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!

And if you’re curious as to how he got the Lepton module out of the Flir One…

And then how he managed to reverse engineer it in order to build his own camera…

Anyway, if you happen to be one of the lucky few who has a real Flir camera, check out this $40 lens hack to upgrade its clarity!

18 thoughts on “Building The World’s Smallest Thermal Camera

  1. Reading the Lepton datasheet is very interesting. It makes a clear point that the framerate is <9Hz, so it is "exportable". This suggests maybe that the framerate is intentionally (and so artificially?) limited (to "8.6Hz" apparently) to make it qualify as exportable.

    So, if it is artificially limited, may it be possible for a firmware hack to remove this limit? Hmmm.

    1. I only scanned the videos briefly, with sound off. But one thing I saw was was a caption suggesting that by overclocking the whole module, frame rates up to 12hz were achieved before the temperature of the module got too scary to proceed further.

  2. Damn it now I want to put a thermal camera in my robotics project and start playing with computer vision. Under the assumption that the thermal data would be slightly easier to parse and separate environment from (non cold blooded) living obstacles (to avoid).

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