TUT students first to build smartphones with integral thermal camerasThe world’s first mobile phones equipped with thermal cameras are being manufactured through student work at Tampere University of Technology.
TUT’s famed course on wooden mobile phones is once again ongoing, and this year, the students are preparing smartphones in which the customary camera is replaced with a genuine thermal camera. These mobile phones can be used for all kinds of thermal imaging, such as inspecting the insulation of a building, cooking or taking thermal selfies.
“The thermal imaging camera alone is a true technological Holy Grail, and a mobile phone containing such a camera is something truly unique,” says Professor Karri Palovuori, the founding father of the course.
The American super mobile manufacturer CAT is next in the running, as it recently announced launching a mobile phone with an in-built thermal camera onto the market later this year.
The first among TUT students’ mobile phones are already up and running. The rest of the students on the course will finish theirs during the spring.
Thermal cameras help find missing people and detect elk
Previously, thermal cameras have been very expensive and awkward devices. In the past few years, the prices have plunged from tens of thousands of euros to a few hundreds, however, and the size has also reduced from a shoebox to a sugar cube. The current thermal cameras also often support a mobile connection.
“Thermal cameras will be introduced to the consumer mass market in a few years and they will prove highly useful for a range of purposes,” Palovuori believes.
Thermal cameras provide great assistance when seeking missing persons, for example, as the camera identifies the heat traces left in snow by a person who has walked by. A detected person, in turn, will glow on the display from afar. A thermal camera installed in a vehicle will easily detect an elk looming on a dark road side.
What you cannot buy in a store, make yourself
The aim of the mobile phone course created by Palovuori is to apply theory in practice and demonstrate that you do not have to settle for the off-the-shelf products in a store, even with electronics. The students on the course etch a circuit board, drill holes in it and then solder tiny components in the holes. What is further needed is some programming and loading the programme on the processor.
The user interface of the smartphone features a touch screen and an accelerometer. The thermal camera is a Lepton module manufactured by FLIR Systems, and it produces 80x60-pixel images. In total, the components cost around 200 euros.
The basic model of the mobile phone enables incoming and outgoing calls, monitoring thermal videos and taking MMS photos, but nothing prevents the students from adding extra features. In fact, that is the idea.
“A student gains three credit units for the course, but having one’s own mobile phone equipped with an in-built thermal camera is probably even more rewarding,” Palovuori notes.
The equipment and software for the mobile phone have also been published as a freely available open source code project.
The mobile phone course was offered for the first time in 2010, and it attracted 14 students. This year, over 50 local technology students will make their own mobile phones with in-built thermal cameras.
TUT’s course on wooden mobile phones was organized for the first time in 2010. The image parades some of the devices manufactured on the previous courses: an air-display mobile, a solid wood mobile, a rainbow tuner and a sauna augmentator.
Professor Karri Palovuori, Department of Electronics, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358 40 849 0093