A real thermal imaging camera for $300

If you want to check your house for hot air leaks, take pictures of the heat coming off a rack of equipment, or just chase the most dangerous animal, [Arnie], through the jungles of central america, a thermal imaging camera is your friend. These devices normally cost a few thousand dollars, but the team behind the Mu Thermal Camera managed to get the price down to about $300.

The basic idea behind the Mu Thermal Camera is overlaying the output of an infrared thermopile – basically, an infrared camera – on top of the video feed of a smart phone’s camera. This is an approach we’ve seen before and something that has even been turned into a successful Kickstarter. These previous incarnations suffered from terrible resolution, though; just 16×4 pixels for the infrared camera. The Mu thermal camera, on the other hand, has 160×120 pixels of resolution. That’s the same resolution as this $2500 Fluke IR camera. After the indiegogo campaign is over, the Mu camera will eventually sell for $325.

We have no idea how the folks behind the Mu camera were able to create a thermal imaging with such exceptional resolution at this price point. The good news is the team will be open sourcing the Mu camera after their indiegogo run is over. W’e’d love to see those docs now, if only to figure out how a thousand dollars of infrared sensor is crammed into a $300 device.

121 thoughts on “A real thermal imaging camera for $300

          1. “required to fulfill perks”

            Not enforceable though and Indiegogo seem to have zero interest in even trying to enforce it.

            Anyway seems their claims were too good to be true, nothing but sporadic Bulls**t updates from them there’s no way they are ever going to deliver this.

        1. And that’s a scam how?

          It’s only a scam if you need to make the goal in order to make the product. In this case, they say they have VC money that they can use to make the product regardless of how much they get from IndieGoGo; they’d just rather use IndieGoGo funding and keep their equity. Seems reasonable to me.

          (Note that I’m not defending the company; it’s tripping my “too good to be true” alarms a bit. But the funding model seems fine.)

          1. But: “Indiegogo is not liable nor responsible for the fulfillment of Perks, the failure to fulfill Perks, the quality of the Perks and as otherwise disclaimed or limited by this Agreement.”

          2. But: “Indiegogo is not liable nor responsible for the fulfillment of Perks, the failure to fulfill Perks, the quality of the Perks and as otherwise disclaimed or limited by this Agreement.”

            What can be done if they don’t send the perks?

    1. There’s a pattern which I keep seeing in these technology crowdfunding projects.

      * Hard engineering problems, not just the challenge of a product launch
      * Doesn’t acknowledge hard engineering problems
      * Concept photos only, no demonstration of current progress
      * “Too good to be true” price tag and/or claims of effectiveness

      Most people don’t have the technical expertise to know what is and isn’t reasonable, so it’s easy to put these projects out there. If they never ship, “that’s just the risk of crowdfunding.”

      If you’re promoting a tech-heavy project, you should be aware that this stuff is going on. Then, you should put as much effort into proving that *this isn’t you* as you do into the rest of your pitch. Show prototypes even if they’re not as pretty as your concept video, explain how you’re going to get from here to the finished version, explain how your team’s expertise makes you the ones who can pull this off!

          1. Possibilities:

            * Fluke IR camera with Photoshop post-editing.
            * FLIR camera with Photoshop post-editing
            * Normal digital camera with Photoshop to simulate an IR camera (unless you’re claiming to have verified the temperature gradients in the photos independently…)

    2. If you trust the person who is selling the product, it shouldn’t matter if they use flexible funding or not. If you trust them with your money, then you should trust them to decide how much they need to actually raise to bring the product to market.

      That said, Kickstarter now requires more than a conceptual rendering to launch a technology product, and the lack of anything but conceptual renderings may be why this project is on Indiegogo. I can’t find a single photo of the actual device, or even an actual photo of the interface. They have some thermal imaging videos they’ve posted, but those could be recorded with any device.

      Before contributing I’d want to see some actual electronics, or at least do some more research on these guys to make sure they’re legit.

      1. The videos couldn’t have been recorded with any device; for instance they certainly couldn’t have been shot on a Mµ Thermal Imager, as they would have had much lower resolution.

      2. We manufacture thermal cameras and I say Mu is BS and will never get the balloon off of the ground. I say show me. I have been in this business for more than 30 years just visit http://www.infraredcamerasinc.com call 409-861-0788 and get the real facts on this technology. Don’t get ripped off by Mu. If they are real say show me now. not just some video. I have done my homework on these guys.

