Thermal cameras: Place for thermal in verticals
Editor / Provider: Editorial Department, a&s International | Updated: 2/3/2014 | Article type: Hot Topics
The fact that thermal has mainly thrived and been utilized in military applications is no secret. However, the idea that it can only be used in this application is far from the truth.
Thermal in Military
Military applications for thermal is the most well known with the highest acceptance of thermal technology. However, many consumers are not aware that from a sensor perspective, the technology used in commercial applications is essentially the same, sometimes even identical, to that used in military applications. The primary difference between military and commercial products, as pointed out by Hickman, is the “mission-specific configuration and level of ruggedness/hardening performed by the housing assembly.”
Industry specialists pointed out that the military is developing advanced software inputs and fiber-optic sensors that enhance thermal technology. Among the most popular thermal products for military use are thermal night vision goggles and thermal infrared cameras, which are incorporated in transportation on air, land, and sea. Also, as adoption for handheld thermal devices picks up, homeland security patrol officers are now relying on thermal detectors to discover vehicles, intruders, and weapons to mitigate illegal activities and crimes.
Thermal in ITS
In addition to major military applications, thermal cameras have been widely adopted in intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Flir explained that thermal imaging in the traffic market is primarily used in two applications: detecting the presence of cars at intersections for the control of traffic signal lighting, and along highways and roadways for automated incident detection applications. The fast maturity of the front-end device market has facilitated this adoption. Since thermal cameras are superior to regular visible cameras under a wide range of difficult weather conditions such as lowlight, direct sunlight, and shadows, using thermal devices for inspecting vehicles and passengers on the roads not only ensures better accuracy, but also meets 24/7 real-time surveillance requirements.
Seeing a lot of potential in ITS, Flir acquired Traficon International at the end of 2012, a leading provider of video-based intersection control and roadway incident detection products. Through this acquisition, Flir has been able to combine their thermal camera technology with Traficon's video analytics capabilities.
Thermal in Security
Thermal in the security market is growing. Mostly used in perimeter detection applications, thermal cameras have been called the “perfect human detector” by many thermal security camera players. Although thermal images may lack detail, the one thing it does that visible cameras do not is differentiate humans from the background. This ability to detect intruders 24/7 regardless of lighting conditions, along with the ability to discriminate between the target and the background, makes thermal cameras an ideal solution for those looking to secure locations.
“Thermal will be playing a vital role in actually creating security because security is all about detecting,” said Romanowich. Because the line between security and surveillance is often blurred consumers often confuse security with surveillance. This confusion has created problems for the thermal market in security, as people forget that the fundamental role of security is to detect and protect, not just monitor and survey.
In addition to detection benefits, thermal imaging has overall total cost benefits as well. The higher price tag of thermal cameras often scare off many consumers; however, when weighted against the overall costs “thermal is actually a more affordable solution than visible and infrared-illuminated solutions when you factor in thermal's reduced need for lighting and power infrastructure,” explained Klink.
Thermal in Others
Flir's overall objective is to bring infrared imaging into home, workplaces, and the lives of people everywhere. Klink noted that the coupling of thermal cameras with video analytics makes it a good detection sensor for perimeter intruder applications. Areas such as rooftops, car impound lots, and waterways such as sea fronts, harbors, and other vast expanses of open water can benefit from thermal imaging where thermal cameras can create a virtual perimeter. Integrating thermal cameras into the surveillance systems of waterways can improve the utilization, management, and protection of water resources, providing flood prevention capabilities to protect human life and property in times of emergency.
Thermal imaging also has a strong presence in fire fighting and law enforcement. For example, in forest fire prevention thermal can be used for site surveillance at night, as well as efficiently discover potential fire hazards and locate their positions.
Thermal imaging technology for commercial applications has surpassed that of traditional military use, according to industry specialists. For energy management, thermal imaging instruments present new opportunities for preventative maintenance. Automotive, commercial, and mechanical industries are using thermal instruments to perform system diagnostics by taking advantage of vehicle mechanics, thermal conductivity, and UV goggles to identify flow and air leaks in motors. Onsite technicians in these applications can use handheld thermal cameras to easily find gaps in heat preservation in architecture, severity of leak damage on the rooftop, and identify problems in electrical wires.
There are also medical applications for thermal equipment such as thermal readers, which helped control the SARS epidemic and avian influenza. Thermal monitoring systems are the best option for automatically detecting the body temperature of passengers, enabling fast and efficient customs clearance.
Other applications like home and small business security, as well as building automation, are also becoming popular as prices continue to drop. “These markets are perfect for thermal applications because thermal cameras create high-contrast signals that make analytics perform better, and because intruders cannot hide their heat so they cannot hide from a thermal camera,” said Klink. Flir believes that thermal imaging will become a stand component in all security systems, including home security systems.
Romanowich sees thermal cameras everywhere outdoors in the future. “Everywhere you have visible cameras today that you care about detecting people will be thermal,” said Romanowich, “because thermal is the perfect human detector.”
Future of Thermal: Standardization and Integration
According to Romanowich, standards like ONVIF and the ability for analog and digital systems to interoperate are important considerations for integrators when choosing to deploy systems from different manufacturers. Flir offers free software development kits for integrating their cameras into other systems — their complete line of IP cameras is also ONVIF compliant, noting ease of integration as a key factor in many large projects. While standardization will definitely play a certain role in thermal, companies have recognized integration as a key factor in thermal growth.
Since older generations of thermal products necessitated the use of non-standard power supplies, connectors, mounts, and integration techniques, the difficulty of integrating and using older generations of products with the new has proven to be a challenge for the thermal industry, according to Hickman. Deeper integration, on both the camera level and system level, is what many believe will help the market size of thermal in security. Romanowich noted the need for manufacturers to design a thermal camera that has been pre-integrated out of the box to adapt to the challenges of detecting intruders with accuracy in outdoor environments. “This means that the thermal imager, image processing, and video analytics have been pre-engineered into a total solution to detect intruders, even in the presence of bad weather, reflections from water, and movement of the camera from wind and vibrations, while presenting a good, clear thermal image at all times of the day and night.” Solving these fundamental hurdles will allow for a dramatic increase in the adoption of thermal in security.