Thermal Imaging

About Thermal Imaging

Infrared radiation in the middle to far Infra-Red (around 850 to 1400 nanometres wavelength) is emitted by all objects with a temperature above absolute zero (black body principle). Since the amount of radiation emitted by an object increases with temperature, thermal imaging (infra-red imaging), enables visualisation of variations in temperature. When viewed through a thermal imaging camera, warm objects stand out against cooler backgrounds.

A passive, non-contact technology, thermal imaging can provide 2D images in real time with a thermal sensitivity of less than 0.1°C. Thermal imaging is the only non-contact technology on the market capable of delivering detailed real-time LWIR (Long Wave Infra-Red) images.

Some physiological changes in human beings and other warm-blooded animals can be monitored with thermal imaging during clinical diagnostics. Thermal imaging is often used for breast screening, allergy detection, and in veterinary use.

Government and airport personnel used thermal imaging to detect suspected swine flu cases during the 2009 pandemic.

Thermal imaging camera and screen. Thermal imaging can detect elevated body temperature, one of the signs of viral infection.

Thermal imaging has been in use for many years, but its use and application has been  increasing dramatically in recent years with reduction in technological complexity and cost of specialist cameras  and importantly, with many new applications being found in a wide variety of  commercial and industrial environments.

Firefighters use thermal imaging to see through smoke, to find persons, and to localize the base of a fire.

Maintenance engineers use thermal imaging to locate overheating joints and sections of power lines, which are a sign of impending failure.

The left image shows a  fault with an electrical fuseblock, middle and right show a gas leak and another equipment overheating fault. Note the latter two images are shown in monochrome as an optional alternative to colour.

Building construction engineers can see thermal signatures that indicate heat leaks in faulty thermal insulation and can use the results to improve the efficiency of heating and air-conditioning units.

Law enforcement & Security Personnel can detect people in very low light or total darkness. Thermal imagers can be used to locate threats such as hidden suspects, guard dogs and dangerous obstacles. Not only can an officer locate these dangers, he/she can see without being seen. In addition, infrared imagers can see through dust and dense smoke. When approaching a burning building or vehicle, an officer can quickly scan through the smoke to see the extent of the fire or to look for victims.

Two images of the same scene at night. The left image is from a visible light camera, the right image is from a thermal imaging camera.

Marijuana cultivation investigations represented one of the earliest uses of infrared imaging in law enforcement. Indoor growing operations require the use of high intensity growing lamps which produce large amounts of heat. This heat must be exhausted through the building’s structure to maintain an acceptable air temperature for the marijuana plants to grow. The exhausted heat will manifest itself in several ways: through exhaust vents, attic vents and exterior walls. Thermal imagers see this abnormal excess heat and provide an additional element of probable cause.

Traditional thermal imaging cameras are much more expensive than their visible-spectrum counterparts, and higher-end models are often export-restricted due to the military uses for this technology. Older bolometers or more sensitive models also require cryogenic cooling, usually by a miniature Stirling cycle refrigerator or liquid nitrogen.

As at Q2 2015, thermal imaging is still relatively expensive and until very recently has been too cost prohibitive and too large physically for integration into mainstream mobile computing devices.

Working with leading thermal imaging partners, however, Blackroc are now able to bring high quality thermal imaging capability into the mainstream in a compact and cost-effective format, using low-cost, uncooled micro bolometers as FPA (Focal Plane Array) sensors, tuned to the far Infra-Red part of the spectrum.

The heart of this thermal imaging system is a silicon sensor based on microbolometer technology that converts thermal infrared radiation into visible images. This cost-effective technology offers state-of-the-art performance in terms of both thermal sensitivity and image quality and is suitable for commercial and military applications. First developed over twenty years ago for military applications, silicon microbolometers have significantly matured and are today found in commercial products, including thermal imaging cameras used for automotive night vision; fire, search, and rescue missions; security and surveillance; thermography; and many other strategic applications.

Their resolution is considerably lower than that of optical cameras, mostly 160×120 or 320×240 pixels, up to 640×512 for the most expensive models.

In the first model Blackroc are releasing, we use a thermal imaging sensor at relatively low resolution, alongside a 5 megapixel visible image camera, and by extracting visible image edge detail at pixel level from the visible camera image , and superimposing it on the thermal image, a high resolution composite image is obtained, which gives astonishingly high resolution thermal images.

In addition a shutter is incorporated in the thermal optics to provide a black body reference thereby permitting radiometric data (indication of real world temperature), to be displayed

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