back to article Next smartphone tech? Predator style thermal cameras

It's seemed like a long road, perhaps, but arguably the destination has been reached. PDAs have incorporated mobile phones and acquired increasingly zippy and flexible mobile/wireless data connections. Cameras have come aboard, and in some cases have become quite good. The resulting smartphones have since added the capabilities …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    Not much use without the targeting laser, harpoon and plasma bolt attachments though...

    1. Noons
      Jobs Halo

      Re: Meh

      There's an app for that.

    2. ArmanX


      You phone doesn't have that?

      1. Ammaross Danan
        Jobs Horns


        "And a couple of years after that, the same features will appear in the latest iPhone and the world's media will be amazed."

        Best quote from the whole article. :)

    3. dave 93

      Fatal flaw

      If thermal imaging is ubiquitous, then the 'baddies' will have it too :-(

      1. Ru
        Thumb Down

        Re: Fatal flaw

        If 'the baddies' wanted it, they can already get it. Follow the link at the end of the article; you can get handheld thermal imagers suitable for identifying, say, the last PIN entered on an ATM keypad. This particular genie was let out of the bottle years back.

  2. Number6

    Night Vision

    Simple IR night vision is trivial, just dismantle a webcam, pick apart the lens assembly and swap out the filter that blocks IR for one that blocks everything but IR. Then you can play games using your TV remote as a torch.

    Proper thermal images are much more fun and much more expensive. A previous employer bought one (they're useful for finding hotspots in electronics) and had to sign all sorts of bits of paper because it was classified as a weapon under US export regs.

    1. johnnytruant

      I've done two of those

      It doesn't give you night vision. Not noticeably more than the original visible-light more camera could see at night either. IR-only cameras do create some rather pleasing photographic effects, but to use them at night you'd need an infra-red illuminator of some kind (a TV remote will work fine over short range).

      It's entirely possible that the cheap-and-nasty sensors in most webcams just aren't up to the job. I expect someone ripping apart a DSLR and removing it's IR filter could get better results at night. I have no intention of taking a screwdriver to mine to find out though!

      1. Haku

        IR cameras

        I've always wanted a thermal imaging camera but when you'd be incredibly lucky to get one for as low as £1000 it's not likely I'll own one, but I have played with IR and CCD/CMOS cameras, don't bother with cheapie CMOS cameas, a b/w CCD unit is one of the best (and easily available cheaply) ways of getting night vision with a bunch of IR LEDs for illumination.

        I do have a 1st gen image intensifier night vision monocular which is a nice toy but it's bulky, heavy and cumbersome to use for any real length of time which is why one day I'll turn a pair of LCD video glasses into night vision goggles with a decent camera + IR LED illumination.

        This article's title was a bit misleading, I was hoping they'd already created a miniature thermal camera sensor, then maybe the overall prices of thermal cameras could come down to something a bit more realistic.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      In fact in the early 1980's a friend made a primitive IR sensitive camera out of a 64Kbit DRAM, The discharge rate of the capacitors is proportional to the light falling on it.

  3. James Hughes 1

    Many uses..

    The one that comes to mind straight away is finding out where the bloody cold draft in my house comes from.

    1. Graham Marsden

      @James Hughes 1

      Or you could try the old analogue method of licking a finger and moving towards where it feels coldest.

      (Hang on, wouldn't that be "digital"?!)

  4. Daedalus Silver badge

    Sounds great but...

    ...the Taliban already use cellphones. You want to give them night vision as well?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    building it into cheap smartphones ...

    ... sounds like an excellent way to ensure your enemy (even the moderately poor ones) can easily get the same capability as well.

  6. Bilgepipe


    Wow, this sounds really useful. An IR camera on my phone would let me.... errm..... do..... something...... with it...... or something.....


    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Does she fancy me? There's an app for that.

      Elevated body temperature is a sign of sexual arousal.

      That's the only app I can think of.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        or ...


      2. ArmanX
        Thumb Up

        Illness indicator

        Hmm, Bob looks a bit under the weather... let me just pull out my phone, and... whoa! Look at the elevated temperature on that guy! Definitely skipping this meeting!

      3. Andus McCoatover

        Perchance she's a real swine.

        With 'flu.

        Works both ways, sunshine. She might have a similarly equipped camera, and be checking to make sure your python (IT angle) is worth a syphon.

        Which kinda obsoletes the old trick of a rolled-up pair of socks down your trousers in the nightclub.

        (Down the front, natch!)

