DIY Thermal Camera That’s Better And Cheaper Than a FLIR

A few years ago, FLIR unleashed a new line of handheld thermal imagers upon the world. In a manufacturing triumph, the cheapest of these thermal imaging cameras contained the same circuitry as the one that cost six times as much. Much hacking ensued. Once FLIR figured out the people who would be most likely to own a thermal imaging camera can figure out how to upload firmware, the party was over. That doesn’t mean we’re stuck with crippled thermal imaging cameras, though: we can build our own, with better specs than what the big boys are selling.

[Max] has been working on his DIY thermal imager for a while now. We first saw it about a year ago, and the results were impressive. This thermal camera is built around the FLIR Lepton sensor, providing thermal images with a resolution of 60 by 80 pixels. These thermal images were combined with a VGA resolution camera to produce the very cool enhanced imagery the commercial unit will get you. There’s also a 1/4-20 threaded insert on the bottom of [Max]’s version, making it far more useful in any experimental setup.

Now [Max] has unleashed his DIY Thermocam on the world of Open Hardware, and anyone can build their own for about €400 (about $425). The components required for this build include a FLIR Lepton sensor easily sourced from the Digikey or GroupGets, an Arducam Mini, a Teensy 3.6, and a mishmash of components that are probably kicking around your parts drawers.

If you want an overview of this project before digging in, [Max] has a project overview (PDF warning) going over the build. This is one of the better DIY projects we’ve seen recently, and the documentation is fantastic. If you’re thinking about buying one of those fancy thermal imaging cameras, here you go — this one is just as good and half off.

DIY Thermal Imaging Done Low-Tech Style

[Niklas Roy] has always wanted to try out thermal imaging and saw his opportunity when he received one of those handheld IR thermometers as a gift. But not content with just pointing it at different spots and looking at the temperatures on the LCD display, he decided to use it as the basis for a scanning, thermal imaging system that would display a heat map of a chosen location on his laptop.

DIY thermal imaging system
DIY thermal imaging system

He still wanted to to be able to use the IR thermometer as normal at a later date so cutting it open was not an option. Instead he firmly mounted a webcam to it pointing at the LCD display. He then wrote software on his laptop to process the resulting image and figure out what temperature was being displayed.

Once he got that working, he next put the thermometer on a platform with servos connected to an Arduino for slowly rotating it in the horizontal and vertical directions, also under control of the software on his laptop. Each time the thermometer measures the temperature of a spot, the software decodes the temperature on the LCD display and then tells the Arduino to use the servos to point the thermometer at the next spot to be measured. Each measurement takes a little time, so scanning an entire location as 70×44 spots takes around a half hour. But the end result is a heat map drawn on the laptop, done by a device that is low-tech. [Editor’s Snark: Because attaching a webcam and processing the images is “low-tech” these days.] He can overlay the heat map on a normal photo to see at a glance where the hot spots are.

The software he wrote is available on GitHub and the video below shows it in action. We’ve got to admit, it’s pretty awesome to watch. You can even see the heat map being filled in one measurement at a time.

Continue reading “DIY Thermal Imaging Done Low-Tech Style”

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 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.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Raspberry Pi Thermal Imaging”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Low Cost, DIY Thermal Imaging

A few years ago, thermal imaging sensors – cameras that could see heat – became very cheap. FLIR was going all-in with their Lepton module, and there were a number of clip-on cellphone accessories that gave the computer in your pocket the ability to see infrared.

Fast forward a few years, and you can still buy a thermal imaging sensor for your cellphone, and it still costs about the same as it did in 2013. For his Hackaday Prize project, [Josh] is building a more modern lower cost thermal imaging camera. It won’t have the resolution of the fancy $1000 FLIR unit, but it will be very inexpensive with a BOM cost of about $50.

[Josh] is building his low-cost thermal camera around Panasonic’s Grid-EYE module. This thermopile array contains 64 individual infrared sensors, giving this ‘camera’ a resolution of 8×8 pixels. That’s nothing compared to the thousands of pixels found in devices using the FLIR Lepton, but the Grid-EYE is very cheap.

Right now, [Josh]’s build is using an ARM Cortex M0+ and a cheap touch screen LCD he picked up from AliExpress. There’s an optional component to this build in the form of a visible light camera, giving [Josh] the ability to overlay thermal sensor data over a visible light image, just like the fancier, more expensive units.

With a total BOM cost of $44.50, [Josh]’s build is easy on the pocketbook, but still good enough to get some useful information. It’s a great build, and a great entry for The Hackaday Prize.

