The Easiest Thermal Camera Build You’ll Ever See

Thermal cameras are one of those tools that we all want, but just can’t justify actually buying. You don’t really know what you would do with one, and when even the cheap ones are a couple hundred dollars, it’s a bit out of the impulse buy territory. So you just keeping waiting and hoping that eventually they’ll drop to the price that you can actually own one yourself.

Well, today might be the day you were waiting for. While it might not be the prettiest build, we think you’ll agree it can’t get much easier than what [vvkuryshev] has put together. His build only has two components: a Raspberry Pi and a thermal camera module he picked up online for about $80 USD. There isn’t even any wiring involved, the camera fits right on the Pi’s GPIO header.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t be seeing this on Hackaday if all he had to do was just buy a module and solder it to the Pi’s header. As with most cheap imported gadgets, the GY-MCU90640 module that [vvkuryshev] bought came with some crusty Windows software which wasn’t going to do him much good on the Raspberry Pi. But after going back and forth a bit with the seller, he was able to get some documentation for the device that put him on the right track to writing a Python script which got it working under Linux.

The surprisingly simple Python script reads a frame from the camera four times a second over serial and run it through OpenCV. It even adds some useful data like the minimum and maximum temperatures in the frame to the top of the image. Normally the script would output to the Pi’s primary display, but if you want to use it remotely, [vvkuryshev] says he’s had pretty good luck running it over VNC. In fact, he says that with a VNC application on your phone you could even use this setup on the go, though the setup is a bit awkward for that in its current incarnation.

This isn’t the first DIY thermal camera build we’ve seen, and it isn’t even the first one we’ve seen that leveraged a commercially available imaging module. But short of buying a turn-key camera, we don’t see how it could get any easier to add heat vision to your bag of tricks.

Who Said Thermal Cameras Weren’t Accessible To The Masses?

Thermal cameras hold an enduring fascination as well as being a useful tool for the engineer. After all, who wouldn’t want to point one at random things around the bench, laughing with glee at finding things warmer or colder than expected? But they’ve always been so expensive, and a lot of the efforts that have sought to provide one for little outlay have been rather disappointing.

This has not deterred [Offer] though, who has made an extremely professional-looking thermal camera using an M5Stack ESP32-based computer module and an AMG8833 thermal sensor array module in a 3D-printed case that copies those you’d find on a commercial unit. The modular approach makes it a simple prospect for the constructor, the software can be found on GitHub, and the case files are hosted on Thingiverse. You’ll be finding warm and cold things on your bench in no time, as the video below shows.

Most of the thermal cameras we’ve seen have centred upon the FLIR Lepton module, but that’s a component that remains expensive. This project shows us that thermal cameras are a technology that is slowly becoming affordable, and that greater things are to come.

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Using A Thermal Camera To Spot A Broken Wrist

Chemist and Biochemist [Thunderf00t] has shown us a really interesting video in which you can spot the wrist he broke 10 years ago using a thermal camera.

He was on an exercise bike while filming himself on a high-resolution thermal camera, As his body started to heat up he noticed that one hand was not dumping as much heat as the other. In fact one was dumping very little heat. Being a man of science he knew there must be some explanation for this. He eventually came to the conclusion that during a nasty wrist breaking incident about 10 years ago it must have affected the blood-flow to that hand, Which would go on to produce these type of results on a thermal camera while exercising.

Using thermal camera’s to spot fractures in the extremities is nothing new as it has the benefit of eliminating radiation exposure for patients, But it’s not as detailed as an X-ray or as cool as fluoroscopy and is only useful for bones near the surface of the skin.  It’s still great that you can visualize this for yourself and even after 10 years still notice a significant difference.

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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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Build Your Own Thermal Camera

We have featured thermal camera projects by [Max Ritter] before, but [Max] has just taken the next step: he is offering the latest version as a build-it-yourself kit. The DIY Thermocam improves on his previous designs by capturing 60 by 80 pixel thermal images, which can be combined with visible light images from an accompanying  640 by 480 pixel camera to produce the final image. It is built around the FLIR Lepton module that has been used in many of the recent commercial thermal cameras that we have seen. Max has also added a battery and display, making the whole thing a standalone camera.

The firmware that runs all this is open-source and written in C++ for easy modification, so users can build their own thermal camera.”The approach is to offer people the self-assembly kit so that they can use it as a development platform to do whatever they want to achieve with thermal imaging”[Max] told us. The kit runs €429 (about $468), with free shipping worldwide.

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Long Exposure Thermal Photography

For apparently inexplicable reasons, the price of thermal imaging cameras has been dropping precipitously over the last few years, but there are still cool things you can do with infrared temperature sensors.

A few years ago – and while he was still writing for us – [Jeremy] came across an absurdly clever thermal imaging camera. Instead of expensive silicon, this thermal camera uses a flashlight with an RGB LED, a cheap IR temperature sensor, and a camera set up to take long exposures. By shining this flashlight/IR sensor around a dark room, a camera with a wide-open shutter can record color-coded thermal images of just about anything.

Since then, an interesting product appeared on the market. It’s the Black & Decker TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector, and it’s basically an infrared thermometer and LED flashlight stuffed into one neat package. In other words, it’s the exact same thing we saw two years ago. We’d like to thank at least one Black & Decker engineer for their readership.

[Jeremy] took this cheap, off-the-shelf leak detector and did what anyone would do after realizing where the idea behind it came from. He set up his camera, turned off the lights, and opened the shutter of his camera. The results, like the original post, don’t offer the same thermal resolution as a real thermal camera. That doesn’t mean it’s still not a great idea, though.

Simple Thermal Imager with a Lepton Module

[Andrew] designed a simple thermal imager using the FLIR Lepton module, an STM32F4 Nucleo development board, and a Gameduino 2 LCD. The whole design is connected using jumper wires, making it easy to duplicate if you happen to have all the parts lying around (who doesn’t have a bunch of thermal imaging modules lying around!?).

The STM32F4 communicates with the Lepton module using a driver that [Andrew] wrote over a 21MHz SPI bus. The driver parses SPI packets and assembles frames as they are received. Images can be mapped to pseudocolor using a couple different color maps that [Andrew] created. His code also supports min/max scaling to map the pseudocolor over the dynamic range present in the image.

Unfortunately the Lepton module that [Andrew]’s design is based is only sold in large quantities. [Andrew] suggests ripping one out of a FLIR ONE iPhone case which are more readily available. We look forward to seeing what others do with these modules once they are a bit easier to buy.