What Is a Thermal Camera? – A Comprehensive Explanation

Typically, thermal cameras are used for different purposes in different scenes. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world, the use of thermal cameras has increased dramatically. This is because of the fact that businesses are increasingly using thermal cameras for testing in various spots such as schools, colleges, railway stations, and airports.

But do you have any idea of how they work? 

In this article, you will find an in-depth analysis of thermal cameras. And in this article, we have covered the technology, design, best brands, and many more interesting details of thermal cameras. Really they are very helpful to you if you’re new to the field of a thermal camera.

A thermal camera is an advanced electronic device incorporated with an integrated display. A thermal camera is a device utilized to capture an image of an object using infrared radiation emitted from an object. Such devices implemented using various innovative technology are used as the most important device in various industries. The best thermal cameras, which appear very concise and simple, perform various functions behind the screen.

A view of a truck tire through a thermal imaging camera

Generally, infrared radiations emitted by an object can not be seen by the mare human eye. But thermal cameras capture the infrared radiation of an object then turn it into an image via a series of processes. In this process, the device uses a thermal sensor to sense the IR and transform it into visual light. The specifically designed thermal sensor helps to transform the IR into a visual image of an object. 

For report generation and detailed analysis, this thermal image can be used to make you view better in the pitch darkness. Not only the infrared radiation of an object but also thermal imaging cameras are utilized to measure surface skin temperature. All of the above points make the thermal camera a popular choice for obtaining contactless temperature measurement.

Let’s take a look at their origin story.

History of Thermal Cameras

In the early 1800s Sir William Herschel, a scientist, invented the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, much to their surprise. Most interestingly, although the origin of the word “infrared” is not yet known precisely, it came into use in the late 19th century.

The bolometer was the first invention to measure infrared radiation accurately, and the first bolometer was developed in 1880. The first version of thermal imaging equipment used to detect objects using infrared radiation was designed after World War I. 

The first thermal imaging devices were initially used in the UK for anti-aircraft protection. Then in 1947, the US military developed an infrared scanner for its own use, which allowed the thermal camera to produce an image.

Firefighters have long used thermal imaging cameras to rescue trapped people. And this device was very helpful to accurately track the target even in high smoke areas. Image processing speed was developed due to advances in technology which help in capturing images accurately and quickly. 

The microbolometer was invented in 1980 by the U.S. Department of Defense officer Honeywell. However, in the year 1992, the US government classified and approved this technology.

Although not widely used in the early days, thermal cameras became very popular in the late 20th century. In later periods they were very popularly used by a wide variety of people. Most of the modern thermal imaging cameras are based on smart IR sensors. 

Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Deploys New Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermal Imaging Cameras have been widely used by contractors and home inspectors since early 2008. They have also become a popular choice for a variety of industrial and commercial applications. The demand and use of thermal cameras have increased significantly during the current pandemic situations.

Construction of Thermal Cameras

A thermal camera is constructed with a total of five components which are an optic system, detector, amplifier, signal processing, and display respectively. Some of the thermal imaging cameras are designed for specific fire services that are consolidated with the components like heat resistance and are also composed of ruggedized & waterproof housing. 

All of these components work together to sense the infrared radiation of the object. Yes, all the natural and man-made things emit heat as infrared radiation which is perfectly detected by the thermal sensors incorporated with the thermal imaging camera. 

The display of thermal imaging cameras accurately shows the infrared emission differences emitted from objects, making it more likely that two different objects that emit the same temperature will appear the same color. 

In general, thermal cameras utilize grayscale to express normal temperature objects but highlight critical thermal surfaces with different colors. All thermal cameras currently sold on the market are either handheld or helmet-mounted for user convenience. 

If you choose a handheld camera, only one hand is required to position and operate the device. That means you can use the handheld camera with one hand and use the other hand for other tasks, such a feature would be more suitable for firefighters. 

Most of the thermal imaging cameras that are used in the fire service are handheld models. Whereas helmet mounted models all make both hands free so it has become a lot easier now for you to do all the other work. Most of the thermal imaging cameras that are used in the hunting industry are helmet-mounted models. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Fire Research division is the leading government agency that is developing the performance and standards for the thermal imaging cameras that are consolidated for fire service. 

Although the U.S. Army Night Vision Laboratory located in the United States has contributed to the effort, the National Institute of Standards and Technology Fire Research is the lead agency. 

The thermal camera designed by this agency has the ability to withstand fully immerse in water, indicate visible low-battery warnings, and it has the potential to offer meaningful visual readouts beyond ~1,100 °C (2,000 °F ).

Handheld Thermal Camera
Helmet-Mounted Thermal Camera

What are Thermal Cameras used for?

Unlike other thermal devices, thermal cameras are not only used for a few specific purposes, but they have been used for a long time by various parties for a wide variety of purposes. While a few of those applications are purely fun, many more have enormous practical significance.

Apparently, the official opinion is that thermal purposes are mostly used in the defense sector. But in the present period, thermal cameras are finding application in industrial and home systems. In addition, consumer-sized thermal cameras are also utilized for entertainment.

Here are some of the key applications.

  • Building inspection
  • Roof inspection
  • Electrical wiring maintenance
  • Law enforcement
  • Air or gas leakage detection
  • Environmental studies
  • Hobby photography
  • Night vision
  • Industrial and mechanical equipment inspection
  • Heat loss detection in HVAC systems
  • Security and surveillance
  • Medical testing and diagnosis
  • Automotive night vision
  • Maritime navigation

Always keep in mind that every thermal imaging camera has diverse limitations and specifications. So you should choose the thermal camera after doing enough research. Beyond the army purposes, thermal imaging cameras are now ideal equipment for normal users. 

