Infrared mobile devices: light under the cover of darkness

By Kishore Jethanandani

Consumer mobile devices are extending their reach into the enterprise, fulfilling more than communication needs of distributed workforces, as they are incorporated into business processes. A bevy of companies have launched infra-red mobile devices to supplement or compete with far more expensive infra-red cameras that historically have been used for specialized, high value applications.

Mass use of inexpensive infrared mobile devices in the enterprise meets a variety of operational needs to increase productivity and minimize risk. Impending equipment failures, indicated by cracks, are invisible to the human eye but can be detected by infrared devices. Additionally, intruders hiding in dark corners are spotted by infrared devices. Leaks and attendant energy losses, unnoticed by the naked eye, are visible to infrared devices.

Infrared devices have a unique ability to discern objects that the eye cannot. Intruders, for example, are detected by reading the differences in body and room temperature.

Among the new entrants is an Israeli company, Opgal, which has implemented Therm-App for law enforcement agencies and will expand its markets to private security firms, construction, and more. In collaboration with Lumus, it is also offering an equivalent wearable option with the ability to display thermal images in the center of an eyeglass.

Market leader, FLIR, which has a long history in infra-red cameras, has announced FLIRone, a camera that it is reportedly going to be used with Apple mobile devices.

Scotland-based Pyreos has launched a low-power mobile device for applications such as sensing noxious gases in industrial plants.

Opgal expects to compete with the entrenched incumbent, FLIR, by “offering an open platform for applications development over the cloud, with added benefits of much higher resolution (384*288) and depth of field than is possible with existing handheld devices to have adequate room to play for continuous development of new applications.” Mr Amit Mattatia, CEO of Opgal told us.

Opgal has gained significant traction in law enforcement by helping policepersons become more effective by piercing the veil of darkness with infrared. According to a FBI study, the largest number of deaths of law enforcement officers took place between midnight and 2 am in the morning. The fatalities happen when officers are in pursuit of fugitives outside of their vehicles. Officers are prone to injury or to lose their way in the darkness and are hard to find when they do. “Officers wear Opgal’s mobile device on their body and their pathway is traced by infra-red and communicated to a remote officer on a local map which can also be kept as a record for court proceedings,” Mr Amit Mattatia, CEO of Opgal told us.

Experienced professionals in the industry, long-time users of infra-red cameras, expressed skepticism about the ability of mobile devices to progress beyond some rudimentary applications. “A building inspector, for example, can detect a problem such as a wet spot due to a leakage but the resolution of images captured with mobile devices is not sharp enough to find its cause or source,” Gregory Stockton of Stockton Infrared, a company based in Randleman, North Carolina, told us. “Opgal’s Therm-App is an exception with its high resolution and depth of field but its price at four thousand dollars is comparable to proven and integrated alternatives like the FLIR E-8,” Mr. Stockton remarked. “The utility of most other mobile devices will be to detect problems before professional alternatives are sought for diagnosis and solutions,” Mr. Stockton concluded.

The services of professionals are needed for their specialized skills in any one of the varying types of infrared imagery.  “Broadly, the infrared imaging market is divided between the short-wave, mid-wave and the long-wave. The short-wave and midwave is largely confined to the military and requires very large investments while most professional imaging for the enterprise happens in the long-wave,” Mr. John Gutierrez of Infrared Thermal Imaging Services told us. “It takes a trained eye to detect the source of problems, by interpreting infrared images, such as those showing gas leaks in buildings, and the data on temperature differences and air movement,” Mr. John Gutierrez explained to us. According to him, none of this can be done with a lay user of mobile devices with infrared cameras but their widespread availability raises awareness about thermal imaging and the solutions possible with them.

The last word on the interplay of mobile devices and independent infrared cameras can hardly be said at this point in time. Mobile devices have been undergoing rapid transformation with improving capabilities in image capture and prolific applications development. Infrared cameras are more robust as hardware but users are more likely to be sensitive to their price as they weigh the alternative of a mobile device. One thing is certain—the market for thermal imaging will not be the same.


The post was previously published by the now defunct Mobility Hub of UBM Techweb



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