  1. I suspect it’s a matter of software processing. CMOS and CCD imaging sensors can pick up IR light, but it shows as frequency shifted up to white. Find a sensor that has a wide response range to the IR spectrum then write the software to transpose that to the numbers for the visible spectrum.

    Quite a jump in tech from not so long ago when analog IR cameras could only work for limited amounts of time with a liquid nitrogen cooling jacket.

      1. If it’s a silicon CCD sensor, you’re limited by the bandgap of silicon. This is 1.1eV, which corresponds to about 1100nm. Anything above that just won’t be detected.

        1. I suspect this is an authentic solid state thermopile array. It’s just the sensor with very little processing. That should be relatively cheap. You can already get basic B&W thermal cameras that just output a composite signal for around $500. This is not a stretch. The question is, how good is their support software? Is it really ready and does it work on both iPhone and Android.

    1. My understanding is that the liquid cooling is less a limit of technology and more an issue of the difficulty that comes with reading IR using a device that is warm, and therefore emitting IR. It’s like if a camera were made of material that glowed in the dark. Yeah you can use computer tech to filter the noise, but you’re still dealing with a level of noise that’s going to be swallowing detail one way or another.

  2. IMO the price for thermal imaging/night-vision devices should have gone way down a long time ago. We should have throw-away devices (like an MP3 player) for seeing at night by now. If the devices were only made from some rare earth mineral then it might be understandable.. ..I think someone has been keeping the technology expensive (the military) because being able to see in the dark is such a powerful ability.

    1. Supply and demand. When people in the general public see how incredibly useful they are, China will crank them out for 100$.

    2. Fluke has released a new “Visual IR Thermometer”, the VT02 for $895. Seems like a very similar device to this “thermal camera”.

    3. Governments try to outlaw and regulate night-vision devices like they are weapons. It’s much easier for the government to take down targets when they can’t see you coming. They are okay with people having night-vision devices that work by emitting an IR light source because that has limited functionality and alerts everyone to where someone is.

      1. Nah, you can buy starlight scopes freely. That is, I’ve seen them for sale, never actually bought one. Particularly the previous-generation Russian stuff goes for knockdown prices.

          1. The ones I mentioned are starlight scopes, which is what Michael implied. They’re not thermal, they’re visible optical, but work without needing any illumination (like the early IR night-scopes did). They’re basically photomultipliers. Still useful for paranoid adventures in your back yard though.

            And it wouldn’t matter if they were export controlled, they’re from Russia. Various vintages of surplus Soviet equipment, and some newer stuff. The US’s export laws don’t matter when you’re not buying from there. All sorts of countries make crazy spy stuff nowadays.

    4. we sell the FLIR cameras at work at the price drops significantly every year. The 160×120 version is less than a grand now, I believe. They used to be $3.5k

      1. I picked up a couple of the FLIR I7 kits for 800 each with educational discount and they’re fine but no video output. I’d be curious to see how they’re getting around FLIR’s huge bank of patents etc. on this.

      1. You are talking an expensive solid state sensor at 385×288. Down in the 160×110 range they drop considerably.

  3. Maybe the reason the price tag will be so cheap is because it is declassified technology that was reverse engineered from the Roswell alien crash. Just offering a possible suggestion.

  4. This will revolutionize night vision and put the citizenry on par with the armed forces of the world, increasing “social power” and a game changer, since presently only the standing armies of the world are capable of “owning the night”.
    (expect gov’t entities to seek the end of this project – so it better be done fast and cheap or it won’t go anywhere).

    1. Um… no. Previous generation military grade weapon scopes were 320×240, current gen are 640×480, both far higher resolution than this. It is analogus to sayting that 1st gen NVGs in the modern day will “revolutionize night vision and put the citizenry on par with the armed forces”

  5. Maybe the cost is so cheap because it is really just declassified technology that has been reverse engineered from the Roswell alien crash.

  6. “We have no idea how the folks behind the Mu camera were able to create a thermal imaging with such exceptional resolution at this price point.”

    They haven’t (yet).

    First they want some funds and then they might.

