Thermal cameras for drones
Thermal imaging is often used in remotely piloted drones (UAVs), greatly enhancing general recon capabilities in dangerous or difficult-to-observe conditions. In hobbyist drones, thermal imaging can be a great asset to photographers for a wide range of purposes, while UAV thermal imaging is also highly beneficial to emergency response units, search and rescue teams, and in tactical military applications
Thermal imaging cameras for fire detection
Thermal imaging not only helps firefighters to locate survivors in low-visibility conditions where dust, fog, ash and other contaminants occlude visibility - it can also help detect hotspots, further potential sources of ignition, or indicate the presence of still-burning fires which may be originating from unexpected locations (such as underground or within cavity walls, for example).
Thermal imaging cameras for Apple & Android devices
There are a plethora of ‘thermal’ and ‘infrared’ photo apps available for Apple iOS and Android phones these days. However, they’re pretty much all just simulations; standalone apps don’t really do much besides putting a fancy filter on your phone camera, effectively mimicking the overall look of thermal detection imaging.
For a real experience of thermal imaging on a smartphone, you’ll need to buy an auxiliary thermal camera device that can be attached to the handset and used in conjunction with a dedicated app for the hardware. Good quality versions are sold in the UK and beyond by brands including Flir.
They’re not cheap by most mobile accessory standards - but until iPhones start shipping with a dedicated true IR camera, these third-party add-ons are currently the only way to perform genuine heat detection with a smartphone.
Thermal imaging cameras for wildlife
Wildlife photography, animal tracking and environmental monitoring are all common uses of thermal imaging technology today. IR cameras equipped with smart sensors can be set up and left unmanned in natural habitats, triggering automatically in the presence of nocturnal or otherwise hard-to-spot wildlife. This enables far more comprehensive monitoring of species and behaviours in some regions than has previously been possible.
In addition, enthusiast spotters and trackers frequently rely on thermal detection to help locate warm-blooded animals in poor visibility, to bypass visual camouflage conditions, or to remain aware of non-targets in hunting or development areas which may otherwise be at risk of harm.
Thermal imaging marine cameras
There are some very important marine application of thermal imaging, not least as a significant boost to collision detection systems when sailing at night, in fog, or during severe weather. While underwater thermal imaging per se is rather limited in its effectiveness (even with the most advanced technologies) as previously discussed, it’s not unusual today to find heat detection cameras manufactured to marine grade specifications and mounted in multiple positions aboard seagoing vessels of all sizes.
Thermal security cameras
Almost all business premises today deploy security camera technologies in one form or another. In recent years, it has become increasingly standard practice to rely on thermal imaging surveillance equipment for the best possible results in terms of protection, identification and return on investment.
Thermal security cameras reliably perform very well in low light and poor visibility areas, as well as providing the ability to strip away much of the visual camouflage - such as dense foliage - that’s often found close to offices and warehousing. In addition, thermal imaging CCTV cameras are usually bundled with smart sensors and advanced analytics technology, helping to reduce the number of false alarms.
Finally, heat detection-based systems are often cheaper to install and run long-term than standard CCTV setups, which need to be placed along every available line of sight in order to be fully effective - and which frequently require costly additional lighting to be rigged nearby in order to provide even basic functionality.
Night vision cameras
Although both thermal imaging IR cameras and standard ‘night vision’ units can be used to increase visibility in low light or otherwise occluded conditions, they’re actually two distinct products that rely on different technologies.
The key difference is that night vision cameras, of the type seen in dozens of films (usually characterised by a grainy green-and-white night-time display), rely on there being just the right amount of ambient light present to amplify what little it detects. For obvious reasons, the sensor can’t cope with too much light - but many people don’t realise that in a completely dark environment, night vision technologies can’t outperform a human eye either.
Many night vision cameras are therefore equipped with an additional infrared illumination function, in order to provide a greater wavelength of amplifiable electromagnetic signals to help the sensor out in very murky conditions. These are invisible to the naked eye, but can easily be detected by anyone else using night vision; not a problem in many applications, but far from ideal in many military or surveillance uses.
While night vision often provides a more naturalistic image in the right conditions, it’s also significantly less effective than thermal imaging in revealing targets obscured by fog, smoke, dust or camouflage.
Industrial infrared cameras
Many current thermal imaging cameras are certified specifically for industrial use, with various different configurations and manufacturing standards available on the UK market to suit a range of particularly challenging applications and environments.
Examples include cameras certified for use in areas subject to explosive gasses (e.g. the petrochemical industry); in below-ground applications such as mining; or around high volumes of airborne dust particles found in industries like sugar production and grain-handling.
If you’re likely to need a specific certification for your industrial infrared camera use, always check with suppliers and consult manufacturing guidelines to confirm that all relevant standards - such as ATEX and IECEx approval for safe use in Zone 1 explosive atmospheres - have been met.