Friday, September 7, 2012

Turn your iPhone into an IR camera

If you live an old drafty house like I do, you're probably not looking forward to another long cold winter -- not in the least because you will inevitably find yourself shelling out exorbitant sums of money just to keep the place nice and toasty.

Fortunately, since the advent of thermal imaging cameras, it's now pretty easy to identify patterns of heat loss from your property and to then take some remedial action to fix any problems.

Due to the cost of the cameras, however, it's unlikely that you will want to go out and buy one yourself. It's more likely that you will call on the services of a professional home inspector or energy auditor who will bring their own thermal imaging kit around to your properties to perform the task.

Even a professional survey, however, isn't likely to come cheap, although probably a darned sight less expensive than buying your own camera.

Faced with these two alternatives, engineer Andy Rawson decided to turn his iPhone into a thermal camera by developing custom-built hardware and software solution that would interface to it.

More specifically, Rawson designed a PCB board that sports a Melexis (Ieper, Belgium) MLX90620 FIRray device which can measure thermal radiation between -20°C to 300°C thanks to its 16 x 4 element far infrared (FIR) thermopile sensor array. The software then transmits the thermal images collected by the infrared sensor on Rawson’s board to the iPhone through its dock connector after which they are overlaid onto the phone's display together with numerical temperature values.

Having developed the hardware and the software, Rawson says that he would now like to make and sell the systems so others can save money and energy. He figures he should be able to manufacture and sell them for around $150.

Nevertheless, this is also going to be an open source hardware project, so if you want to make your own systems, that's fine by him too. A man of his words, Rawson posted the iPhone code and the board layout on the internet this week. Interested readers can find it here.

While he might be a talented engineer, Rawson admits that he is terrible at dreaming up names for his projects! So he's encouraging people to submit names for the new design to his web site. The winner will receive one of the thermal imaging systems for free.

A video of the thermal imaging system in action can be seen on YouTube here.

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