The following is an interview RealWear conducted with Mike Walters, Vice President, LWIR Uncooled Cameras, Teledyne FLIR
We’re super excited about this collaboration because both not only are Teledyne FLIR and RealWear true global pioneers in our respective industries but we’re also neighbors in that we both have roots in the Pacific Northwest (FLIR was formerly HQ in Wilsonville, OR). Let’s kick things off by finding out about Teledyne FLIR, their origin story, how they serve their customers, and ultimately what makes them tick.
Thanks for joining us, Mike! Tell us, what’s your role within Teledyne FLIR?
I am responsible for developing new, high-volume emerging commercial and industrial electronics businesses currently focused in automotive, drones, and our line of uncooled micro thermal imaging camera modules. Those camera cores include our smallest thermal camera, the Lepton, which is now in the RealWear Navigator™ 500 Series!
That’s incredible! What is it that excites you about the collaboration with RealWear and Teledyne FLIR that’s currently in the news? What makes it so unique? Anything surprising or interesting about it?
This collaboration with RealWear through our Thermal by FLIR program has the potential to reimagine how industrial professionals get work done. By pairing the incredibly small but powerful Lepton thermal sensor module with the voice-controlled, hands-free, and connected RealWear Navigator 500 series, we can drastically improve productivity and safety for assembly and predictive maintenance professionals.
As you know, Teledyne FLIR has decades of experience producing all types of thermal imaging equipment, from handheld devices to drone payloads, and this new hands-free dual thermal-visible camera module form factor adds to that legacy.
Absolutely! It’s new territory for both companies. Let’s start with the basics, for those who aren’t very familiar with thermal cameras, what are they and why would someone want to use one? How popular are they currently in industrial use, and which industries use them regularly?
Thermal cameras essentially give humans a superpower—they allow us to see a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared energy, that is invisible to the naked eye. Infrared is heat energy, the energy you can feel by placing your hand above a warm heater vent, which you cannot see. In fact, infrared energy is emitted and reflected by everything in the known universe. Being able to visualize that heat energy with a thermal imaging camera, to within a fraction of a degree, opens up tremendous possibilities for human achievement.
Those possibilities range from peering into deep space via the James Webb telescope to, in the case of RealWear Navigator series, spotting a nascent mechanical or electrical issue that would be practically impossible to immediately pinpoint without thermal imaging technology, and fixing it before it can become a much more serious issue.
How do you explain thermal cameras to a lay person? How do they work, and what kinds of technologies are applied?
Thermal imaging cameras essentially detect and convert infrared wavelengths of energy into a signal that can be visualized for our eyes to see. When looking at a thermal image, you are looking at what amounts to a collection of energy measurements—every pixel displayed by a thermal camera is an energy measurement, and the camera software assigns a color gradient to each temperature, which visualizes the data captured onto a screen.
What does it mean when someone says ‘thermography’? How does that fit in?
Thermography is the practice of using thermal imagers and images to measure temperatures. Thermal images measure the intensity of heat energy coming from the surface of an object, but that’s not actually a temperature value. Thermographers learn how to interpret images based on the heating patterns seen on objects, and how to accurately convert those into temperature measurements. Often a piece or electrical or mechanical equipment will show a change in its heat signature before showing any other signs of impending failure. Thermographers help technicians and predictive maintenance professionals determine whether a piece of equipment should be taken offline and repaired or be allowed to keep running.
That’s truly fascinating! The scope for this technology is extremely interesting.. You mentioned this earlier – on the website we’re saying it’s “Thermal by FLIR.” What does that mean exactly?
‘Thermal by FLIR’ is a cooperative product development and marketing program that supports original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), just like RealWear, along with other types of product innovators and entrepreneurs who use Teledyne FLIR thermal imaging sensors in their respective products.
We are thrilled to welcome RealWear as the latest member of this program, which includes a variety of organizations ranging from mobile phone manufacturers to unmanned systems developers.
We’re proud to be part of the thermal movement, and making it hands-free. How many thermal cameras do you think are being used in the market today? Are we talking thousands? Millions?