    1. I’m working on a 35×35 thermal imager but I’m only going to post it to hackaday when I have a working proto and schematics up :)

  7. THIS confuses the crap out of me … i have worked with IR CCDs before and there not cheap or easy to stay calabrated!
    … … maybe there using 32000 PIR sensors and a shrink ray? XP

    1. 19200
      and they arent using SHIT. All they have is pretty renders and a guy with macbook and nice house in the background trying to sell you a $300 pipe dream.
      This is why I liked Kickstarter forbidding projects without prototypes.

      1. Hey, I had a Kickstarter project without a prototype, and I just shipped the first ten today. With the new rules, my product would never have been developed, because there’s no way I would have been able to afford to spend 10 months working full time on development just to produce a prototype. It took 6 months just to get the first boards back from the PCB house, then another four months to write the code. Even if I just did a basic demo, it would still have taken me those six months to get to the prototype stage. And once I was there, I wouldn’t have even needed Kickstarter, because I already knew who all my customers were and almost everyone who backed it came from that pool of people.

  8. Maybe they (will) have access to a lower quality bin, that could explain the price. You tend to get what you pay for.

  9. What kind of accuracy and precision/resolution can you expect from this thing? Probably not better than a Fluke.

  10. They do not say they will be open sourcing anything. They say they use lots of open source code in the firmware and will be minimally complying with the license requirements. They imply the driver they are writing for the sensor will be closed.

    1. Maybe because the site being Hack A Day, only has to give one hack a day, besides I can see a cheapthermal imager being used in hacks.

  11. I smell BS. the expensive parts are NOT the stuff that’s already in the phone – it’s the germanium optics, the vacuum-packaged sensor with a large enough silicon area to capture enough energy to give a decent signal/noise ratio. Possibly the only advantage to using a phone is having the processing power to correct for geometry errors of simple optics.
    And I just don’t understand their desire to sell it through “big-box retailers”, as this probably halves their build budget for a given selling price. If they have really found a novel solution to the optics, why are they not shouting about that, and not the electronics for standalone operation, which are not particularly expensive. My money is on never hearing from them again.

    1. Yup, there’s a couple of things that are fishy here:

      - The $150 price for the not so early adopter special gets them to a funding of $750000, way above the goal.
      - $150 is 1/10th the normal price for this resolution.
      - No picture/video of a prototype.
      - Only a quick photoshop mock up of a stock iphone pic and videos taken with *a* thermal imaging device.
      - Ridiculously early delivery date (may 2013).
      - Chosen flexible funding, meaning they would have to send a working unit even if only one person would have pledged.

      What is the chance the guy takes the money and runs out of the country? Hypothetically, if I’d have debt problems and one thermal imager, this would be the likely route I’d take.

      I hope I’m proven wrong.

  12. There are cheap electroluminiscent film filters, that „translates“ FIR radiation into visible spectrum. When mounted above an ordinary high sensitivity CCD it can form a cheap FIR camera without the need of an expansive thermopille array.

  13. Seems like it would be easy enough to build a USB dongle for android devices host mode and use its camera along side (same idea here) and let the cpu do the heavy lifting.
    Otherwise I rank this with the iPhone sonar as a pretty good gag.

  14. Not enough iformation to say this is fake(or real) However when the first info on the Optimus Keyboard with its oled screen in each key was revieled, it was all Oh its a fraud, or Its Vaporware.

    1. Yes but the Optimus is stupidly expensive, did they ever claim they were going to sell it for a quarter of the expected price for something like that?

      Either these guys have invented a whole new way of doing IR vision, or some amazing new business method that lets you sell things for less than they cost you, and still make a profit. Or they robbed a van full of FLIR imagers and they’re trying to get rid of them quick.

      1. There was also a Darpa initiative to do this, give cheap thermal imagers that work with cellphones. And hey, comming up with inexpensive ways to do things due happen! Anyway I can not, and will not take the stand on Vaporware with such small info. I shall leave it to them to make the descion for me with their actions.

  15. I had some success with using a modified IR zero lux camera board, noticed that my soldering iron showed up red (!)
    The trick seems to be to use an exposed sensor such as the B&Q B/W ones which most aren’t now, epoxy or UV cured glue around the delicate wires leaving centre exposed.
    Also you need to use a FIR transparent lens, the ones used for PIR detectors work badly but for the best image you make one from paraffin wax coated with a very thin layer of PCL (aka Polymorph ™ ) which as a side note also works for microwaves and THz waves almost as well.

