A Better, Cheaper Smartphone Thermal Imager

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For the last few years, the prices of infrared thermal imaging devices have fallen through the floor, down from tens of thousands of dollars a decade ago, to just about a grand for a very high-resolution device. This dramatic drop in price was brought about by new sensors, and at the very low-end, there are quite a few very inexpensive low resolution thermal imaging devices.

The goal now, it seems, is to figure out some way to add these infrared devices to a smartphone or tablet. There have been similar projects and Kickstarters before, but [Marius]‘s entry for The Hackaday Prize is undercutting all of them, and doing it in a way that’s far, far too clever.

Previous ‘thermal imagers on a smartphone’ projects include the Mu Thermal Camera, a $300 Kickstarter reward that turned out to be vaporware. The IR-Blue is yet another Kickstarter we’ve seen, and something that’s actually shipping for about $200. [Marius] expects his thermal imager to cost just $99. He’s getting away with this pricing with a little bit of crazy electronics, and actually designing a minimum viable product.

Both the Mu Thermal Camera and the IR-Blue communicate with their smartphone host via Bluetooth. [Marius] felt radio modules were unnecessary and inspired by the HiJack system where low-power sensors are powered and read through a headphone jack, realized he could do better.

Always the innovator, [Marius] realized he could improve upon the HiJack power harvesting solution, and got everything working with a prototype. The actual hardware in the sensor is based on an engineering sample of the Omron D6T-1616L IR array module, a 16×16 array of IR pixels displaying thermal data on a portable device at 4 FPS.

It’s interesting, for sure, and half the price and quadruple the resolution of the IR-Blue. Even if [Marius] doesn’t win The Hackaday Prize, he’s at least got a winning Kickstarter on his hands. Video of the 8×8 pixel prototype below.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.


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Cheap-Thermocam Gets an Impressive Rehaul

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[Max Ritter] is a 21 year old student of information technology at the University of Applied Science at Weingarten, Germany. Three years ago he brought us the DIY Cheap-Thermocam, a tool for thermal imaging that cost <$100. Since then he’s made a few upgrades.

The original Cheap-Thermocam made use of an Arduino, the sensor from a thermometer gun and a few XY servos. In about 2 minutes the XY servos can scan and measure 1344 points using the thermometer’s sensor, creating a heat-vision map of 42 x 32 pixels — not amazing, but it worked — and it was cheap!

The new version (V3) has its own ARM Cortex M3 processor, it measures 3072 points in 2 minutes from -70°C to 380°C with an accuracy of 0.5°C, and it exports its images at a resolution of 640 x 480 –close to commercial offerings! It’s not capable of real-time scanning, but for the majority of purposes you need one of these for — it’s really not that necessary.

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Hackaday Links: January 26, 2014

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The automotive industry is rolling more and more tech into their offerings. This is great for us because replacement or salvaged parts are great for projects. Here’s one component to look for. [MikesElectricStuff] tears apart the thermal imaging camera form an Audi. [via Hacked Gadgets]

Give your valentine an analog love note on the big day. [Tom's] LED heart chaser design does it without any coding. It’s a 555 timer with CD4017 decade counter. The nice thing about the setup is a trimpot adjusts the chaser speed.

[Jan] is overclocking his Arduino to 32 MHz. For us that’s kind of an “eh” sort of thing. But his statement that you need to use a clock generator because the chip won’t work with an oscillator at that frequency raised an eyebrow. We saw an AVR chip running from a 32MHz crystal oscillator in the RetroWiz project from yesterday. So do we have it wrong or does [Jan]? Share your opinion in the comments.

Download a copy of the Apple II DOS source code… legally. Yay for releasing old code into the wild! The Computer History Museum has the DOS source code and a bunch of interesting history about it. [via Dangerous Prototypes]

While we were prowling around DP for the last link we came across [Ian's] post on a new version of Bus Pirate cables. We’ve got the old rainbow cables which are pretty convenient. But if you’ve used them you’ll agree, hunting for the correct color for each connection isn’t anywhere near a fool-proof method. The new cable uses shrink tube printed with probe labels. They sound like a huge pain to manufacture. But this makes connections a lot easier. In our experience, when it doesn’t work its always a hardware problem! Hopefully this will mean fewer botched connections.

Make your tiny LiPo cells last longer. Not capacity wise, but physically. The delicate connections to the monitor PCB break easily, and the plug is really hard to connect and disconnect. [Sean] shows how he uses electrical tape for strain relief, and a bit of filing to loosen up the connector.

KerbalEdu: Kerbal Space Program for education. That’s right, you can play Kerbal as part of school now. Some may shake their heads at this, but school should be fun. And done right, we think gaming is a perfect way to educate. These initiatives must be the precursor to A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer method of education. Right?

Manufacturer-Crippled Flir E4 Thermal Camera Hacked to Perform as High-End Model

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Last month, [Mike] took a look at the Flir E4 thermal imaging camera. It’s a great tool for those occasions when you need the vision of a Predator, but what he found inside was substantially cooler: it seems the engineers behind the Flir E4 made their lives easier by making the circuits inside the $1000 E4 the same as the $6000 Flir E8.

This only means one thing, and [Mike] has delivered. He’s upgraded the firmware in the Flir E4 to the E8, giving it a vastly increased resolution – 80×40 for the E4 to 320×240 for the E8.

The hack itself is as easy as putting the serial number of the E4 in a config file, zipping a few files up, and installing it with the Flir tools. An amazingly simple mod (with an awesome teardown video) that turns a $1000 thermal imaging camera into the high-end $6000 model.

From [Mike]‘s

A real thermal imaging camera for $300

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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.

A thermal imaging camera for your phone

When last we heard of a cheap thermal imaging camera accessory for any smart phone, we were blown away at how easily a very expensive electronic device could be replicated with an Arduino and enough know how. Now, that thermal imaging camera is a kickstarter project and provides a cheap way to put a thermal imaging camera in the tool chest of makers the world over.

It’s called the IR-Blue, and simply by connecting your phone to the IR-Blue with Bluetooth, you can overlay the output of a thermal imaging camera on the output of your camera’s phone.

The thermal imaging sensor is basically a low-resolution camera (16 x 4 pixels) for infrared radiation. This sensor is factory calibrated to detect heat in a range between -20 and 300 ˚C. This range allows anyone to easily see where drafts in a house are coming from, where heat in a computer is being generated, or figuring out how to cook a steak.

It’s an awesome and well designed product, so we’ve got to hand it to [Andy] and the IR-Blue team for putting very expensive tools in everyone’s hands.

Building a thermal imaging sensor from scratch

[Rob] lives in a 100-year-old house, and with these antique lath and plaster walls and old window frames comes a terrible amount of drafts. The usual way to combat this energy inefficiency is with a thermal imaging camera, a device that overlays the temperature of an object with a video image. These cameras are hideously expensive so [Rob] did what any of us would do and built his own.

The build centers around a Melexis MLX90620 far infrared thermopile that can be had for about $80. Basically, this sensor is a very, very low resolution camera (16×4 pixels) that senses heat instead of light. By sticking this sensor on a breadboard with an Arduino Mini and WiFly network adapter, [Rob] is able to pull the data down from the IR sensor to his iPhone and overlay it on the feed from the camera.

The result, as seen in the video above, is a low-resolution but still very useful thermal imaging camera, perfect for looking for cold drafts in an old house or tracking down [Arnie] just like a Predator.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Ronald] for sending this one in.