Best Product Entry: Pocket Thermal Camera

One of the entries in the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition is [x-labz]’s pocket thermal imager. It’s more than a prototype, it’s a design conceived to get out into the world and be used by many. Best Product entries are open until July 24th, and with a $30,000 cash prize on the line let’s take a look at some of the things that elevate a project to product status.

Thanks to recent advances in the state of thermal image sensors, a tool that gives you Predator vision is almost a necessity on the modern workbench. The pocket thermal imager will find drafts in your house during winter, will tell you how to cook a steak, figure out what part is shorting out in your latest electronics project, and will tell you how terrible the heated bed is on your 3D printer.

[x-labz]’s thermal camera is based around the FLIR Lepton image sensor, an 80×60 pixel thermal imaging sensor that’s good enough for most uses. This camera is soldered onto a PCB sandwich containing an Atmel SAMD21 microcontroller, full-color OLED display, SD card, and a battery management system.

What we’ve mentioned so far isn’t out of the ordinary for any other entry in the Hackaday Prize. Building something for the Best Product competition is different, though: a lot of thought has to go into the manufacturability and the fit and finish of this device. So far, everything’s looking great for [x-labz]’s camera. There’s a 3D printed case that looks like it could be easily translated into an injection-moldable shell and at least some of the parts of the user interface are unbelievably satisfying. We’re looking forward to seeing the full Bill of Materials and a business plan (a new requirement this year). That’s an area where many hardware designers lack experience; being able to study the examples from Best Product entries will be a welcomed resource.

There’s a world of difference between building a project and building a product, and the entire goal of the Best Product portion of the Hackaday Prize is to reward those people who go the extra mile as aspiring entrepreneurs and show us how that’s done. $50k in cash prizes are set aside for Best Product; $30,000 for the winner as we mentioned before, but there is also $1000 for each of the twenty entries that make it to the finals in this category in addition to some much deserved notoriety from Hackaday’s community of hardware aficionados and early adopters.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Raspberry Pi Thermal Imaging

High up on the list of desirable technologies that are edging into the realm of the affordable for the experimenter is the thermal camera. Once the exclusive preserve of those with huge budgets, over the last few years we’ve seen the emergence of cameras that are more affordable, and most recently a selection of thermal camera modules that are definitely within the experimenter’s range. They may not yet have high resolution, but they are a huge improvement on nothing, and they are starting to appear in projects featured on sites like this one.

One such device is the Melexis MLX90621, a 16×4 pixel thermal sensor array in a TO39 can with an I2C interface. It’s hardly an impulse purchase in single quantities and nor is it necessarily the cheapest module available, but its price is low enough for [Alpha Charlie] to experiment with interfacing it to a Raspberry Pi for adding a thermal camera overlay to the pictures from its visible light camera.

The wiring for the module is simplicity itself, and he’s created a couple of pieces of software for it that are available on his GitHub repository. mlxd is a driver daemon for the module, and mixview.py is a Python graphical overlay script that places the thermal array output over the camera output. A run-through of the device and its results can be seen in the video below the break.

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An Affordable Panasonic Grid-EYE Thermal Imaging Camera

Thermal imaging cameras are objects of desire for hackers and makers everywhere, but sadly for us they can be rather expensive. When your sensor costs more than a laptop it puts a brake on hacking.

Thankfully help is at hand, in the form of an affordable evaluation board for the Panasonic Grid-EYE thermal imaging camera sensor. This sensor has sparked the interest of the Hackaday community before, featuring in a project that made the 2014 Hackaday Prize semifinals, but has proved extremely difficult to obtain.

All that has now changed though with this board. It features the Grid-EYE sensor itself, an Atmel ATSAM-D21G18A microcontroller, and onboard Bluetooth, but has an interesting feature that, as well as being a standalone device, can be used as an Arduino shield. A full range of APIs are provided, and the code is BSD licensed.

This module is not the highest-spec thermal imaging camera on the market by any means, after all it has a resolution of only 64 pixels in an 8×8 grid. But its affordability and easy availability should trigger a fresh crop of thermal camera projects in our community, and we applaud that.

Thermal camera projects have featured quite a few times here on Hackaday. Some have been based on the FLIR Lepton module, like this one that combines its image with a 640×480 visible camera and another that claims to be one of the smallest thermal cameras, while others have harnessed raw ingenuity to create a thermal camera without a sensor array. This pan-and tilt design for example, or this ingenious use of light painting. Please, keep them coming!

