Thermal imaging is definitely a key technology enabling real-time situation awareness independently from the lighting conditions. The new generation of non-cooled cameras – such as Device-ALab’s SmartIR and IrLugX – opens the path to endless applications on airborne, naval or land platforms, as well as handheld devices, in place of bulky cooled cameras.

In their ‘make-or-buy dilemma’, equipment-makers should remember bolometric image sensors are tricky: as the camera operates, the detector heats up, polluting its own measures. Worse, as operating temperature drifts, camera settings can change and require a calibration, which is typically achieved with a shutter. Without correction, the user will observe stripes appearing in the image as the temperature changes; for instance, along the aircraft take-off sequence.

Only a few players are able to design true SWaP thermal cores. Device-ALab is among them, with its ultra-low-noise design that translates into naturally sharp and clear images, even at frame rates over 100Hz. Makers should consider how versatile the camera core is and the effort of integrating it in their own system. A mechanical shutter enables recalibration, but this will result in a blind image – which some suppliers choose to dangerously hide via a false image freeze. The shutter also contributes to weight and power consumption (bad for airborne observation), to lower reliability (sensitivity to shocks) and a slight noise (hazardous for a sniper).

For these reasons, many suppliers now offer shutterless mode or automated compensation of temperature drift. Device-ALab has its own algorithm designed to operate in real time with low processing power. It recommends that the integrators seriously benchmark the solutions they consider, operating them side by side under the same conditions, especially temperature drift. Beyond product performances and reliability, supplier location is at stake. Device- ALab is a European-based supplier that translates for many clients to simplified exportation paperwork.