The first smartphone with thermal imaging has been announced

FLIR has launched its second generation FLIR One infrared (IR) camera onto the consumer market. It features the improved Lepton 3 core module that offers a fourfold resolution increase compared to the first module, while costing less than $250. This comes less than 18 months after the FLIR One first brought night vision and thermography cameras that had for decades been reserved for professional and defense use to the consumer market… 

And now this module is set to provide thermal imaging in a smartphone for the first time, with the Bullitt Group announcing on February 18, 2016 that it will integrate the module into the Caterpillar-branded Cat S60 model!

Cat S60 Thermal Imaging Rugged Smartphone Flir Yole

CAT® S60 with integrated thermal imaging ( source

This incredible achievement has been enabled by FLIR’s latest developments. FLIR’s technology choices are important for the user’s experience and the company’s strategy for future growth. System Plus Consulting has published a new reverse engineering and reverse costing report on the Lepton 3 and the second generation FLIR One (FLIR One 2nd Generation & FLIR LEPTON 3 IR Camera Core). We think the Lepton 3 microcamera will be integrated into the Cat S60. In these products, FLIR’s technical choices are really impressive, as they have initiated the development and industrialization of  new technologies that will pave the way for real expansion of consumer applications. These technologies include silicon optics that make production compatible with ‘More Than Moore’ industrial infrastructure, which brings benefits of price decreases and scalability with volume production. This is not possible with germanium or chalcogenide optics. And they have increased the imaging resolution, maintained the same level of power consumption as well as simplified the materials used, reducing costs. They also enable better balance between readout integrated circuit (ROIC) and microcontroller performance.

FLIR’s approach has major differences compared to competitor products like Opgal’s Therm-App camera that contains Ulis’ IR imager (Opgal Therm-App Infrared Camera & Ulis IR Microbolometer, System Plus Consulting report) and the Seek Thermal camera that uses Raytheon’s imager (Seek Thermal Infrared Camera & Raytheon IR Microbolometer, System Plus Consulting report). FLIR is pushing better image quality and making the product easier to understand by bringing together an IR imager with a simple visible VGA CMOS image sensor. Competitors provide pure IR images with a limited field of view that may be difficult to analyze and understand. By mixing the IR and visible image FLIR provides users with a great experience.

What are consumer applications worth? According to Yole Développement’s Uncooled Infrared Imaging Technology & Market Trends report, consumer and DIY applications of IR imagers was less than $20M in 2015, but the volumes sold increased strongly. The availability of the new smartphone will increase sales further.

FLIR One 2nd Generation & FLIR LEPTON 3 IR Camera Core (source System Plus Consulting)

FLIR has made multiple acquisitions to release a product for less than $250. It bought DOC in 2013 to access wafer level optics, DVTEL in 2015 to access software for advanced video surveillance, and has partnered with DJI to provide IR imaging to drones. This is an incredible strategy!
Now FLIR must find new applications, because currently sales come from niche areas. These include night vision for hunters and outdoor leisure, when people want to know if there’s a bear behind the nearby trees. Spot thermometers for DIY and small independent contractors help show where there are heat leakages. Night vision for isolated houses shows if somebody is hidden in the garden. And now there are ruggedized handsets! FLIR, as the world leader in IR camera sales with revenues of $1.5B, understands every application well. That will help it adapt its new generation Lepton to each area, from drones to maritime applications, smartphones to building automation, DIY spot thermometer to surveillance and security. All these applications mean that in 2016 more than 100,000 units will be sold. This represents 20% of the total volume of the uncooled IR imaging market. Not bad for a market segment only 18 months old!

We shouldn’t overlook that there is also competition with IR detector arrays that also offer good performance and low prices, as discussed in Yole’s Infrared Detector Technology & Market Trends report. However, FLIR’s new IR camera core is still definitely a great concentration of technologies that will enable brand new applications. And now, the Bullitt Group will test the user cases for thermal imaging and night vision systems in smartphones.


Let’s discuss about all these trends and opportunities during the 1st Executive Infrared Imaging Forum: From niche to large volume applications, powered by Yole Développement and hosted by CIOE on September 8th, 2016 in Shenzhen. All the key players will be there to present and network. BE PART OF IT !


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