  7. Mystic Megabyte


    <SCENE> trench at night

    Soldier switches on DARPA phone

    Phone lights up and plays tune

    Sniper bullet kills soldier


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    "the place where promising young mad scientists worldwide, toiling in their dungeon laboratories to produce invincible robot assassins or freakish genetic abominations, hope one day to work."

    It's not Friday is it?

    I'm sure its not Friday. If it was Friday, I'd be in the Pub by now.

  9. D. M
    Thumb Up

    @The Indomitable Gall

    That's billion dollars idea.

    There will be some interesting and/or useful thing you can do with a proper IR cam on your phone.

  10. Big_Boomer Silver badge
    Big Brother


    A friend used to work for a Thermal Imaging company and one day we borrowed a camera to do some tests. We went to a local park to see how far away we could identify the rabbits.

    So, you can picture then scene, 2 adult males walking in a park at 10pm with a huge bright yellow thing held to one or the others face. It's lucky nobody saw us.

    We never did find any rabbits but we did find a "beast with 2 backs" in one bush and a drunk/tramp asleep in another. :)

    The one thing the proliferation of thermal cameras will do is remove the last hiding places of those who wish to remain hidden. Police will no longer need a helicopter to find which wheelie bin the crim is hiding in, nighttime Parklife will be curtailed unless you wrap up in one of those foil thermal blankets, and it will be impossible for people to deny being naughty in the office cupboard as your "bits" glow much brighter if they have recently been used! <LOL>

  11. dasaj
    Thumb Up

    Cool, finally I will be able to

    1. discover heat leaks in my house

    2. find out where my damn cat is hiding, when he's gone

    3. inspect for lovers hidden in wardrobe/behind curtains

    4. find a hot chick

    1. Disco-Legend-Zeke


      ...locate nearest marijuana grower.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Invasion of privacy

      I see a comeback of the whole "fig-leaf underwear" touted for the airport perv scanners, but this time blocking heat signatures. The thing about thermal scanners is they can (depending on sensitivity) see through walls, which means thermal cloaks for home exteriors most likely (unless you don't mind an audience with cell phones watching you and the missus). Not sure if metal siding would block the thermals....don't believe it helped in the Arnold movie "Eraser"...

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Invasion of privacy

        I think even wikipedia on a bad day is probably a more reliable reference than "Eraser".

        No thermal camera can see through a wall. They are used for building inspections to determine heat loss through walls and if the walls weren't completely opaque to IR then you'd be unable to measure the temperature of the wall itself (since you'd see what was behind it) and so you'd be unable to assess heat loss. Google for some IR images and see for yourself.

        Similarly, despite various rumours to the contrary, I'm not aware of any clothing fabric that is opaque in the visible but transparent in any part of the IR. On the other hand, close fitting outfits transmit body heat better than loose ones, so if IR cameras ever go mainstream it probably will have an effect on fashion. (You may have less luck googling for example images here. It isn't the sort of thing corporate types put on their web-sites.)

        On the fashion issue, much the same probably applies to the (very) near IR and near UV, both of which might be accessible to bionic eyes later this century. (They don't suffer from the wavelength problem I allude to in another comment. I believe various species have been exploiting/enjoying these wavelengths for a few hundred million years, so there's stuff to see if you have the gear.) Bionic eyes *will* be developed for medical purposes, and will then come down in price to the point where they are available as "cosmetic" items for those who wish to upgrade their mortal frame.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Invasion of privacy

        "Thermal cloaks for home exteriors"... I believe that's otherwise known as "insulation".

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If the plan is to give all troops smartphones that talk to each other.

    Isn't the next step to just start looking for clusters of RF that looks like a mesh network? Presumably they'd use that rather than routing everything through the cell network.

  13. Cucumber C Face


    Black Sabbath

  14. Anonymous Coward

    i of 2 fon4U buy an iPhone so I can carry out my fiendishly diabolical plan to take OVER THE WORLD BWA HA HA!

  15. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    It's an invasion plot...

    The lizard army waits until everyone has these thermal cameras, and is used to relying on them for detecting hidden enemies, then attacks, safe because they are cold-blooded and match the background temperature. WE MUST RESIST THIS FIENDISH PLOT!!!!

    (OK, it's not going to work, "cold-blooded" means they don't use their metabolism to control their internal temperature, they will still warm up when exerting themselves)

  16. Craig Taylor 1
    Thumb Up


    Oil refineries also use these to find gas leaks.

