THE FUTURE: Embracing Thermal Cameras

THE FUTURE: Embracing Thermal Cameras

March 19, 2018

Gone are the days when thermal imaging was exclusively used by military and governments. The past couple of years have seen how thermal has entered the public sector for an endless number of uses.

This was anticipated, as the list of possible practical applications for thermal cameras is impressive. Let’s take a quick look.

Thermal cameras help make self-driving cars safer by outperforming regular cameras in harsh weather conditions and enhance drivers’ vision at night; drones equipped with thermal cameras aid the police and firefighters in various tasks; anti-drone thermal cameras defend the client’s perimeter against unauthorized UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) and are even able to autonomously take them down; smartphones equipped with modular thermal cameras turn into powerful tools for an array of professional and personal applications like monitoring houses’ heat loss; infrared cameras at airports help detect individuals who might have contacted contagious diseases such as Ebola; and thermography even helps detect breast and skin cancer.

With the advancements in technology, there’s also been a significant cutback in prices making these products more accessible to the public. The decrease in price has also allowed for more sophisticated systems that combine visual and thermal cameras in the same housing at a much lower cost of ownership.


Being aware

It will probably take a few years before all these newer cameras and gear are publicly available, but some already are.

As this transition to commercial use takes place, governments and the public will face newer challenges and dilemmas.

The two main areas of concern are state security and individual privacy – we will cover these in more detail below.

Both, regulating bodies and ordinary citizens, need to be aware of the risks that come with the newer technology, not only its benefits and uses. Because, as often is the case with any fledgling tech, there is little to no regulations by the authorities. They evolve over time through a series of trials and errors, court cases, precedents, controversy, the winners, and the hurt ones.

It is the purpose of this article to help you avoid becoming the latter.

Our first advice would be: Before buying and using thermal imagery equipment check with your local regulatory bodies what rules apply in your region. In the US, for example, hunting with night vision equipment is illegal in many states.

And so is exporting military-grade thermal products. Read more below and plan well what you take with you on your next trip abroad.


State security

Unfortunately, tools that are useful in the right hands can end up in the wrong hands and become dangerous. Experts warn that hi-tech night vision gear could fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states through illegal exports. This is what governments around the world are vigilant about.

In the US, exporting military-grade thermal products without a license is prohibited under Arms Export Control Act and can lend you a smuggling charge.

Low-quality night vision equipment is easily available and used by armies in most countries. But the US equipment is of higher quality and, if exported, could give America’s adversaries similar night vision capabilities.

In 2008, Ching Sheng Lee, and his nephew, Charles Lee, were arrested for attempting to illegally export sensitive thermal-imaging technology to China, according to the US attorney’s office.

In 2015, a North Korea native attempted to ship night vision goggles, also to China. The sale turned out to be a sting operation, and he was arrested and sentenced to 40 months in prison.

It is not hard to imagine what the end result would be should that technology end up in North Korea or Syria.


Individual privacy

There is a lot of talk about privacy today.

Millions of security cameras, thousands of license plate recognition cameras, police body cameras, dash cams, video doorbells, facial recognition, consumer drones, governments, and hackers. Thermal cameras are newer entrants to this list.

Thermal gear that attaches to your smartphone – that is a thermal camera in a pocket. So privacy invasion with the use of such gadgets is another issue everyone should be aware of.

The abuse of someone’s privacy can range from YouTube pranks to the police scanning private residences, which is illegal in the US. The US court ruled the police was violating the Fourth Amendment when thermal scanning a private house on suspicions of illegal growing of marijuana.


Excessive hunting

Recently, a number of companies have sprung up that offer safari-style hunting trips on vehicles or helicopters.

One Texas company will take participants on a night hunt for feral hogs using night vision gear, tactical gear, and machine guns – sounds more like a commando mission than a hunting adventure.

While hunting with thermal cameras is legal in Texas, similar to electrofishing it can be damaging to the wild life – when poorly regulated, goes out of hand, or ends up in poacher’s hands.

When the technology is misused in such a way, hunting as a sport becomes a massacre.

Incidentally in Kenya, local preservation organizations are fighting poachers with the same weapon they misuse: Rangers from Masai Mara National Reserve use thermal imaging devices to detect nighttime poachers, which otherwise would be much harder to identify.


In conclusion

These are just a few examples to quickly illustrate recent developments in thermal imagery.

As this technology advances rapidly, regulatory bodies around the world will have to keep up and introduce new policies to protect everyone’s rights and safety and their state’s integrity.

We are looking forward to a safer future for everyone.