Seeing Through the Haze With the “Industry’s Lowest Sensitivity” Thermal Camera
With the new Boson+ product line, Teledyne FLIR hopes to enable higher performance and more accurate thermal imaging systems.
With the increasing proliferation of computer vision systems, imaging hardware has become more critical. Today, most complex systems, like autonomous vehicles, rely on various imaging technologies and sensor fusion to obtain a complete, holistic imaging system.
Within this, thermal imaging is a unique and exciting imaging technology with a wide variety of essential applications.
Yesterday, Teledyne FLIR made headlines by announcing its new family of thermal imaging solutions.
FLIR's latest thermal camera. Image used courtesy of Teledyne FLIR
All About Circuits had the chance to speak with Ezra Merrill, Senior Marketing Director, and Oscar Angel, Senior Product Manager at Teledyne FLIR, to hear firsthand about the new product line.
Before diving into the new release, let's consider why there's a need for thermal imaging and some of the challenges this technology is up against.
The Need for Thermal Imaging
One of the biggest challenges to developing a high-performance holistic imaging system is that there are no "one-size fits all" solutions for imaging.
Conventional cameras may be great for many vision applications; however, they can be rendered almost useless in harsh environments. Camera systems become highly limited due to lack of visibility in situations like the nighttime, heavy rain and fog, or even bad sun-glare.
Instead, outdoor applications such as autonomous vehicles, security cameras, and AR heads-up displays must be coupled with conventional cameras with other imaging solutions to allow visibility in all conditions.
An example where thermal imaging can see beyond the visual light spectrum. Image used courtesy of Teledyne FLIR
One of these alternative imaging technologies is thermal imaging.
By reading the thermal profile of an object, as opposed to relying on reflected light, thermal imaging offers immunity to many visual obstructions.
As Merrill explains,
"Thermal cameras allow you to see in complete darkness, as well as see through obscurants such as smoke, fog, and sunglare. It provides vision where visible cameras can be blinded or not be useful really in any way."
Challenges Towards Thermal Imaging
Even though thermal cameras have many advantages over conventional cameras, the technology still comes with its fair share of challenges.
An example shows how the sensitivity of a thermal camera is an extremely important consideration for outdoor applications. Image used courtesy of MoviTherm
One of the challenges is the need for low sensitivity to make out valuable data from the camera.
As explained by Angel,
"When you have a thermal camera that doesn't have low sensitivity, the recorded thermal profile tends to just look like one temperature, uniform all across. In a lot of cases, thermal imaging is being run outdoors, which is an environment where the thermal scene is closely uniform and it's hard to distinguish the small temperature differences."
This case becomes a real challenge in applications like security cameras and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), as the inability to detect minor temperature differences can make it extremely difficult to identify objects within a thermal image.
Just like LiDAR needs millions of data points to create a detailed 3D map, thermal imaging needs lots of low-sensitivity pixels to map an object accurately.
Teledyne FLIR's Boson+ Thermal Imaging Cameras
Hoping to strike out for better thermal imaging technology, yesterday, Teledyne FLIR made headlines by announcing its new Boson+ line of thermal cameras.
Building off the original Boson product line, Boson+ claims to take thermal imaging to a new level by improving sensitivity, resolution, and latency compared to the original Boson line.
"The biggest changes that we made was to the pixel itself. We were able to fine-tune it to make it much more sensitive. We made some slight geometry changes, made some different layers and different materials directly on the pixel, and that's how we were able to extract the maximum performance without too many other trade offs," Angel explains.
The Boson+ thermal camera. Image used courtesy of FLIR
The result is a new camera product that states to offer some impressive specs. First, Boson+ brings thermal sensitivity down to 20 millikelvin (mK) or less, making the Boson+ the most sensitive longwave infrared (LWIR) camera currently on the market. This improved sensitivity is also accompanied by an enhanced resolution of 640 x 512, thanks to a 12-micron pixel pitch.
Finally, FLIR tells us that Boson+ offers industry-leading size, weight, and power (SWaP), with a power consumption of 900 mW in a module that measures 7.5 grams and less than 4.9
FLIR ultimately hopes it will find heavy use in autonomous vehicles, security cameras, and more applications.
Excitedly, Merrill tells us,
"This product is going to enable our customers to see much more details in the thermal imaging scene. Our customers have asked for that and we're excited to be delivering."