Simply put a thermal image camera is a device that enables the cameras user to see things in the dark. This is possible because every object and creature radiate heat. The thermal image camera picks up this heat as infrared radiation and it shows up on the cameras screen. The warmer the object the sharper it will show up.
Without going into too much technical detail, a thermal imaging camera consists of five basic parts. A signal processor, a detector, an amplifier, an optic system and finally a display, using these five components makes the camera able to display different colours to show the variations of temperature when it is pointed at different objects. Warm or hot colours will show up against cooler objects.
It is not night vision
Thermal imaging must not be confused with night vision visual aids or ir windows. Night vision instruments work in environments where there is a small amount of light undetectable to the human eye, but they cannot work in complete darkness. Thermal imagers can work it complete darkness as they only rely on the heat radiated from the objects they are looking at.
The origins of the thermal image camera go back to the early 1950s when it was developed as an aid to troops fighting in the Korean War. However like many other inventions originally developed for military purposes the civilian world soon adapted it for its own use.
Rescuing or catching people
A thermal image camera can be used to locate heat in various objects. As it is used in the absence of light, it is extremely effective in tracing people in the dark. These may be fugitives trying to avoid capture, or people who may be lost and in distress or danger.
Great strides have been made using thermal imaging cameras in situations where people have been trapped in collapsed buildings caused by explosions or earthquakes. They played a significant role in the locating and rescuing of survivors after the attack on the twin towers.
The Firefighting service
Since then firefighters over the world have invested in thermal imaging cameras to help them locate people in danger. There are two kinds of thermal imaging cameras used by firefighters. One is a handheld version and requires two hands to direct it onto its target. To alleviate this problem, some cameras have been mounted onto their helmets. This releases their hands for important rescue work. The ability of thermal imaging to see through the smoke and identify people makes it a valuable asset in saving lives.
The Construction Industry
The construction industry uses the camera when looking for areas of overheating or leaks of heat coming from faulty thermal insulations. Thermal imaging cameras are a vital component in this field where there is evidence of heat loss and air exchange. As the loss of heat is responsible for nearly half of the consumption of energy in buildings the thermal imaging camera makes it possible for the leaks to be identified by, detecting the places where heat is escaping that would be impossible to be seen by the naked eye. The cause of most of the heat loss and poor exchange is usually inferior construction and design and without building inspectors having access to thermal imaging cameras, it would be impossible for them to make thorough inspections to resolve the problems.
The Medical Profession
The medical profession uses thermal imaging to trace any areas on the human body giving out excess heat that may indicate a fever or some other ailment. Thermal imaging has become a way for doctors and other medical practitioners to discover problems in the human body without resorting to invasive techniques that may cause a patient some measure of distress or discomfort.
The thermal image camera has made it possible for the medical profession to identify danger spots by the presence of abnormally hot or cold spots in the body. Health problems such as skin complaints, arthritis, and other health problems can be discovered before they show themselves to the naked eye.
Although the thermal camera has made it possible for many problems to be located in situations mentioned above it is not an infallible instrument that can solve all problems.
It cannot be used to see through glass, as the heat will be reflected off the shiny surface of the glass. It cannot be used in rain or thick mist and fog, as the droplets of moisture will deflect the heat. It is not able to see through solid objects or clothing. The thermal image camera is undoubtedly an excellent instrument to help solve many problems, but it should not be used as the only solution to problems and should be used in conjunction with other instruments and methods to come to a final conclusion.