  17. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Not in a phone

    Speaking with just a tad of inside knowledge, there are two barriers. The first is cost, but this has followed a fairly predictable downward slide over the last twenty years and although no-one is offering anything below £1000 yet, no-one really doubts that there is a market and so it will happen. Lewis' timescale is about right and I'll probably be an early adopter because I work for a company that makes them.

    Probably not in phones, though. The longer wavelengths that give you images from room-temperature objects are around 10 microns, compared to 0.5 microns for visible light. That has an immediate effect on the size of detectors (because you can't shrink a single pixel much below one wavelength) and that in turn has an effect on the size of optics. A megapixel visible camera is only a couple of millimetres across and will deliver usable images with a bit of bent plastic for a lens. A megapixel IR detector is the size of 35mm film and so the associated camera isn't going to shrink much below SLR sizes unless you can work around the Fraunhofer limits. (That's going to be "challenging". Near-field optics continues to astonish anyone who took a traditional optics course at uni, but I'm not holding my breath.)

  18. Anonymous Coward

    "A megapixel IR detector is the size of 35mm film"

    Speaking as a retired physicist, that doesn't sound entirely plausible for near IR, based on the wavelength ratio being the same as the size ratio. But that aside...

    1) Who needs Megapixels anyway. Fisher Price Pixelvision style would surely be enough from an entertainment point of view ? If necessary, with lots of digital interpolation that the average punter would never spot.

    2) One day, some micromechanical genius with a historical memory will think of scanning by moving the lens rather than solely by having multipixel sensors.

    Or maybe not.

    Flame purely because they probably look nice in IR, be it near or far.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      35mm film

      Near IR isn't useful for room temperature objects (Try working out kT/h for a few temperatures of interest.)

      Current state of the (commercial) art is roughly VGA resolution with the pixels at 25 micron pitch for the 7-14 micron waveband. That's smaller than 35mm, but it isn't megapixel either.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: flames

      "One day, some micromechanical genius..."

      Quite possibly, or skip the moving lens bit and simply craft a million micro-lenses directly onto the detector like an insect, which is why I won't say it can't be done and which might explain DARPA's interest. A friend sent me this the other day: If you can pick your lens material to have any optical properties you like, and then use some micromechanical wizardry to shrink the whole package down to the size of a postage stamp, even the plot of Eraser starts to seem plausible.

      Beer, to drink whilst I sit in front of the warm fire you provided. :)

  19. D. M
    Paris Hilton

    What about 0.5 megapixels

    If you can have 8MP or 12MP "normal" cam on a phone, sure you should be able to fit a 0.5MP thermal cam. Price isn't a problem either, since the first application is for military, and I'm 100% sure Apple can charge what ever it wants on iPhone.

    Think what kind of cool apps you can write if there is thermal cam on the phone.



    "The only weakness of thermal imagers is that they don't work at all well through windows"

    Simple answer then. Use Linux.

    1. LaeMing

      Re: Use Linux

      But only with a text console....

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Fixing stuff

    OOh, imagine that. A thermal imager for every tech's workshop.

    I could find that very handy indeed, imagine the diagnostics possibilities.

    No more inexplicable shutdowns, just compare Board A with archive of known good boards, and spot the overheating part(s) or broken tracks etc.

    Also handy for locating shorts between board layers for diagnostics, as well as fixing those stubborn intermittents where a part has a microfracture or bad joint at one end.

    Not to mention comparing newly fitted parts with the original to confirm that the problem isn't fixed before your $$$ component goes KafizzztBANG.

    These are sometimes used in industry but the cost is too high.

    BTW there is a way to make your own using ZnS:Ag:Cu glow powder as this somewhat responds to both near infrared and thermal to a limited extent.

    AC, because if I ever get this to work it is SOOO going in EPE.

  22. Astarte

    Add a VR Headset

    I don't see why this idea shouldn't be commonplace in the not too distant future. If the purpose is simply to locate hotspots a relatively low pixel count will suffice. I can imaging a phone clipped to a shoulder strap with the video fed to a Head-Up-Display as used in so many applications today - attached to a pair of glasses or a hat. Add to that the phone's video recorder with GPS data and sound plus the ability to use visual and/or IR or even mixed imagery and you'd have quite a nice little self-contained low profile surveillance system. I'd have thought that mass production would make the cost of small quartz, ZnSe or other IR-transparent material lenses low enough for general use. An application for remote control would fairly trivial to produce.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Add a VR headset

      "... a relatively low pixel count will suffice [...] attached to a pair of glasses or a hat."

      These are already available for firefighters. (Finding bodies in smoke-filled rooms, etc.)

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