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Why thermal imaging looks like the next hot smartphone feature

August 20th, 2014 at 10:20 AM
iPhone Thermal Imaging Accessory Kickstarter

One of the most successful Kickstarter projects right now is Hema-Imager, which has so far secured $86,000 in support. It’s a “wireless thermopile-based imaging device compatible with nearly any smart device” and it features temperature accuracy of 2 degrees Centigrade.

This iPhone accessory is basically a cheaper challenger to Flir One, which is currently racking up strong reviews in nerd media. Both gadgets feature heat sensors that are relatively crude but deliver astonishingly sharp thermal images when the data is combined with a smartphone camera’s input. Both products stress their utility as safety devices — they can be used to detect wiring problems, plumbing issues or whether there’s a fire behind a closed door. Flir One’s website seems to also delicately hint at the erotic potential of heat mapping.

Other use cases cited by Hema and Flir One include figuring out whether a cup of coffee might be too hot, detecting wild animals around your campsite from within your tent, measuring dampness in buildings’ walls, locating pets and finding a husband potentially hiding behind a sofa.

Some of these seem to be something of a stretch when it comes to convincing someone to buy  a device that costs between $250 to $350. Why would your “friends” hide from you at night and what are you going to do to them after you find them cowering behind a mulberry bush, shivering in the dark? And wouldn’t dipping your upper lip in your coffee mug ever so slightly reveal the coffee’s temperature more quickly than a thermal imager?

Nevertheless, the street finds its uses for new technologies, as William Gibson has pointed out. There will no doubt be new apps developed for finding sinister and/or amusing purposes for thermal imaging once it becomes widely adopted. And now that the price of these devices is dropping below $300, it is only a matter of time before this phenomenon goes mainstream.

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