by John Curnow
Yes. You do need to see this to believe it. FLIR Systems has recently launched their new maritime products and heading up the show, is the truly spectacular MU Series, which with its buns on the side of its head and shiny, white plastic cover, certainly does look like something from Star Wars.
Princess Leia did not have the capabilities of the FLIR MU.
Indeed the military genealogy of FLIR’s products extends deeper than just the outer shell, with the ‘payload’ of this particular unit incorporating not only full colour and low-light vision, but also the first time, a liquid Helium cooled infra-red sensor. At -200°C, it is more than cool in any sense of the word and one of MU’s many attributes is that it will allow you to see a small object up to 8nm away. Correct – the horizon, no less.
Navigation is always made easier with FLIR on board.
Now you don’t quite need a vessel the size of an Imperial Starship to carry the MU or its little sister, the MV, but they are more suited to larger craft and ships. For other applications, there are other fixed devices like the MD, as well as just what every serious mariner needs, FLIR's magnificent, handheld units.
The new range is both a case for updates over replacements, as well as line extension. FLIR have bridged some gaps in the previous product group as they continue to strive for Infra-red technology being available to all and sundry. Some models are cheaper than their predecessors, but all come with increased functionality as standard.
Heat signature of the main engines very identifiable with a FLIR camera.
Certainly, FLIR items are found on megayachts, cruise liners, tugboats, rescue and pilot vessels. All weather, all conditions visibility is a must for these types of craft, but consider for one moment a scenario where you have Man Over Board from a racing yacht or fishing craft. In the dark or amongst waves, it only takes a few seconds for that person to become nearly invisible. A handheld FLIR unit on deck becomes as crucial to recover as a well-trained crew.
Yachtsman's weapon of choice - single handed thermal imaging.
You can start with the FLIR MS from an RRP of $2500 which is a 320 resolution camera and then work on to the MLS, which is available as a 640x480 resolution unit and with it’s 4x zoom, you can see small items up to 2nm away. At $6500 RRP, you not only get the higher resolution and longer range, but a laser pointed is fitted as standard, too. One thing that all the FLIR maritime handheld units now have as standard is what FLIR call InstAlert™, which makes the hottest things in the image, often us humans, red.
At 340grams, 172x58.7x62mm, able to use its own Li-ion rechargeable or AA Alkaline disposable batteries and with just four easy to use buttons, it not only powers up quickly in an emergency, it requires just the one hand for use, leaving your other for important things like hanging on yourself.
Biocular HM series from FLIR.
At the top of the handheld FLIR range is the BHM, which is biocular and provides an amazing image. It has a $12,000 RRP tag and is more suited to those times when say the autopilot is in charge and you have the time to absorb more visual information. Land based protective services are huge fans of the BHM with its power and range, however it would well suit sportsfishermen returning proceeding to anchorage on a reef after a busy day and looking to do some reconnaissance.
The FLIR MD is a more competitive priced, static version with 640x320 resolution. The MD continues with the sci-fi appearance, although maybe a little more like R2D2 given it does not stand quite as tall being barely 180mm fully upright. It has the joystick controller option and also IP output, not serial port, so you can tap it into many other systems on board or further afield. One thing this can work in nicely with is the FLIR App to connect the camera to your iPhone or iPad. Like the MV and MU further up the scale, it also has a record function, which could be handy for intruder alerts.
Diminutive in stature, monumental in achievement - the FLIR MD.
FLIR Systems was very recently part of the successful recovery of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston marathon bombers. He was hiding in the cockpit of boat on a hardstand and could not be located, as he was hiding under the vessel’s cover. 'I think the police knew or had a strong suspicion that the individual was in the boat but couldn't visibly see him', said Bill Terre of FLIR.
Souls on board a vessel - FLIR makes a head count possible in poor visibility conditions.
'Using thermal imaging technology in a helicopter, police were able to image the boat clearly and identify that there was a person in the boat', said Terre. This is because a thermal image does not need light to ‘see’ as such, but works on heat signature, which everything on the planet has, given that all objects are warmer than 0°Kelvin (-273°C). 'The cameras are useful for securing our boarders, with search and rescue clearly another very common application. Knowing that FLIR Systems Inc helped bring an end to this latest tragedy brings a lot of pride to our team', said Terre.
Adding gyro-stabilisation, that used to be the realm of FLIR’s military range, is a key component of the MU and MV range. You can specify your ‘payload’ to suit your requirements, but these units now allow vessel operators to have one unit cover all vision requirements. Equally they can be mounted down on to a spreader, or be inverted under some other structure, which adds to their versatility.
The FLIR MU is cryogenically cooled to -200°C by liquid helium. A 14x zoom allows you to really bear down on a target. There is also a wide angle thermal imaging camera for use in port and then colour and low-light cameras to allow full spectrum analysis of a situation, conditions dependant of course.
Perils of the sea beware - FLIR can see you.
Video and radar tracking is built in for multi-tasking purposes and the head unit can pan through a full 360° and tilt through 90°, as well and all from the joystick controller in the bridge. The MV model varies mainly by virtue of having an uncooled microbolometer (sensor) and like the MU can have a payload specified to meet your needs. The MU is over $200,000 and the MV is under$200k, which does mean it won’t be seen on transport pods, but their distinctive appearance will be recognisable from afar on any craft fortunate enough to carry it.
Peter De Ieso from FLIR Systems Australia, commented, 'No one has ever said to me that seeing in all kinds of conditions, day or night, is a bad idea. Our new, higher end MU and MV models fill the gap that used to exist from the old Voyager to our dedicated Military products. Equally, the MD slots straight in to an area we did not really have something to offer before. So really, more is better. We have more products now and they all have more functionality to offer (more range).'
Making rescue that much easier - FLIR identifies the exact location of the MoB target.
As with a lot of things this far down the technology curve, it is usually the military that benefit first before the commercial sector and then ultimately it moves on to becoming a commodity. Arriving upon us way before we conquer other galaxies, however, will be the IR camera in your phone. Expect this in around three to five years.
There is no rest when your aim is to really see what you believe and FLIR continue to poor large amounts into R&D. In a world full of technology, this latest from FLIR is very convincing and you have to see it to believe it, as yet once more, technology goes in to meet science fiction.
One thing that is definitely not science fiction is FLIR’s continuing development of making thermal imaging accessible to all. As you can see from the images here, a cloaking device is not even enough to mask the heat signature generated by anything. Believe it when you see it at flir.com.au
Keeping the oceans clean, an oil spill can be completely located at night with FLIR.
FLIR Systems Australia Pty Ltd are currently at Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show and can be found in the Aimex and Superyacht Australia Marine Hub at stand 314.