QUADEYE military IR headset (via Elbit Systems)


Infrared optical devices can be extremely expensive, depending on the application for which they are being used. This is especially true when it comes to science and military applications such as counter-terrorism where SOF units require the ultimate in IR technology such as Elbit System’s QUADEYE. The night-vision 4-tube goggles provide a wide-angle view greater than conventional NVGs but cost a whopping $65,000+ per pair. This holds true for IR camera systems (such as FLIR) as well which can cost in excess of $150,000 when used on platforms such as naval-based ships or aircraft (reconnaissance). Handheld IR cameras on the other hand have been on a steady decline regarding costs and can be found for a few hundred dollars (depending on models) for a quality imager.



Infragram camera prototype concept and a photographic example (via PublicLab)


However, what if you are an agricultural spy on a strict budget and haven’t the skills to make your own? If that’s the case then perhaps Public Lab has the answer with their Infragram near-infrared camera. The camera was developed to monitor the damage done to the surrounding wetlands as a result of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (back in April 2010). Public Lab is a conglomerate of individuals who develop open-source technology tools (hardware and software) for grass-roots environment exploration. Its members developed the Infragram camera in an effort to diagnose plant health using the IR spectrum. Plants absorb most of the visible light we humans can see for photosynthesis (growing) and reflect light in the near IR spectrum. It is that IR reflection that can viewed as a way to monitor plant health - the more reflection, the healthier the plant. The camera works by taking two separate images with one being a normal print and the other near-IR. Both images are then checked against a false-color composite, which show the differences in the IR reflection and therefore the overall health of the plant. The Infragram system makes use of an Infrablue filter that negates a regular digital cameras red (think RGB like any monitor or TV) channel thereby making the image near-IR. The image is saved to the cameras on-board storage, which is then uploaded and processed online where the image is combined with the blue and infrared channels producing the IR image. Public Lab has looked to Kickstarter to fund the development of their Infragram system for cheap cameras and webcams and has surpassed their goal of $30,000 US with over $52,000 in just one week. Infragram is set to come in three flavors with the first being a simple DIY filter pack which is essentially a single sheet of infrablue filter that you install on your own (with instructions of course). The second option includes an Infragram webcam circuit board that you can combine with Raspberry Pi or Arduino depending on your project. The third option includes a basic point-and-shoot camera (bought in bulk) outfitted with the Infrablue filter. The Lab hopes to retail their Infragram camera at a price point of about $35 or less but those looking to get their hands on one now can pledge $95 or more to get an experimental unit while a pledge of $10 gets you just the filter and $35 nets you the webcam circuit board.



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