A Smartphone That Sees Red


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Raytheon and Seek Thermal have created a smartphone-compatible infrared camera that would fit right in to 007's stash of spy tools.

The camera detects infrared energy and converts it into an image visible to humans. That allows us to virtually see beyond the spectrum of visible light.

Raytheon has been a leader in infrared technology for more than five decades, developing revolutionary military products like the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, handheld integrated targeting system and ATFLIR. But it’s the company’s pioneering work in microbolometers - thermal detectors that are one-fifth the width of a human hair - that have made it possible to offer affordable, next-generation consumer products like the Seek Thermal camera. Microbolometers are also found in Raytheon’s thermal weapon sights and some cars, which use the technology for heads-up displays.

“We can now put high-performance infrared technology in the hands of consumers,” said Jeff Hamers, Raytheon’s project lead for Seek Thermal. “Just a few years ago, that wasn’t an option. But the technology has evolved to the point where people can use these infrared cameras in their everyday lives.”

The device is practical as well as futuristic, according to Hamers.

“Do-it-yourselfers are using it to pinpoint clogs in their water pipes and to locate energy inefficiencies in their houses,” he said. “I’ve talked to sportsmen who’ve used it to track game. We’re hearing about new uses for it all the time.”

Seek Thermal has only been on the market since October, yet it is already turning heads in the photonics industry. At a ceremony in San Francisco earlier this year, the International Society of Optics and Photonics (SPIE) and Photonics Media honored Raytheon and Seek Thermal with a Prism Award, one of the industry’s most prestigious honors, in the category of imaging and cameras.

“This recognition is a testament to the successful transition of defense technology to commercial use,” said Dr. Leonard Chen, director of technology at Raytheon Vision Systems.

Seek Thermal has a resolution of 206 x 156 pixels, setting it apart from conventional consumer thermal imaging products, which offer resolution as low as 60x40 pixels. There are two versions available on the commercial market – Seek Thermal and Seek Thermal XR (Extra Range). The baseline version offers a 36 degree field of view with a fixed focus, while the XR has a 20 degree field of view with an adjustable focus. Both are compatible with iPhones and Android devices.

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