Thermal imaging ready for mainstream applications

Manufacturers discuss technology trends at ASIS 2012

Klink added that there has also been a decisive shift in the industry from 320x240 resolution to 640x480. "That doesn’t sound like a lot to video security guys because their doing megapixel, but in the world of thermal imaging, the VGA resolution is the new standard," he said.

IP Migration

As the majority of traditional security camera systems have moved from analog to digital, so to have thermal cameras, according to Todd Brown, senior director of commercial infrared systems for DRS Technologies’ Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition division.

"We’re seeing more and more movement towards IP. The standards conformance, I think is a nice industry trend, which we adopted back when we first developed our first camera," explained Brown. "ONVIF conformance makes it really easy to plug-and-play."

At last year’s ASIS show, Brown said the company introduced its WatchMaster IP Elite fixed thermal camera system, which he said they have had success with and are looking to build upon at ASIS 2012 with addition of new feature sets, as well as a new pan/tilt camera model called the WatchMaster IP Ultra. This new camera model features a 360-degree pan and tilt housing, compliance with ONVIF specifications and low Power-over-Ethernet functionality.

"One of the things that we’ve done is set a new bar of affordability for thermal imaging. Most people in the commercial security market would elect to use an alternative technology to solve their low-light, challenging environment problems and traditionally use an inferior technology because it is lower cost," he said.

Randall Foster, president and CEO of Vumii, which primarily sells its cameras to users in middle-to-high end applications, said that there has been a demand in the thermal marketplace for functionality and feature sets similar to that in the traditional video camera space.

"I would say there is a desire to have thermal cameras with the features and user-friendliness of traditional cameras," he said.

For this reason, Randall said that his company has built IP compatibility into its cameras, as well as optical zoom and auto-focus.  At this year’s ASIS show, Foster said Vumii is featuring its Accuracii long range PTZ thermal cameras, which offers 25-to-225mm zoom lenses and can be used at distances up to 1,500 meters.  

As more entry level companies have entered the market, Foster said that they have done a good job of educating the overall industry about the benefits of thermal. However, Foster said there is still a big knowledge gap that exists.

"What we’ve found is general security buyers are not knowledgeable enough about the technology," he said.

Video Analytics and Target Assessment

Though thermal imaging is one of the best tools in the security industry today for the detection of a possible perimeter intrusion, there hasn’t been much development in the market in terms of tracking a target once it has been acquired.

At this year’s show, SightLogix is launching the second generation of its SightTracker technology, which enables users to steer cameras and zoom in on a target for a more accurate assessment of what’s been detected by the camera. In fact, Pelco recently integrated this SightTracker technology into several of its own pan/tilt/zoom camera models. 

Also helping to help more accurately assess targets detected by thermal cameras is video analytics. According to Brown, analytics technology actually works best when used in a thermal environment.

"We’re certainly seeing in the security industry less interest in having eyes on a monitor," Brown said. "Particularly, when you have more and more cameras, you can’t have reliable eyes on video and you need more sophisticated video analytics. Most visible cameras break down with analytics when you run into changing light conditions, shadows, changing weather conditions and things like that."