Thermal imaging cameras

Thursday, January 1, 2009

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.--Thermal imaging cameras, like the kind used by the military to detect people in the dark, are making their way into the residential market.

It’s still a niche product, but they can be a practical security solution in high-end and complex residential applications, particularly for larger properties, according to some high-end residential dealers.

“They can see in the dark, see through bushes, you can’t hide from them,” said Nick Ehr, owner of Broadcast Technologies here.

Thermal imaging camera manufacturer FLIR has been able to enter the residential market because its price point has come down considerably. In the past four years, “the price has dropped $25,000 to $35,000 to the point where you can now get [the residential product] for $3,500,” said Wes Moore, FLIR marketing communications manager.

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., FLIR manufactures cameras that are commonly used to protect critical infrastructure, ports and borders, and in commercial applications. In residential applications, they’re often used for perimeter protection where lighting the entire area would be impractical, or where the perimeter is especially large. The cameras are also useful when the property has waterfront or wetlands, making fencing impossible or difficult to install.

“[A FLIR camera] doesn’t replace video, there are just some instances where it’s better,” said Moore. Thermal imaging cameras are used to detect the presence of an intruder, rather than to capture a good image of that intruder’s face. For that reason, the FLIR cameras are often used in combination with standard security cameras, to trigger the security camera to begin recording.

Ehr has been in business for seven years and has 10 employees. While he’s based here, he works nationally, often for clients who have multiple homes. He’s used FLIR cameras at waterfront properties in Palm Beach, and in Texas he “covered a whole ranch with four cameras.” Each camera goes for seven miles and it’s a 49-square-mile working ranch. The four FLIR cameras were considerably less expensive than other perimeter detection solutions and the cameras do double-duty, he said. Because it’s a working ranch, the owner uses the cameras as an operational tool to keep track of people and cattle.

Ehr pointed out that the cameras can be used indoors to protect artwork. Where a standard security camera with analytics could possibly be triggered by shadows in the room, “thermal cameras do not react to light and dark.” The cameras can also be used to find people in a house in the case of a fire, when there’s excessive smoke.

“As the price lowers, I can see a lot of applications for thermal cameras,” Ehr said.