Thermal imaging technology market brightens up

What was once a technology reserved for use by the military, thermal cameras have carved out a niche in the security market. Initially, due to their high price point and lack of compatibility with other traditional surveillance systems, thermal imaging cameras were only used in high-end applications

However, as competition between vendors in the space has lowered prices of thermal imaging equipment, there has been a subsequent uptick in adoption of the technology across a variety of vertical markets. Vendors, likewise, now see an emerging market opportunity.

Here are some highlights from several thermal camera vendors at the ASIS conference in Orlando.

In joint press conference on Monday, VideoIQ and Flir announced that they have entered into a technology partnership in which Flir will be reselling single-channel video encoders from VideoIQ that have been optimized for the company's thermal imaging cameras.

According to Mark Gally, VideoIQ's vice president of marketing, the combination of the companies' technologies has created a user friendly, all-in-one thermal solution for the industry.

"This deal is great strategically for both companies," he said. "Analytics are ready for the mainstream."

Gally said that the video encoders will require zero calibration by installers and come preloaded with a library of 200,000 analytic algorithms for cars and people.

"We want it to work when you take it out and plug it in," explained Bill Klink, vice president of security & surveillance, commercial vision systems, at Flir.

Klink said that when the company was looking to partner with another firm for analytics, they wanted to have analytics that worked, produced a low number of false alarms and were cost effective for the customer, which were criteria he said VideoIQ was able to meet. Though they are not bundling the devices, the combined cost for the encoder and a lower-end Flir camera would be around $4,500, according to Klink.

Axis Communications
A relative newcomer to the thermal camera market, Axis Communications is featuring its two network thermal cameras, the Q1921 and Q1910, at this year's ASIS show.

James Marcella, director of technical services at Axis, said that the company launched the Q1910 in early 2010. After seeing steady growth in the adoption of the Q1910 and listening to customer feedback, Marcella said they introduced the Q1921 late last year.

Marcella said that bringing the cost of thermal imaging cameras down has made it available to non-traditional surveillance environments. For example, the Little League World Series recently deployed the company's thermal cameras to deal with issues pertaining to light pollution with traditional CCTV cameras. Marcella said he expects Axis to expand on its thermal imaging offering.

"We see this as a growth area for us and there will be more products," he said.

After being purchased by Opgal about a year ago, Vumii has expanded its entire product lineup, which consists of three families of thermal cameras including analog, dual-field of view and some IP.

Vumii President and CEO Randall Foster said that one new feature that the company is rolling at this year's show is true thermal continuous optical zoom. The new feature is available on the company's EyeSec series of uncooled thermal imagers.

Unlike traditional cameras that feature optical zoom, the feature is a rarity among thermal cameras due to the complexity of their lenses. "We're now getting towards a visible spectrum performance," Foster said of the new feature.

The company has also created an analytic algorithm for spotting flames that Foster said he believes could help the company enter the fire safety market as well.

DRS Technologies
Though it's not new to thermal imaging, DRS Technologies is a relatively new player in the commercial security market.

According to Todd Brown, the company's director of strategic product planning, DRS Technologies, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, established its roots in the defense sector and is now trying to build brand awareness in the security industry.

"We see a tremendous opportunity to get a bigger footprint in the commercial market," he said.

As with other companies in the space, Brown said that DRS is looking to make the price tag of its technology affordable and wants to create a complete thermal camera solution for under $3,000.

"When we ask people, 'why not thermal?' They always say it's too expensive," he said.

Brown expects that as prices continue to fall, thermal cameras could be adopted by retail, education and high-end residential customers.

The company is also moving with the rest of the industry to network video and its latest camera, the WatchMaster IP Elite, is compliant with the ONVIF network video standard.

Looking to bring out the detail in thermal images, SightLogix is introducing the new Clear24 camera.

According to SightLogix President and CEO John Romanowich, thermal cameras can create their own set of challenges for users depending on temperature variations in people and objects, such as when there is a white out of an image during the heat of the day.

To address the problem, Romanowich said the company listened to customer feedback and worked to better flesh out the detail in the thermal images that the company's cameras were producing. In a side-by-side comparison with several other comparable models on the market using a 320 x 240 resolution format, Romanowich said that the Clear24 consistently produced a better image.

"It's a matter of pulling (the image) out and presenting it to the human eye better," he said.

Not thought of a traditional thermal imaging vendor, Sony is featuring a wide area monitoring solution at ASIS 2011 called the XIS-3310 that can be adapted to fit two thermal cameras.

This mobile camera system, which features two cameras working in tandem with one another, can be used to monitor long-range wide areas such as ports.

According to Sony Spokesman Carl Lindemann, the camera system was recently utilized as part of a security project at the National Mall.

Pelco is launching its first completely proprietary thermal camera at ASIS called the Sarix TI.

David Stanfield, senior product marketing manager for Pelco, said that company's has produced thermal cameras in the past that used a third-party camera core. The Sarix TI, however, was designed and built completely in-house by Pelco.

One thing that Stanfield said the company wanted to achieve with the Sarix TI, which is both analog and IP, was that they didn't want users to feel like it was just another military technology that was adapted for the security industry. Therefore, when the camera is setup on a network, it is discovered the same way another network camera would be and has the same interface.

"We wanted to make it feel like just another security camera," he explained.

The camera also features embedded analytics, such as virtual trip wires and people counting functionality.