    It is worth noting that you may have more luck very carefully grinding away the BACK of the pcb etc the chip is mounted on, then putting the lens etc here.
    This works because the silicon is semitransparent to IR and 0.2mm Si will also be an effective environmental barrier.
    Disclaimer:- Not tried yet, only theoretical.

  16. @solipso Yes I’ve heard about this.
    I think Jeri mentioned this one on her blog, at least as a “hey this works well” hack.
    The tricky part is evidently to get the back illumination (pulsed) to work, and quenching the phosphor is very hard to do correctly and depends on accurate temperature regulation across the entire area
    I was trying to do something very much like this using an old 2.5″ hard disk, piece of commercial GITD ZnS:Cu based film and an IR array, to get round the even illumination problem.
    It didn’t work as well as I hoped so it got shelved.. though others have used the same technique to make persistence based displays.

  17. This just does not add up. 600 x 456 thermal images on the example gallery captured with a 160×120 resolution camera?

    Given the new, 16×4 pixel MLX90620 thermal module available, you’d need either a 10×30 array of these ($17.5k for bulk price) or some rastering/scanning optics , which I doubt as the time function of such sensors is slow. Now, the spec sheet gives a best case rise time of 0.1ms. You’d need 300 exposures per frame, or 30ms per frame, which could actually provide video… but I suspect the rise time is slower (that’s best case from the preliminary spec sheet). On top of that, standard BK7 glass won’t due it for this IR, so that will be more expensive.

    So, all hot air, or is this thing really making 160×120 image (let’s assume the gallery is BS) with a 16×4 sensor? Or it’s this 160×120 sensor, but I bet it’s expensive (http://www.satir-uk.com/en/products/view/HR160).

    Or has this fella come up with a way to undercut the whole thermopile market?

    1. I don’t know whether this product is what it’s said it is or not, but the gallery image sizes doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

      600 x 456 is really close to 160 x 120 * 3.5. I guess you’re referring to the foot image in the gallery, which show clear signs of being smoothly upscaled from a smaller source image. If you look at webcam specs, such upscaling is called “software enhancement”, and pretty well hidden to disguise that the camera’s hardware resolution is considerably smaller.

      Calling BS on the whole product solely based on the images not being published at the original resolution would be unfair.

    1. What’s the price per 1k? Don’t see it on digikey, but have to expect that if a 16×4 is $58/ea, then something with 300x the pixels would be a little out of the price range. Then again, perhaps the 16×4 market price is about to crash.

  18. Did you consider the fact that it might be a gamble? They might need the money to do the proto, then presale it to whatever and then use that money to full file the indiegogo campagne and then have enought to full file the presales?

    1. You can ask for a quote for say 1000 items and see how far it goes. Though they seam to be rather secretive if we going to believe the background story.

  19. what if, just a if, they charge you a extreme high shipping cost so that you will give up to take your perk? As they didn’t mention any shipping information, I don’t know how they charge and ship the perk.

    1. Well, can be but would it not then too easy to file a class action suit against them because there are some reasonable heights that one can pull off?

  20. They recently released a video showing more people working on this project behind the scenes and few screenshots of the some code and UI design.

    1. I don’t buy it. I’m still skeptical. Everything relevant or not, is blurred. A notebook, a pcb, for all we know that notebook could be one of their kids hw, and the pcb could be some random pcb. I contributed after seeing this on hackaday, but after a few hours, I contacted both Indiegogo and the Mu thermal team indicating I wanted to retract my contribution.

      I dont understand why its so hard to show us ANYTHING. They threw away their proof of concept camera and have found better/cheaper parts. Why..throw the proof of concept model away ? It all doesnt make sense. I don’t think these guys are legit.

      1. While it’s true the stuff they’ve blurred out could be anything, there’s lots of stuff they didn’t blur out. For example, I can tell the electrical engineer is using Cadsoft Eagle, and that he’s got what looks to be professional equipment. I’m sure someone else will be able to tell us what specific oscilloscope and soldering station he’s using.

        Seems like a lot of trouble to go through to set up a fake office with thousands of dollars in real equipment 11 days before the campaign ends, and find people that seem like the sorts that would do those jobs who know the right jargon.

