Thermal cameras, which capture infra-red emissions and allow you to view the surface temperature of an object without ever touching it, are incredibly useful devices. They can come in handy for everything from tracking people and animals to diagnosing problems with electronic hardware, but there's one issue that has kept the technology out of the hands of makers: the price.
Traditional thermal cameras have been far from cheap: you can expect to spend upwards of £500 on an entry-level model, rising rapidly to several thousand for a high-end industrial-grade device. Lower-cost options have appeared more recently, typically taking the form of a thermal camera module which connects to a smartphone or tablet. The maker market, though, has been largely ignored bar an expensive breakout board for FLIR's Lepton camera module.
Thankfully, that's all changing. Panasonic's industrial and automotive arm has launched an evaluation kit for its own Grid-EYE thermal sensor, and while it is hoping for industrial customers the company has gone to quite some effort to make it maker-friendly: the board connects to a PC via USB, can communicate over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and even includes Arduino-compatible headers and an example sketch for immediate use. Better still: the board is priced at just £60.
There are, naturally, trade-offs in order to meet that aggressive price. The biggest is resolution: where a FLIR Lepton module captures an 80x60 measurement array, the Grid-EYE captures just 64 individual measurements from an 8x8 array. While that means you won't get the same quality of thermal images from the Grid-EYE, it doesn't mean a loss of functionality: example projects suggested by Panasonic include accurate non-contact surface temperature measurement of objects, detection of heat-emitting objects, and even the ability to detect and track a human body - great for security applications.
Better still, Panasonic has made all its example code and application programming interfaces (APIs) open-source under a BSD Licence, including code for using the Grid-EYE board with Arduino microcontrollers, Labview, and from within Python on a desktop or laptop computer. All of this code can be found on the official website, while fresh stock of the boards themselves are expected to arrive in the UK in April at Panasonic's official resellers.
Panasonic Automotive & Industrial Systems has launched this evaluation kit for its Grid-Eye infrared array sensor, which integrates a ”nanopower” Bluetooth Smart module and a microcontroller. The kit is intended for prototyping the Grid-EYE sensor which is a 64 pixel IR camera in a surface mount package measuring 11.6mm x 8mm x 4.3mm, which integrates the MEMS sensor, lens and I2C interface.