Although often overlooked when designing security solutions, thermal cameras can be an attractive alternative or compliment to video surveillance in the right conditions and with the right
With the ability to detect heat via infra-red radiation, thermal cameras can identify intrusions and various other incidents where traditional surveillance cameras often may not be able to. For example, where CCTV cameras are blind in complete darkness, thermal cameras still have visibility and are also an excellent alternative in other challenging lighting conditions such as bright sunlight with dark shadows and poor weather (like thick fog).
This ability of thermal cameras may be fairly well known, but for many years their use was more limited to military and government sectors due to high costs. However, in recent years, thermal cameras have seen an increase in demand and application, particularly in the commercial sector, and their price has decreased 12-15% over the last 5 years (it is even now possible to buy small thermal cameras to attach to your smart phone for personal thermal image capturing for around US$250). Experts predict that will continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.6% over the next 5 years, reaching an overall market value of US$9,999 million by 2020.
So with a projected increase in application of this technology, thermal may become more integrated into standard security solutions in some sectors. Read on to gain a deeper understanding of the advantages and optimal application of thermal cameras...
The Benefits of Thermal
Like the development of video analytics in video surveillance, leading thermal camera manufacturers don’t merely produce thermal images but have integrated video analytics features, therefore providing ‘smart’ thermal cameras. By analyzing the data received by the camera, alerts can be sent to security personnel in instances such as if a specific temperature is identified or if someone enters a specific area within the camera’s field of vision.
Some cameras can even be linked to a pan-tilt zoom (PTZ) camera which will automatically hone in on and record an area where an intrusion or incident is detected by the thermal camera. This solution optimizes the use of both types of camera and increases the effectiveness of surveillance and monitoring.
Accurate detection and alerts
Since thermal cameras can deliver accurate information even in the most challenging lighting conditions, they produce accurate results and therefore send fewer false alerts sent to the security personnel (compared to video analytics).
In addition, the images or data collected can also be both detailed and very accurate, as a difference in temperature of a fraction of a degree can be identified. For example, one technology provider has developed thermal cameras that produce images which only highlight the ‘interesting’ information. Therefore in the case that nothing in the field of vision is over 36.5 degrees Celsius, the screen with be all blue (as all ‘uninteresting objects’ will not interfere), and only when there is an area that reaches 37 degrees will that area become green on the screen, identifying this area with a slightly higher temperature and therefore requiring security personnel to take a closer look at the situation.
Thermal cameras can have extremely far range outdoors where there is a clear field of vision (one brand boasting up to 7km), so if employed in the right environment and for the right purposes, they can not only produce accurate information, but also possibly reduce the need for traditional video cameras in a given area. For example, a thermal camera that can provide intrusion detection over an area as large as football field could replace four or more CCTV cameras and other infrastructure otherwise required to monitor that area. Thermal can therefore be a very cost-effective outdoor security solution.
The application of thermal cameras already stretches across a number of different sectors, particularly for those with good outdoor applications such as utilities, energy, chemicals, military and transport. Below are four sectors which can use thermal technology for different applications:
Energy, utilities and other large outdoor areas
Key application: intrusion detection
Thermal is an efficient method of maintaining perimeter and outdoor security by accurately identifying intrusions where video surveillance may not be so effective. The thermal camera can also be linked with a CCTV camera for functions such as facial recognition, license plate recognition or more detailed coverage of an event.
Pharmaceuticals, chemicals and waste management plants
Key application: safety
Processes and products used at such plants may be extremely high risk and processes may be dangerous or involve heat. It is therefore integral that any instance of overheating or fire are quickly and accurately detected, facilitating fast response from teams on the ground.
Key application: system maintenance
For an industry that aims to achieve zero downtime and system failure at all times, thermal cameras are an important resource in data centers as they can be used to identify electrical parts that are damaged or will soon fail as in such circumstances, these components or areas will emit more heat than usual. Thermal cameras can also monitor the effectiveness of cooling systems and can identify where energy is being lost which can help save costs.
Key application: data collection
Thermal cameras can be adopted in retail solutions to collect potentially insightful market data such as identifying traffic flow, popular areas of a store and even people counting.
Due to the unique features of thermal imaging and the additional level of identification and surveillance it can offer, thermal should not be overlooked but rather adopted where appropriate to enhance a comprehensive security solution. The ability of thermal cameras to quickly and accurately detect people, intrusions and a range of incidents even in challenging lighting conditions, while producing fewer false alert than CCTV video analytics, well compliments video surveillance resulting in a more effective overall solution. In most cases, thermal security is therefore best deployed as part of a wider integrated security solution.
In addition, as well as being adopted for solely security related purposes, thermal cameras can also be useful for a range of instances where the thermal data collected can be used to achieve other goals, such as in retail and data centers described above, or for instances such as identifying which car has been recently driven in a parking lot or where there are heat leaks from a building.
However, due to limitations in application and the data collected, thermal cameras are not necessarily a solution that should be adopted universally by all sites and sectors. For example, an office security solution may not need this technology as it might not bring any additional value if there is sufficient video surveillance in place. The key is to first analyse your industry and site for the benefits that thermal cameras could bring, but it is clear that in numerous situations, thermal cameras will offer another unique and valuable layer of security to your site's overall solution.