This device permits the user to explore those commonly hidden shades of nature. Furthermore, you can also take a cool thermal selfie (Thermie) with your family and friends. It can also make you an ideal winner at hide-and-seek. Here we will look in detail at some of the most important applications of thermal cameras.

1] Firefighting

Over the past decades, study results show that conventional thermal cameras have been of great help to firefighters. Firefighters find it difficult to capture the target in smoke and dusty areas, and they use handheld and helmet-mounted units to avoid this problem. 

Thermal cameras can detect not only living things but also the amount of energy emitted from a normal door or wall. These thermal imaging cameras greatly allow firefighters to carefully navigate through dangerous areas and extremely dark areas.

This thermal device can be very useful in locating and rescuing trapped and lost persons. Not only that, gas leaks and leaks in liquid containers can have a major impact on the chronic, you can even use them to detect such leaks. 

Thermal cameras can be very effective in detecting leaks and hot spots in electrical appliances if they are attached to walls. Drones are currently equipped with thermal cameras to monitor accidents at high altitudes and are used in search and rescue operations, for example in monitoring and controlling fires in the wild, and in high-rise buildings.

Thermal Imaging Cameras, which were initially made to be heavier, are now becoming more compact and lighter due to changing applications and advances in technology. Such a thermal device that is made very lightly is very useful for the fire brigade.

2] Building Inspection

When inspecting a large building it is very difficult to detect air leaks, areas without adequate insulation, or water leakage with the naked eye. But inspecting buildings with the help of thermal cameras is the easiest solution to detect building heat and HVAC problems.

A thermal imaging camera can easily detect defective or missing air and insulation leaks. Apart from these, these thermal devices are widely used in the detection of leaks and construction defects in pipes. In addition, thermal cameras assist in locating mold growth, humidity, and electrical defects in buildings.

In many cases, thermal bridges are more likely to form in a building due to construction problems. The resulting thermal bridges can lead to cooling infiltration in a room. A thermal camera can be helpful in locating areas where cooling has penetrated and avoiding thermal bridges. Thermal imaging cameras play an important role in examining various things, including leaks in new construction buildings and older buildings. In addition, such technology is used to carry out inspections even on the renovation of old buildings.

Inspecting old buildings for leaks can be a daunting task than inspecting new constructions. Although it is difficult to find leaking and broken pipes in older buildings, they are the most important function based on the study. Hot water can be easily detected by a thermogram leaking from the tube as a result of overheating. Also, thermal cameras are very useful for scanning electrical installations. They work best to check fuses and complicated connections.

3] Skin Temperature Screening

A notable feature of a thermal imaging camera is that they have a skin temperature screening feature. Skin temperature screening is mandatory in all areas of the current pandemic environment. 

Performing this test with a thermal imaging camera before a person enters a building would be the simplest and best way to identify people with the flu or fever. This device provides the right level of medical care and makes it a very effective non-contact screening tool.

A modern thermal camera comes with advanced features such as detection speed and improved accuracy. Although a thermal camera has the ability to detect human temperature, never forget that it is not a medical diagnostic tool. Although this tool cannot detect a virus, it is an excellent device for screening people to confirm whether a person has the flu.

Current research has shown that thermal cameras are not very effective in measuring a person’s temperature. Keep in mind that these are only used temporarily to bring the current environment under control as they are uniquely made for hunting and shooting. Furthermore, accurate setup and effective operation are required to obtain accurate results.

4] Aerospace Industry

The adaptability of thermography sees increasing utilization in the aerospace industry. Key areas of thermal imaging camera application are inspection & maintenance, quality control, and material testing.

The study concludes that most companies use thermal imaging cameras to check the elevator located at the tail of the aircraft. Wings, rotor blades, and fuselages of the aircraft can be effectively inspected using thermal cameras. 

This makes it a very compact device for researchers as thermal cameras greatly help to follow the aircraft’s high-security standards. Thermal imaging cameras with very high resolutions are utilized to analyze the thermal behavior of aircraft engines

Besides, the aerospace industry utilizes a mixture of composite and light materials, besides, several specialized construction processes are also utilized. High-definition infrared cameras aid in the analysis of these elements. This results in a quicker and more powerful error analysis of the different components.

5] Autonomous Vehicles

Operating on the evolution of the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) is a prime challenge for engineers. A completely automated driving system requires a lot of data from the outside environment for smooth navigation via the terrain.

For the greatest levels of security, the object should be able to view via the smoke, glare, fog, and pitch darkness.

The performance of the thermal imaging camera may be affected by the glare from the light source such as sunbeam, external light, and so on. To avoid this kind of interaction, a thermal camera comes with an anti-glare aspect.

Thermal imaging cameras detect IR radiations from the objects and then convert them into visual images. These thermal imaging cameras with super thermal technology can offer great support in this complex driving situation.

These devices can dramatically increase the range of spotlights in the nighttime. Most automobile producers provide thermal sensors as a piece of the safety devices of the vehicle.

It has been officially declared that the utilization of thermal sensors can advance the performance of AEB (Automatic Emergency Braking).

The further step is to combine the range of other sensors with thermal sensor data and superior levels of device learning. This will provide smooth performance for the completely autonomous driving modes in every weather situation.

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