Thursday, January 09, 2014

FLIR One Thermal Imager for iPhone: Low Priced IR Solution?

Maybe I should have bought my infrared camera a bit sooner (or later, depending on how to look at it)...

Overview (details from official website)
FLIR recently announced that they've developed an infrared adapter for the iPhone 5 and 5s. According to documents on the product's official website, it's a case that attaches onto the the iPhone, and using an app, enables viewing of infrared radiation on the phone. It consists of separate digital and infrared cameras along with a separate battery. These two cameras enable FLIR MSX blending of images. Photos suggest that it is a slim-sized case that doesn't add much bulk to an iPhone. 

The shocker is that the price is "under" US$ 350 with a release date of spring 2014. An Android version for certain models should also be available later in 2014 (see Fast Facts).
Mixing Water (not from a FLIR ONE)
First Impressions
Not going to lie: I'm jealous. The camera that I've been using is significantly more expensive than this case and a no contract iPhone 5 combined. However, the more expensive camera is commercial/industrial grade equipment with more features and probably built to higher standards. What is doesn't have is FLIR MSX, which became more standard in the newest generation of cameras released in the past few months -- I have a previous generation camera and will elaborate on this in a bit.
Hot Water(not from FLIR ONE)

Cost
Jealousy aside, the FLIR ONE is a very interesting product. One of the cheaper thermal imaging cameras available right now from FLIR is the FLIR E4 thermal imager with a price tag of just under US$ 1000. From some quick Googling, an iPhone 5c or 5s would set one back $550 for the cheaper 5c without a contract. The total cost to obtain a working camera then would be US$ 550 plus US$ 350 (assumed price) or about US$ 900.

Comparing the two items, though, isn't fair as an US$ 995 FLIR E4 would not be the same as an US$ 900 iPhone 5c with FLIR ONE. One of these options would provide significantly more features and functions than the other -- I'll leave you to guess which is which.
Tap Water (Not from a FLIR ONE)
Specifications
Official specs note that the "Sensitivity" is 0.1 C and the "scene range temperature" is 0-100 C -- quotes were used because I'm not used to seeing these terms defined this way. Unless I'm misunderstanding what they mean, those are reasonable specs, especially for the cost. The most notable feature for me is the inclusion of MSX, which I would have loved on my camera. How I would describe MSX is that it merges an infrared image with a visible light image. More specifically, it takes a thermal image, then overlays object outlines on top. I can see it being very useful for figuring out exactly what one is looking at while using an infrared camera. It also appears to be extra useful at improving the image quality of a camera with a lower infrared detector resolution.

That brings us to the topic of resolution, which I was unable to locate for the FLIR ONE. Given the price, it probably isn't too difficult to assume what the resolution isn't. A current generation FLIR E4 has a resolution of 80x60 with a thermal sensitivity of <0.15 C for US$ 995 (from official website). The next step up is the E5 with a resolution of 120x90, thermal sensitivity <0.10 for US$ 1,495 (official website). These two cameras also have MSX. I'm going to assume that the ONE's detector is probably below 80x60.

Another item I couldn't find was the frame rate. I'm not a lawyer, but from what I understand, there are additional restrictions on the export of infrared cameras with refresh rates higher than 9 Hz. Since the ONE's product literature says that these will be released worldwide, my guess is that they will not be 30 Hz. The E4 and E5 are only 9 Hz, by the way. I've seen what ~9 Hz video output looks like from my camera (when streaming to a laptop) and it isn't bad at all. Compared to 30 Hz, the lower frame rate is definitely choppier, but usable.
Random IR Image (Not from a FLIR ONE)
The ability to correct emissivity and adjust the temperature range of the color palette are other items I'm curious about. If they are not available, then the FLIR ONE may be more similar the FLIR Scout PS24 or PS32 than the E4 or other mechanical, electrical, or building models. I considered buying either of those two units, but eventually decided against it for some additional features. The PS24 and PS32 use a scope-like design and, I believe, are more meant for simple sighting than precise scientific analysis -- not saying they're bad. Just search YouTube for videos from those units.

Conclusions
If this product were announced before I bought my camera, I would have just bought an iPhone 5 in preparation. Infrared cameras are very expensive items and difficult to justify for mostly "recreational" purposes. The FLIR ONE addresses the cost issue and brings what appears to be a very functional item to the consumer market for a reasonable price. There's not a chance that I'll ever get one considering the fact that I have one that I'm still paying off, but I am extremely impressed -- and shocked.


IR Video Collection
Body Heat
Reflections
Spilling water on a Carpet
Vacuuming a Carpet

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