As explored in our previous article, Outdoor and Perimeter Applications of Thermal Cameras, thermal imaging cameras are the perfect security camera for various outdoor applications, particularly perimeter and compound security.
Beyond this basic level of security, thermal cameras can also be used for more complex applications, such as in law enforcement and safety sectors, machinery maintenance, and even in outer space.
Law Enforcement and Safety
Law enforcement and firefighters can utilise thermal cameras to do countless things that would otherwise be impossible for humans.
Firefighters can employ thermal cameras to assist them when traversing through smoke-filled areas by acting as another pair of eyes. These cameras can also give firefighters information like where the fire is localised, the progress of the fire, whether it may reignite, and if the fire has been extinguished thoroughly enough. This provides firefighters with critical details to make informed decisions about the appropriate course of action.
Other safety applications include search and rescue, maritime navigation, road safety, and a long list of other such areas.
One common use shared between applications like law enforcement, firefighting, or search and rescue is locating individuals. Whether a person is lost in a smoke-filled room, stranded in the ocean, or in complete darkness – thermal cameras can effortlessly locate them from body heat alone. This also extends to vehicles and maritime vessels. Due to the immense amounts of heat they generate, it’s possible to track moving vehicles in complete darkness, detect which cars have been recently abandoned, and so on.
This ability makes thermal cameras indispensable for combat settings ranging from naval engagements through to on-foot operations.
Thermal cameras installed into road vehicles means the driver can see the road more clearly in normal and harsh weather conditions. Hence, the driver may see hazards that may appear in total darkness and assist them in avoiding an accident. Typical thermal cameras for road vehicle applications detect objects further than normal headlights can reach, providing more safety for the driver and others on the road.
As well as being fixed instalments on properties, thermal cameras can be adapted to suit vehicles, such as drones, helicopters, and planes. In doing so, thermal cameras can provide a comprehensive view of the environment in full thermal.
Maintenance of Machinery
While uses in military and other flashy settings tend to get the spotlight, thermal cameras are a very useful preventative maintenance tool, particularly in factory environments where it is essential to regularly monitor and maintain equipment. As machines operate, they can generate immense amounts of heat, which can lead to overheating if not managed.
However, by using thermal cameras to detect the heat of the machinery, overheating and other potentially detrimental issues can easily be avoided. For example, pumps, motors, bearings and conveyor belts in factories can be monitored to pre-emptively identify overheating before it happens. Motor vehicles can also be monitored by thermal cameras to highlight problems, ranging from exhaust leaks to an engine with uneven temperature measurements.
Similarly, thermal cameras can also be used to find blockages and leaks in ventilation systems and pipes, or to analyse the energy output of a property. This is done by monitoring insulation defects, HVAC performance, as well as air leakage from windows and door frames. Similarly, these devices can see what points are losing the most heat to their surroundings, such as hot water pipes and tanks.
Unlike other methods of maintaining machinery and running temperature diagnostics, utilising thermal cameras does not require physical contact or extensive testing, meaning it saves time and increases productivity. Analytics can also be applied to this application. If the temperature of the machinery were to rise above or fall below a designated limit, an alarm can be triggered, alerting the user of the issue. This is essential for detecting fires, overheating equipment, gas leaks, HVAC performance, and other hazards.
Using a combination of thermal and visual cameras is an effective way of enhancing security and increasing productivity. Using these two diverse types of cameras acts as redundancy. For instance, if one camera fails for unforeseen reasons, the other camera is still able to survey the area. Additionally, one camera can survey an area that the other camera may not be able to cover effectively.
More benefits of multi-layered security are reaped when paired with deep learning and analytics. Deep learning is a type of learning in AI where computers can learn from unsupervised data. Thus, cameras are consistently improving their behaviour analyses analytics.
When thermal camera analytics are used in unison with deep learning, the analytics become discriminating and begins to learn from its mistakes. This makes the thermal camera more accurate over time and reduces the rate of false alarms caused by normal objects, such as animals.
By integrating analytics with a thermal camera, the surveillance system automatically analyses the captured video. Consequently, this reduces the load on the operator by aiding the operator in reviewing hours of footage. This makes surveillance systems more efficient and more streamlined than ever before.
Thermal camera analytics have a variety of functions. Primarily, an alarm can be generated when the threatening object or event is far away from the thermal camera. This alarm notifies the operator of suspicious activity.
Furthermore, once an object is identified and classified by the thermal camera, this information can be distributed to other cameras and trigger them. For instance, when the thermal camera identifies an object, it can simultaneously trigger a PTZ camera to track the object and supply live video to the operator. This, in conjunction with the visual verification, enables the operator to acknowledge the suspicious activity before further intrusion or damage occurs. Moreover, this enables the operator to visually verify the event before taking necessary action.
The examples above highlight typical applications of thermal cameras, but really, the most exciting applications are out of this world. Literally.
NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, are currently using a more technologically advanced version of a thermal camera - the Compact Thermal Imager (CTI).
The purpose of the CTI is to image and record Earth’s surface. More specifically, it is recording the temperatures of fires, ice sheets, glaciers, and snow. Moreover, the CTI is also measuring the amount of water transferred into the atmosphere from soil and plants, which is important for understanding the growth of plants.
Unlike normal thermal cameras, the CTI uses new photodetector technology, known as strained-layer superlattice (SLS). This photodetector uses very little power and can operate effectively at the liquid-nitrogen temperatures of space. For NASA, the SLS can be made easily and is relatively inexpensive.
Thermal cameras have a wide array of functions, from operating in poor lighting and weather conditions, to machinery maintenance, and even for monitoring the surface of Earth from outer space.