Red is for love – Secrets behind IR imaging.

In 2016 Caterpillar incorporated FLIR’s thermal camera and software into the first Thermal Smartphone. I wonder if they will make it as small as a ring… to rule them all…



Infrared radiation was discovered back in 1800 by a British astronomer (and composer!) Sir William Herschel by using a prism and a thermometer. He called it – the dark heat. All objects emit a certain amount of ‘black body’ radiation as a function of their temperatures.

The technology progressed very slowly over the next two centuries. By early 20th century, the technology could detect a cow at 400 meters. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912, spurred L. Bellingham to file a patent for detecting the presence at a distance of icebergs, steamships, and other cool or hot objects. In 1929, Hungarian physicist Kálmán Tihanyi invented the first IR camera, called evaporograph, to detect enemy aircraft over Britain. In 1945, Wehrmacht first used the Zielgerät 1229 sniper riffle (code name Vampir), which utilised IR spectrum as a form of night vision.

Since the offset of the Cold War in 1947, the technology progressed from bomber-carried cameras taking an hour to produce a single image to hand-held cameras that can produce 500 scans per second.

Thermal imaging hit the mainstream when the movie Predator was released in 1987. The most famous intergalactic hunter stalked his prey through IR vision. The movie was a hit, but a true hit was the magic of IR technology. Since then, there was a proliferation of Alien and Predator movies (11 made to date), but the reduction in size and cost of thermographic cameras migrated the technology into various scientific fields from medicine to archaeology, from space exploration to hair drying.

Now-a-days, IR imaging is routinely used as a non-invasive method of condition monitoring, for preventative maintenance of industrial, mechanical and electrical equipment. It is an efficient, cost effective tool to evaluate industrial plants and to pin point the problem without any downtime.

I still remember how I felt when I saw the thermal image of the kid offering the candy to the Predator. I sure did not expect that I would routinely use IR imaging in my job. Today, the site of an IR image is a common place, but back then, it felt more like sci-fi than sci-fact!

The kid in me still smiles and secretly utters to myself “Want some candy?” every time I study IR image for traces of fault, just like the Predator from the Predator movies.


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