Hollywood and video games are perhaps the main reason why people are aware of infrared (IR) thermography and its underlying technology.
However, what we see on television are just the basics; there is so much more to IR thermography and it most certainly can be used beyond military and surveillance applications.
Infrared Thermography Explained
Infrared thermography works in much the same way as conventional photography. Just as the components of a standard camera convert the light that enters the lens into a video signal – which is then displayed into a visual image on a screen that we can see and interpret – so, too, does an infrared camera.
Instead of light, however, an IR camera captures the heat radiating from the object it is aimed at. This radiant heat – which is called infrared energy – is then converted by the electronics inside the IR camera into a video signal that can be displayed on a monitor.
The hotter the object is, the more infrared energy it puts out, so its image will appear more vivid and brightly colored than its surroundings. In this manner, we can correctly gauge whether or not an object is emitting heat without having to touch it or use instruments that require physical contact.
Also, thanks to the brush DC motors in IR cameras that allow it to zoom in and out – much like a regular camera – we can use IR thermography to detect hot spots over a wider area or a large group of objects, such as a crowd in a concert or a street march.
Where is Infrared Thermography Used?
As earlier mentioned, IR thermography has various applications beyond surveillance and the military. Here are just a few examples.
Infrared thermography can be used as a non-invasive, and therefore safer way to test for and detect problems in electrical distribution equipment. These problems can range from loose connections and capacitor breakdowns to occurrences of overloading and overheating.
It may also be used to detect transformer trouble such as overheated bushings and blocked cooling passages.
Boilers and Heating Systems
Infrared thermography is also used to detect insulation breakdown in heating systems such as boilers and climate control house systems. It may also be used to detect leaks in pipe valves and joints, as well as places in a house or building that may contribute to heat bleed.
Infrared thermography is used extensively in the medical field. It is often utilized as a non-invasive way to detect certain diseases or foreign (often harmful) substances or organisms in the human body. This can range from cancer cells, arthritic joints, and vascular blockages, to deadly and infectious diseases such as avian flu, swine flu, or Ebola.
In fact, in the recent years of flu and Ebola outbreaks, IR thermography was used to screen airline passengers before allowing them to board a plane in order to prevent epidemics.
IR thermography can help detect faulty parts and mechanisms in car engines and chassis because these parts would generate more heat than normal, whether due to friction or through heat dissipation failure.
It can also be used to detect specific issues such as blocked radiator tubes, overheating bearings in fans and compressors, or excessive oil temperatures.
Wildlife Conservation and Research
Studying wildlife, especially in their natural habitats, can be very challenging, especially if the wildlife in question is nocturnal or very adept at concealing itself.
Infrared thermography can help in this regard by detecting heat signatures even in darkness, which can then assist researchers and biologists in capturing specimens for further study.
IR thermography can also be used simply for observing wildlife from a distance to gather information about their feeding and mating habits, for example.
Perhaps it is due to the way that it is showcased in media that many are pigeon-holing IR thermography. However, as shown in this article, there are many more applications of this technology that can benefit various aspects of our lives.
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