        1. Eagle has a FREEWARE Version and that scope is 1980′s vintage from Tektronix you can pick these up on eBay below $1000 sometimes (non working can be $300 or so). These are not bad – but anyone can afford these.
          And my private soldering equipment AT HOME is better than theirs ;-)
          So this prooves nothing.

          They don’t show ANYTHING relevant in that Video and don’t explain anything relevant about the product – the only thing we now know is that the team exists and that they have an office with 4 computers and some hobby grade equipment.

        2. Sorry, bro, it is NOT convincing.
          As McGyver said, you can pick up these old CRT oscilloscopes for cheap. The oscilloscope was also sitting in a useless position and the handle was sticking up. You can’t probe your circuit and look at the screen at the same time that way. It was obviously put there just before filming to be seen in the video.
          No real professional uses Eagle. Period. You would expect them to use Altium Designer for developing cutting edge technology.
          If you looked closely, he had one of those chinese boxes filled with pieces of precut breadboard wire. No cutting edge circuit was ever developed on a breadboard. You make prototype PCBs for testing stuff like that.
          All in all, his workbench was crap, no real tools anywhere to be seen. Not to mention all of them sitting behind Macs. Have you ever seen a real engineer working on a Mac? I certainly haven’t.
          I call bullsh*t and I will laugh my butt off, when this guy suddenly disappears with all the money.

  21. So for anyone wondering… in the latest video… check at 1:53. The prototype is sitting on the right hand side of Abe’s desk… behind his mouse. The product does exist!

    I am just praying they don’t infringe FLIR in software… I want this camera!

  22. I have worked with IR sensors for 17 years and the claims of this project just make me sceptical. Their video only shows some computer screens and a blurred image of a “pcb” which is nonsense.

    The real technology to make a high resolution IR cam would be the cam-chip itself. Compared to the IR-Blue project which uses a chip from Melexis that actually exists, this project seems to be totally ignorant of the technological need. If they do order a FLIR-like chip from some obscure chinese supplier, they are going to have a looong patent dispute as this product will put FLIR out

    I would instead use my 150USD and bet on this as a scam or underfunded project.

  23. Well, perhaps I’m foolish, but I took the bet at $150. I still don’t get how they can be selling this at $125 (early bird) for the claims, but I’ll have a chargeback with Visa if it comes to that.

    Now I’m just hoping this thing pans out and that I can get it before the patent wars ensue.

  24. Just browsing thorugh, looks like the project reached its funding. In May we should get an idea whether this might work or not. Personally, I don’t care if the “deadline” shifts, as long as the device works to any degree. While it would be nice to get the full function of $20,000 camera on May 1, all thats promised is “something functional”, this would sufficient. If we get it by end of summer, it would be reasonable for the task. In real life deadlines come and go with a whooshing sound, and are seldom relevant.

  25. I’ve just realised something… Mu are American based, right? If they try to send this camera outside of the US without an ITAR licence they’re going to be skullfucked by the Department of State…

    1. Not entirely. IR equipment is controlled by a special agreement. There are countries who are members of this agreement and those are usually okay. Other countries are not.

    1. Actually, they say “Estimated delivery: May 2013″, not “Estimated delivery: May 1st, 2013″.

      Also note that small, but possibly significant “estimated”, as opposed to “guaranteed”.

        1. I’m not familiar with the term “shill”, but I assume it means “one of them”.

          I’m probably not going to be able to convince you otherwise, but I’m just a backer, in it for the ride. I do find the latest update somewhat amusing and unsurprising, and will follow their further development with great interest.

  26. > Just an update on what we’ve been working on this week.
    >
    > As you all know, one of the ways that we are using to reduce the cost
    > of this IR camera is by offloading as much as is possible to the host
    > device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, ect…). This week we’ve been
    > working on the part of the software that takes the raw thermal data
    > from the sensor and converts it into video. This is anything but simple
    > software, but we are happy to say that so far we have been able to keep
    > the overhead very low. Again our goal with software is to open-source
    > and provide an SDK for nearly everything.

    They are just now converting sensor data to video, assuming this is not a scam. My prediction for delivery date: long after you’ve moved houses once or twice.

  27. Will like to know if this infrared thermaly camera can be used to view different human body structures (organs, cells, etc). If not, wat will you recommend. Thaks
    Vicente

    1. sensor is completely different. much lower resolution. not even at the same ballpark. but yes apart from that it’s the same.

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