When should I consider thermal network cameras?

Robert Moore
Tuesday May 04, 2010
Written by Robert Moore
Surveillance cameras historically had one basic physical limitation: they needed light to work. It’s true that some cameras have night and day functionality that allows them to operate in very poor lighting conditions, even down to fractions of a lux. And of course, if natural light is not available you can install electrical lighting, either visible to the human eye or infrared. But these solutions can have serious drawbacks.

For example, electrical lighting can be expensive and may create shadows and uneven lighting situations. Meanwhile, while near infrared lighting is less expensive than traditional lighting, intruders can detect and avoid it because it is visible. Finally, an intruder can defeat a camera with strong lights or laser beams pointed directly at a security camera.

Fortunately, with technology advancements, you now have a new option to use in your IP surveillance implementation: Thermal network cameras. 

Thermal imaging is not new — however, until recently, no true thermal network cameras existed. A true thermal network camera combines thermal imaging with intrinsic network surveillance features such as Power over Ethernet, multiple VMS integration possibilities and embedded or third-party analytics.

Costs have typically been a prohibiting factor for enabling thermal and IP, making practical applications outside the military rare: Today approximately 1 out of 400 surveillance cameras are thermal. Regular optics and lenses, such as a standard CS-mount or C-mount, cannot be used with this technology, because ordinary glass efficiently blocks thermal radiation. As a result, manufacturers have to rely on materials such as germanium, a very expensive metalloid that blocks visible light while letting thermal radiation through. The same requirements apply for housings, making it impossible to use housings with standard windows for outdoor installations.

The good news is that new sensors, materials and a decrease in manufacturing costs have made true thermal network cameras a reality — which means it’s now easier to integrate thermal technology into existing IP systems and reap all the benefits of network surveillance.

With thermal, users can detect objects in any lighting condition because all objects, whether organic or non-organic, emit thermal radiation. So no matter the background — a person in a snowy backdrop wearing head-to-toe white clothing, or a person hiding in a dark forest — the human silhouette will be visible.

Additionally, where privacy is a concern or even mandated, thermal cameras enable you to still protect and detect with anonymous surveillance, since the cameras don’t depict facial features. The detection abilities are also significant from a video analytics perspective, since the use of thermal is an added bonus to eliminating false alarms.

That said, there are some limitations to thermal technology. Water droplets or small dust particles in the air can hinder the transmittance of thermal radiation from an object, making it harder to detect from a great distance. Consequently, as with any camera, fog, snow and rain may degrade camera performance.

All of these reasons contribute to why you’re going to start hearing more about thermal network cameras. But when should you consider deploying thermal?

Thermal network cameras can seamlessly combine with existing surveillance equipment, making it possible to secure an area or a perimeter that lies in complete darkness. Beyond darkness, thermal can also be used in conditions that include haze and smoke.

For example, here are five applications you may wish to consider for thermal cameras:

Perimeter protection: Thermal network cameras are ideal for protecting the lengthy perimeters of critical sites such as ports, power plants and prisons. They are extremely cost effective compared to building electrified fences or illuminating wide areas. As an added advantage, they can be deployed near residential areas without concern for constant light pollution.

Area protection: Consider deploying thermal network cameras to cover large areas such as parking lots, schools and loading docks. Use in these environments can help provide an early response to intruders, prevent vandalism, thefts and other crimes, and reduce the incidents of false alarms.

Intelligent video applications
: Thermal technology offers higher accuracy of detecting individuals than conventional cameras and is ideal for complementing intelligent video applications.
Building security and emergency management: Motion detection is appropriate for sensing movement in visible areas. When used with thermal network cameras, you can easily detect people hiding in office buildings and retail outlets after hours or in off-limit areas. Even if the building is filled with smoke, people can be seen.

People detection: In some cases, you don’t need to identify dangerous individuals, but rather individuals in dangerous areas. For safety and security purposes, thermal network cameras can be implemented on railways, platforms, bridges and tunnels to reduce the risk of accidents and loss of life.

Thermal network cameras perfectly complement a network video system by detecting objects, people and incidents 24 hours per day, seven days a week in almost any environment. If you run into any of the situations described above, thermal might be a hot option.

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