. The imagers include 60-second voice annotation per image, IR-PhotoNotes, and asset tagging. They're rugged, water and dust resistant, and can withstand a 2m drop.

During the pandemic, you might have run across the Amphenol Advanced Sensors TSCAN-750 Temperature Scanning Entry System or some form of it. The system combines an IR temperature sensor with full or partial facial recognition artificial intelligence, even when a subject is wearing a face covering. Users simply stand in front of the TSCAN-750, and within one second, their body temperature and identity are automatically recorded. An alarm sounds if a body temperature exceeds a normal value, and passage is prohibited. Up to 50,000 identities can be stored in a facial recognition library. It's not for harsh environments, however, so keep the device indoors.

Tuesday's Takeaway

Thermal imaging started in the 1950s with military and defense applications. Today, thermal imaging is virtually everywhere. In a single day, we might have our skin temperature taken remotely, check the heating, ventilation, and air condition vents for performance, or take a thermal selfie for Instagram using an infrared app. The list of applications just keeps growing.



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Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.


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