There are millions of thermal sensors all across the world, with uses ranging from aerospace to self-driving cars, to scientific research and even smart building IoT devices.
In fact, the history of thermal imaging dates all the way back to World War II, and in the 1950s thermal cameras were first used to examine utility power equipment. In those days the thermal cameras were too large and heavy for a person to carry—they needed to be transported and operated on a vehicle. Now, thanks to the Lepton thermal imaging module, that technology can fit on the tip of your finger, or in this case, as a lightweight wearable within the new RealWear Navigator 500 Series.
That’s some development! What are some popular use cases for thermal cameras that you’re aware of currently in industrial settings and which industries do they apply to? Has anything jumped out as being particularly surprising? Are people primarily using special Teledyne FLIR handheld cameras or are they using mobile devices with thermal sensors?
In industrial settings, thermal imaging cameras are used in a variety of ways and in a variety of form factors. Certainly, handheld thermal imaging cameras are common, but other form factors include thermal imaging cameras attached to or embedded into mobile devices, and in the case of RealWear, that same technology is now used as part of wearables.
Thermal imaging cameras are very effective at locating temperature anomalies that could denote a potential issue, so in this way, thermal imaging is a fantastic tool to deploy as part of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance programs. It’s much safer and less expensive to identify and fix issues when you want to, not when you have to.
For certain industries where uptime is mission critical, such as utilities or oil refining, thermal imaging plays a vital role as part of the maintenance toolkit.
In addition to industrial uses, thermal cameras are used for public safety missions where they can be mounted on a drone or in a monocular device to help firefighters see through smoke or help police search for a missing person. Since they can see in the dark, they are great for security cameras and, with the addition of long-range lenses, even border security. There are over one million thermal cameras in cars today with most autonomous vehicles adding them to help detect pedestrians and improve automatic emergency braking. High speed infrared cameras can be used for everything from missile defense systems to scientific research. Infrared cameras are just starting to be used in smart building and as you can guess, there are a wide range of emerging uses.
RealWear’s thermal camera module captures a special kind of JPG file? Why does that matter and what can you do with it?
A radiometric JPG file includes the temperature data of every pixel in the image. This allows the image to be opened, manipulated, adjusted, and optimized using the software tools within Teledyne FLIR’s ecosystem. This is especially useful with building maintenance reports.
Every pixel? That’s thorough! And they can be analyzed in FLIR Thermal Studio? Can you tell us a little more about that, please? What’s it for? What’s the use case? Would you expect a frontline worker or operator to take a photo on the RealWear Navigator 500 device and then port it right then to the laptop or tablet?
The FLIR Thermal Studio Suite helps users manage thousands of thermal images and videos, whether they’re from a handheld thermal imaging camera, unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or in this case, RealWear Navigator Series.
This subscription software offers the advanced image analysis and measurement features needed for predictive maintenance on critical components, system troubleshooting, and increased productivity. That includes the ability to build reports with more than 100 images quickly with fully customizable templates, overlays, and formulas, potentially pulling from multiple Teledyne FLIR camera types as mentioned above to provide a truly comprehensive reporting system.
Price ranges from free to premium plan options, offering an effective post-processing software tool for all types of users and needs.
In your opinion, what would you say are some of the advantages of using RealWear’s thermal module over other solutions? What makes you excited about the RealWear offer?
The ability to use a hands-free dual thermal-visible camera system with voice activation is an exciting development for the industrial market. Not only will users be able to identify and potentially diagnose issues via the HMD, but they could also use RealWear Navigator 500 while conducting repairs, with the ability to record images and video before and after to be included in a report via the FLIR Thermal Studio software or another third-party solution.
Furthermore, this system includes MSX® (multi-spectral imaging), which takes the edge details of the visible camera and overlays that onto the thermal camera, providing greater context and richer detail in real time along with post-processing analysis and reporting. And unlike a blended thermal-visible image, the visible edge detail is additive to the thermal image, so no thermal data is lost using this mode.
Thank you for your time, Mike! This has been incredibly eye-opening and insightful.