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.

23 thoughts on “A Thermal Imaging Camera For Your Phone

  1. This is a great project and all, but I have to admit it irks me when these thermal camera projects are described as ‘we replaced an expensive thermal camera with an arduino/iphone/etc’ when the breakthrough was melexis releasing a $50 thermal-camera-on-a-chip a few months back. This kickstarter bills itself as developing a low-cost thermal camera, but all they have done is put a $10 bluetooth module and a MLX90620 sensor in an injected molded case, which they are selling for $150-200.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think this project is great and they already have all of the code/schematics needed to reproduce it posted on their kickstarter (although they are required to post the code at least, because they use other open source libraries), and I would love to see more projects like this become successful.

        1. That doesn’t give you software usable enough to give to strangers, a design optimized for cost (which you will need to test again), a PCB, a case (at least for the iPhone you want to have dimensions which gives a good fit, even if that won’t be possible for most other phones) FCC testing and labeling.

  2. Other thing is that pixel per pixel, there’s nothing all too amazing about what you can make out of this. A $1k thermal imaging camera quite literally has 10x more pixels (cheapest one at about $1k is 80×80 pixel, and it scales up reasonably quickly from there). So selling it for $100, without the screen or doing half the work for it, isn’t actually particularly innovative. . .

    Now obviously, a thermal imager has never come at this price point before (at any resolution). 16×4 aligned, calibrated pixels, is unquestionably way better than nothing (or you trying to align and design the acquisition circuitry, compensation, optics, and calibration for an array of 16×4 thermopiles yourself). At the very least if they were selling something that combined the motion sensing on a smartphone and motion tracking using the camera to improve the effective resolution, that would be worth something as well. . .*nudge*

  3. Great for hobby use and at the right price point. Wouldn’t want to spend the money on a “real” thermal imager unless I was going to need it for business and that business was booming.

    1. It has 64 zones. Steps are much higher. It’ll probably resolve 0.1C. The actual bit resolution is much higher(16 bit) but I don’t know if that’s scaled across the temperature range. I know that Heimann sensors are only 12 bit, but claim to be near full scale.

  4. This is a pretty great project concept! Yeah, it’s got limited resolution, and it’s still pretty pricey, but where else can you get ANY thermal imaging at a similar price?

    I’m still slogging away at some other honey bee hive data collection, but I’ve always wanted to be able to check their thermal profile before going in for an inspection and stirring everything up. I bet there’s something to be learned there!

    How long will it be before Apple throws these into every iPhone?

  5. Incredible project concept! No, it’s not the highest resolution or a rock-bottom price, but where else can you get anything remotely similar at the same price?

    I’ve always wanted to get a thermal reading of my bee hives before going in for an inspection to see where the girls are clustering and to see what else I can learn without tearing apart the hives. I still have a lot of work to do on some other bee hive datalogging projects or I’d buy one at this price — I hope they make a kit available somewhere once the project is finished!

    How long before Apple throws these in all their iPhones?

      1. Oh I know, and it’s on my list of things to buy if I ever have enough money to buy all the things I want, but I’ve been waiting for something like this to bring it to a price I can justify.

  6. Might be better to have a narrower field of view and have a more detailed center picture?

    I was also thinking interchangeable lenses but those aren’t normal lenses, you need something that lets through those wavelengths and it might not be practical

  7. A lot of kickstarter projects are successful because people think ‘thats cool’ and the price is low enough that they figured ‘might as well get it’. The price on this doesn’t seem low enough to grab that major audience.

    It’s good for those who have a specific use in mind but in reality probably not that useful for the average joe. If the price was much lower then I could imagine a lot of people buying them just to play around with.

    Also having different hardware for iDevices and android devices seems rather sucky. If I buy a bluetooth device then I usually expect it to work with all my other bluetooth capable devices.

    1. It says “Bluetooth 4.0 is not officially supported by Android yet, when the bluetooth 4.0 drivers are stable we will support it for Android also.”

      I’m a bit shocked android doesn’t yet.

      Also on BT4.0 wikipedia says “The Bluetooth SIG completed the Bluetooth Core Specification version 4.0 and has been adopted as of 30 June 2010. It includes Classic Bluetooth, Bluetooth high speed and Bluetooth low energy protocols. Bluetooth high speed is based on Wi-Fi, and Classic Bluetooth consists of legacy Bluetooth protocols.”

      Notice how the highspeed BT4 works over WiFi rather than ‘legacy bluetooth products’.

  8. I worked for a company that designed something very similar for iPhone around 12 months ago. Albeit it was a ~$15k camera and much, much higher res. I can think of very few things that are as fun as walking around finding random heat signatures (i.e. long red triangles on the floor behind computers).

    1. Absolutely — I’ve played quite a bit with Schlieren photography, and while it doesn’t show heat directly, it is an incredible way to show changes in density in a gas or liquid! Thanks for the link!

  9. “Good Enough” Is.

    RH Workshop is to be considered as “Leading By Example” for doing this project.

    Back to that “Good Enough” concept. RH “Gets It” on the principle of design to be viable. That’s a Hackery of an often unsung realm. We’re seeing a barrier breaker here from their work

    Seriously. There’s a set of parameters needing to be locked down as just that- Good Enough- so it can begin the cycle of fugly breadboarded concept proofs- our beloved HACKS. Which usually ends it for many of us. We’re not fracking **MOTIVATED** to take our stuff a few steps further. I’m so not wanting to seem harsh. But- there’s so much talent among us here- It’s astonishing to me how LITTLE we see of world changing tech HACKS becoming the new mundane.

    Call that one the bootstrap for Mindhacking us here to proudly hurl ourselves against the barriers and PRODUCE our magic! These folks have taken an OEM’s IR module and done just that. MLX90620 outputs I2C which is not going to plug&play with a phone anytime soon not even touching the software suites needed for a workable image at all. Adding overlay software is polish on the project. Taking it from a concept proof HACK into what may unleash Sensorium expansion beyond our past affordable abilities.

    And thence to a Kickstarter or other means of production. Such as kits, licensing to OEM’s Becoming an OEM? I’m seeing MORE here than we’re first grokking. Open Source Hardware BEGS to be modded&morphed! Damn- this is an Aleph Node device.

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