Questions and Answers From the Top
- By Andy Teich
- Jul 01, 2009
Thermal security cameras -- cameras that
make pictures and video from heat, not
light -- are affordable, available and becoming
a must-have technology for the
serious security professional. To learn
more about this exciting technology,
Security Products sat down with Andy
Teich, president of FLIR Systems’
Commercial Vision Systems division.
Q. We’re seeing more security
teams installing thermal security
cameras. What accounts for this
A. The awareness of thermal cameras
has been building steadily over the
past four years to the point that now most
integrators and users of video security
networks understand the benefits of thermal
imaging. Having crisp video images
in total darkness, seeing through smoke
and other atmospheric conditions that
blind daylight cameras or dealing with severely
backlit situations are just some of
the reasons why thermal is the best imaging
FLIR has worked hard to increase
awareness among security professionals
about how important thermal cameras
are in a video security network. Thermal
cameras can do things that no other imaging
technology can, and FLIR is driving
down the cost of thermal cameras dramatically
due to the high volume of cameras
we build for the wide range of markets we
serve. Over the last four years, FLIR has
transformed thermal imaging from an expensive
military technology into a highvolume
Thermal cameras integrate seamlessly
into today’s common video security networks,
so they are now standard video
security appliances operating on conventional
control platforms instead of devices
that require custom interfaces.
Q. What are some security applications
for thermal cameras?
A. The list of applications is almost
endless. Most thermal security
cameras are used for outdoor perimeter
surveillance where adding lights is too
costly, too invasive or impractical, but
they’re also used indoors as a safety and
The range of users of thermal cameras
also is extensive, from industrial and
commercial companies with large factory
or campus facilities, to municipal and
government entities, to residential homeowners.
For example, lighting a home or
facility that borders an expanse of water
is a practical impossibility, so security operators
can use thermal cameras for video
coverage, day and night.
In addition, thermal cameras can see
much farther than conventional daylight
cameras because they are not affected
by haze and atmospheric pollution. For
example, our cameras are deployed at
hundreds of border locations around the
world. In some cases, the systems are used
to detect activity at ranges of 10 miles or
more. Thermal cameras are much better
at discriminating people from animals
and background clutter since they rely on
heat. This proves to be a powerful advantage
when video analytics is deployed as
part of the system solution.
Thermal cameras also are ideally
suited for indoor use. In addition to being
able to see when the lights go out,
thermal cameras can see clearly through
dense smoke that blinds daylight cameras.
Industrial and municipal customers
are installing thermal cameras in buildings
so security and emergency personnel
can see people or objects through smoke
in case of fire. We’re also seeing an increase
in suburban homeowners using
thermal cameras to look down long unlit
driveways or to watch over wooded areas
around their home. Many rural property
owners use thermal cameras to watch
over their horse barns or other high-value
livestock paddocks because a single thermal
camera works both day and night.
Q.What technology do you relate
thermal imaging to, as far as
consumer adoption is concerned?
A. It is likely that thermal imaging
will follow the same adoption
curve as GPS technology. GPS technology
was developed for the military, much
like thermal imaging technology. It then
moved into the industrial market as prices
came down and surveyors started to use
Now, GPS units can be found in cars, on
boats and with pedestrians. GPS technology
answers the question “Where am I?”; thermal
imaging answers the question “What’s
out there?” This is a question that security
professionals want to answer as they transform
their video security system into an
around-the-clock protection system.
Q.Prices seem to be coming down.
Where are they today, and where
are they headed?
A.Thermal cameras are available
today for less than $3,000. FLIR
even has thermal cameras configured in
domes for indoor use. Where it’s going?
You’ll have to watch and see, but our twoword
mantra is “Infrared Everywhere.”
That is, we want to have a thermal imager
in every home, car, boat, business and aircraft.
For that to happen, awareness will
have to increase and prices will have to
Q.Where do you think this technology
will take hold first?
A. Thermal cameras have been in
steady use since the mid 1960s,
and they’ve already taken hold in the
border security, industrial security, home
inspection, predictive maintenance and
scientific markets, in addition to the
military. As far as the broader consumer
applications are concerned, we expect
perimeter security and transportation to
be the big markets.
Q.Where do you see this technology
in five years?
A. We expect thermal cameras to be
as ubiquitous as the digital camera.
As prices continue to drop, more customers
will be using this technology. Since
FLIR cameras don’t require any light at
all, you can imagine how many security
installations around the world can benefit
from this technology.
This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Security Today.
Andy Teich is the president of FLIR Systems’ Commercial Divsion Systems division.