DIY Thermal Imaging Smartphone

We wish we had [Karri Palovuori] for a professor! As an exciting project to get incoming freshmen stoked on electrical engineering, he designed a DIY thermal-imaging smartphone that they can build themselves. It’s all built to fit into a sleek wooden case that gives the project its name: KAPULA is Finnish for “a block of wood”.

It’s just incredible how far one can push easily-available modules these days. [Karri] mounts a FLIR Lepton thermal camera, an LPC1768 Cortex M3 ARM micro, a GSM phone module, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff on a DIY-friendly two-sided board. The design uses 10 mil (0.25mm) trace and space, which is totally achievable with home etching methods. Copper wire bits fill up the vias. Did we mention he’s making the students do all this themselves? How awesome is that?

[Karri] expects that the students will tweak the software side of things. With additional onboard goodies like an accelerometer, microphone, speaker, SIM card, and USB, it’s not likely that they’ll get bored with the platform. He has a stretch hope that someone will take the hardware and modify it. That’s ambitious for sure, but it’s so cool that someone could.

We’ve seen some sophisticated DIY cellphones before, but this one rises above by being easily DIYable and including awesome extra features. Order parts now, and start etching. You could be sending thermal-photo tweets inside of just a few days.

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]

Hacklet 47 – Thermal Imaging Projects

Thermal imaging is the science of converting the heat signature of objects to an image visible to humans. Everything above absolute 0 gives off some heat, and thermal imagers allow us to see that – even if there is no visible light in the room. Historically, thermal imaging systems have been large and expensive. Early systems required liquid nitrogen cooling for their bolometer sensors. Recent electronic advances have brought the price of a thermal image system from the stratosphere into the sub $300 range – right about where makers and hackers can jump in. That’s exactly what’s happened with the Flir Lepton module and the Seek Thermal camera. This week’s Hacklet is all about thermal imaging projects on!

We start with [Pure Engineering] and Flir Lepton Thermal Camera Breakout. Flir’s Lepton thermal camera created quite a stir last year when it debuted in the Flir One thermal iPhone camera. The Lepton module used in the Flir One is a great standalone unit. Interfacing only requires an I2C interface for setup and an SPI interface for image data transfer. Actually using the Lepton is a bit more of a challenge, mainly because of its packaging. [Pure Engineering] made a simple breakout board which makes using the Lepton easy. It’s also breadboard compatible – which is a huge plus in the early phases of any project.


grideyeNext up is [AKA] with GRID-EYE BLE-capable thermal camera. This project is a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) thermal camera using Panasonic’s Grid-EYE 64 pixel thermal sensor. 64 pixels may not sound like much, but an 8×8 grid is enough data to see quite a bit of temperature variation. If you don’t believe it, check the project page for a video of [AKA] using Grid-EYE’s on-board OLED display. Grid-EYE was a Hackaday Prize 2014 semifinalist, and we featured a bio on [AKA] last year. The only hard part with building your own Grid-EYE is getting the sensor itself. Panasonic doesn’t sell them to just anyone, so you might have to jump through a few hoops to get your own.


pylepton[Kurt Kiefer] brought the FLIR Lepton to the Raspberry Pi with pylepton video overlay. This project uses the Lepton to overlay thermal data with images captured by the Raspbery Pi camera module. The Lepton interfaces through the I2C and SPI ports on the Pi’s GPIO pins. The results are some ghostly images of black and white thermal views over color camera images – perfect for your next ghost hunting expedition!  The entire project is implemented in Python, so it’s easy to import and use pylepton in your own projects. [Kurt] even gives an example of capturing an image with just 5 lines of code. Nice work, [Kurt]!



wificamFinally we have [Erik Beall] with WiFi Thermal Camera. [Eric] is using an 82×62 diode array to create thermal images. Unlike microbolometer sensors, diode/thermopile sensors don’t need constant calibration. They also are sturdier than Microelectricomechanical System (MEMS) based devices. This particular project users an array from Heimann Sensor. As the name implies, the sensor is paired with a WiFi radio, which makes using it to capture and display data easy. [Erik] must be doing something right, as WiFi Thermal Camera just finished a very successful Kickstarter, raising $143,126 on a $40,000 initial goal.

Are you inspired? A thermal imager can be used to detect heat loss in buildings, or heat generated by electrical faults – which means it would be a great project for the 2015 Hackaday Prize! If you want to see more thermal imaging projects, check out the thermal imaging projects list!

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!