If you thought the STEM world couldn’t support two small infrared sensors that snap onto a phone or tablet, you (and I) would be dead wrong. That’s because FLIR, the leading designer and manufacturer of infrared products, has a slightly different take on visualizing thermal energy. The $250 FLIR One is a little more expensive than the Seek Thermal camera and has a more limited temperature range, but can show students what heat looks like.
At 1.2- by 2.5- by 0.7-inches, it is twice as big and heavy as the Seek Thermal. That’s because in addition to the company’s sensitive Lepton IR sensor, the FLIR One camera has its own built-in 350 milliamp-hour battery. On the downside, it isn’t charged when it’s connected to a phone or tablet. You’ll need to plug it into a computer’s USB port or a micro-USB adapter.
Unlike the Seek thermal device, the One has a digital camera alongside its thermal camera. This allows it to precisely overlay images onto its thermal maps. The Seek uses the phone’s native camera for this, which can end up distorting the image. As is the case with Seek, there are versions for an iPhone or iPad (with a Lightning plug) or an Android phone or tablet (with a micro-USB plug).
There’s a big gotcha with Android tablets or phones, though. Because there’s no agreement on which way the micro-USB plug is oriented, for some devices – like a Nexus 5 (which I use) – you’ll need an adapter that changes the plug’s orientation. It works fine with a Samsung Galaxy S6 Active phone. There’s software for iOS and Android, but, as is the case with the Seek device, there’re no apps for PCs, Macs and Chromebooks.
Once everything is connected and the device’s free app has been loaded, you’ll get a spectacular view of infrared energy. It’s ready for lessons and requires little or no set up. FLIR’s software makes the One shine with the ability to overlay visual images over the thermal ones with nine different of backgrounds at 640- by 480 resolution, although the color coding doesn’t correspond to temperature.
In addition to recording thermal videos and saving them as .mp4 files, FLIR provides software for doing panoramas, time-lapse and close-ups. It can show the hotspot in Fahrenheit or Centigrade units. On the other hand, its temperature range is much more limited with the ability to show anything between -20 to 120-degrees Centigrade versus -40 to 330-degrees C. It can detect differences as small as 0.1-degree C. For most teaching work, it won’t matter, but might be a constraint for recording things like reaction temperatures in a chemistry lab.
A big step forward for thermal imaging is that the One has an automatic thermal shutter that is whisper quiet. By contrast, the Seek’s shutter requires periodic recalibration that makes an annoying clicking noise. Unlike Seek, FLIR has gotten third parties to write software for the device. For instance, Owens Corning has an app that lets you check a house, office or school for heat leaks and energy efficiency, making for a very nice energy conservation lab or classroom activity.
It comes with a hard case and charging cord, but no AC adapter and includes a one-year warranty. Even with its limitations, the FLIR ONE is the ticket for showing what’s hot and what’s not.
+ Inexpensive infrared sensor
+ Excellent visualization software
+ iOS and Android versions
+ Easy to set up and use
+ 640-by 480-resolution
- Some phones or tablets require an adapter
- Limited temperature range