FLIR Handheld Cameras for Marine, Hunting, Search and Rescue thermal imaging cameras that produce a crisp image in the darkest of nights.
FLIR Fixed Mount Thermal Cameras. Advanced Thermal Night Vision displays the invisible heat energy from a myriad of potential hazards.
The Flir PathFinder II processes its infrared video to pick out pedestrians and large animals, highlighting them on the video monitor.
FLIR thermal imaging cameras began appearing on NZ boats around 2006 and since that time the technology has proven to be helpful in nighttime navigation. So what is FLIR and where did it come from? Well, the name of the company “FLIR” was formed from the simple acronym of “Forward Looking Infra Red.” The company first began in 1978 and was built around the manufacture of aviation infrared systems. Since that time FLIR has become the world’s largest producer of thermal cameras and is listed on the NASDAQ exchange with a market capitalization of over 5 billion dollars.
The company went from strength to strength within its niche but a major milestone in FLIR’s history was in 1990 when it teamed up with the Hughes Aircraft Company, with Hughes taking part ownership of FLIR. Today most of FLIR’s revenue is still generated from air surveillance and specifically contracts for the military. FLIR’s commercial industrial divisions manufacture a wide range of visual thermal imagers for industry and non-military applications. These markets include scientific, security, marine and the auto industry. In fact, you will find FLIR night time driving systems on many high-end luxury cars. As you can expect, the application will dictate the quality and hence the price will vary accordingly. For example, an entry-level handheld device one may use for situation awareness sells for just over $1000 while a full gyro stabilised long-range maritime surveillance system will set you back six figures.
Although FLIR thermal imaging cameras look like a regular video camera they are far from it. They detect only infrared energy, and as a result, the lens of a FLIR unit cannot be made of glass as glass is, in fact, a barrier to infrared. So you cannot use a FLIR unit within a cockpit of an aircraft or boat and expect to see anything through a windscreen (unless Perspex). Instead, the lens utilises an expensive rare metal called germanium, due to its ability to conduct infrared.
At the core of each camera is a device called a microbolometer. This device detects infrared radiation with wavelengths between 7.5-14 μm. The microbolometer is a solid state device that changes in resistance depending on the energy focused on it. The microbolometer used in a FLIR camera consists of an array of pixels that can be measured and processed in order to create an image.
The FLIR core cannot see visible light whatsoever; it can only see light within the infrared spectrum. A lot of folks are sceptical on this point and when we first began distributing FLIR in 2006, no one had any idea about this technology. They simply would not believe that the camera could see without any light. We would demonstrate handhelds along the Auckland waterfront and customers were convinced-
-ed that the low light and moon over the harbour was providing sufficient light, it was only when they locked themselves in a cupboard did they actually believe.
Every object emits infra-red light regardless of what temperature it is. Objects at well below freezing are still visible due to their infrared footprint, so even ice is easy to see. The difference between infra-red light and visible light is the wavelength. Infra-red light has a much longer wavelength. It happens, however, that there is a correlation between the amount of infrared light given off and the actual temperature of the object. For this reason, the technology has been used for many decades for non-contact temperature measurement. This can be helpful when trying to measure the temperature of very hot products such as molten glass and steel.
This is the million dollar question we get asked most often, and the answer is “well it all depends.” Firstly customers are amazed at the quality and clarity of the image. For the most part, the image from a FLIR marine camera is going to look the same as you would expect
from a black and white video camera. The image clarity and detail surprise people as it is so clear that even debris like pieces of timber can be seen in the water. This clarity of the real world makes life easy for the skipper as there is no requirement to
interpret data or patterns. What you see is what you get. Every skipper knows the feeling of uncertainty when being forced to move to a quieter anchorage at night due to a wind change, especially after having been awoken and trying to ascertain your surroundings.
FLIR really becomes useful when trying to navigate into a bay with other moored craft.
As for range, FLIR splits this specification into two specific definitions. Detection is the first point at when you clearly see an object appear on your screen whereas identification is when you clearly identify the target. For example, the image of a 50 ft launch will be identified much farther away than the distance one can identify a small runabout or kayak. FLIR publishes a conservative specification table for all their models, so you can decide which model will best suit your needs. The majority of sales we see are of the 320x240 microbolometer and they can detect a 4-metre vessel around 1.9km (1nm) which is adequate for collision avoidance even at speed.
Like all technologies, there are limitations and environmental factors that come in to play and will affect range. The height of the imager relative to the sea is without question an important consideration, and the higher it is placed the better image quality and range.
The ambient air temperature to has an impact as the greater the differential between the surroundings and any warm object will translate to sensitivity. In general cooler, dry nights have the best result.