[via oomlout]

THP Hacker Bio: AKA

Thermal imaging cameras are the new hotness when it comes building DIY tools that are much less expensive than their commercial counterparts. [Mike Harrison] built a very high-resolution version from Flir’s Lepton module, but an IR temperature sensor and a servo can also create a decent image. [AKA] played around with some of these thermal imaging modules, but found them a little hard to interface. Panasonic’s Grid-EYE module, however is reasonably cheap as far as thermal imaging devices go, and can be read over an I2C bus.

[AKA]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize, the GRID-EYE Thermal Camera is one of two Prize entries that survived the great culling and made it into the quarterfinalist round. [AKA] was kind enough to sit down and do a short little interview/bio with us, available below.

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A Breakout Board for a Flir Lepton

Thermal imaging cameras are all the rage now, and one of the best IR cameras out there is Flir’s Lepton module. It’s the sensor in the FLIR ONE, a thermal imaging camera add-on for an iPhone. Somewhat surprisingly, Flir is allowing anyone to purchase this module, and that means a whole bunch of robotics and other various electronics projects. Here’s a breakout board for Flir’s Lepton.

Electron artisan [Mike] recently got his hands on a FLIR ONE, and doing what he does best, ripped the thing apart and built the world’s smallest thermal imaging camera. Compared to professional models, the resolution isn’t that great, but this module only costs about $250. Just try to find a higher resolution thermal imager that’s cheaper.

With this breakout board, you’ll obviously need a Lepton module. There’s a group buy going on right now, with each module costing just under $260.

The Lepton module is controlled over I2C, but the process of actually grabbing images happens over SPI. The images are a bit too large to be processed with all but the beefiest Arduinos, but if you’re thinking of making Predator vision with a Raspi, BeagleBone, or a larger ARM board, this is just the ticket.

You can check out some video made with the Lepton module below.

This is also project number 3000 on hackaday.io. That’s pretty cool and worthy of mention.

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Building the World’s Smallest Thermal Camera

[Mike Harrison], the mastermind behind electricstuff.co.uk has just finished reverse engineering the Lepton module found in thermal imaging cameras — he then created his own, and perhaps the world’s smallest thermal camera.

He took apart the Flir One iPhone thermal imaging unit and pulled out the magical part that makes it all possible — the Lepton module. It only has a resolution of 80×60 pixels, but in the world of thermal imaging, it’s pretty decent. You can buy it for $250 (for the module) in order quantities of 1000 straight from Flir.

His blog has all the details about figuring out how to interface with the module, and it is really quite impressive. Once he had it all understood he set out to build it into a small thermal camera. The case is machined out of black acrylic, and an iPod nano screen is used as the display, as 80×60 scales up nicely to the 320×240 resolution of the iPod. A home-brew PCB connects to the module, has a voltage regulator and charging circuit for the lithium ion battery — which is then connected to a prototype iPod nano PCB with some of the features removed — he says it was a nightmare connecting it all, and we don’t blame him, that’s some serious hacking skill!

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The Hema-Imager: Accessible Thermal Imaging for Smart Devices

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[Erik] began working on this project a few years back to help him improve his electronics skills. Now, after meeting an electronic’s manufacturer through LinkedIn, he is ready to get his device out into the market through a Kickstarter campaign. If successful, the technology will be shipped out and deployed in areas of construction, manufacturing, hospitals and emergency services; all of which could utilize the heat-mapping potential of this affordable device.

In addition to commercial uses, this product can assist in the reduction of household energy consumption by locating areas of heat loss. Without thermal imaging, the initial source of these types of drafts and airflows can be extremely hard to pinpoint. Abnormal equipment heating can also be found as well. For instance, electrical panels can overheat with loose or poorly attached connections.

Now, Hema-Imager is not the only product that is surfacing through crowd funding campaigns. MuOptics, for example, has raised over $280,000 through Indiegogo in 2013 without having to show an actual working product, barely even showing a 3D modeled prototype. Yet, they still achieved their goal, opening up the door for another device like the Hema-Imager to come in and raise a similar amount of money. The differences between the two can be seen on the Hema-Imager’s Kickstarter page.

[Thanks for the tip Enn!]

After the break is a video of [Erik] describing the Hema-Imager project along with a fire fighter’s point of view:

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