You can buy some pretty legit infrared cameras and scopes these days for only a few hundred dollars. Brands like FLIR and Fluke have rapidly commercialized and brought into the mainstream what was once lumped together with night-vision goggles as a weird way to spy on your neighbor when you were a kid.
Today, though, as the technology evolves, there are all kinds of practical uses for an infrared camera, from home improvement to bird-watching to figuring out whether your kid maybe needs to go to the hospital. You can get standalone devices, but there are also lenses you can attach to your iPhone if that’s more your thing. Here are nine times you might be surprised by how your infrared device could come in handy:
1. See through smoke
Firefighters actually use infrared technology to help get a clear reading on where things are when the scene is enveloped in heavy smoke. Thermal imaging has been a staple tool of firefighters for years. Odds are you’re not a firefighter, but in an emergency in which you have, say exploded a microwave burrito and rendered your kitchen a blinding smoke-inferno, your infrared scope could help you locate your family/valuable and find your way out.
2. Literally see fever
Look, thermometers are no fun. Impress your kid by skipping all that nonsense and diagnosing them with your spidey senses (or, y’know, one of these thermal FLIR devices).
3. Find stuff living in your house that should not be living in your house
So we’ve established that you can use infrared cameras to see the heat signatures of other human beings; same goes for the squirrels in your wall or the raccoons under your porch. It even works with termites. Save time and money on an inspector; locate the source of the problem with your increasingly handy infrared scope.
4. Make sure your solar panels are doing okay
If you’re the kind of super rad person who has installed solar panels in their home, you deserve to have those things working at peak efficiency. An infrared device can detect any hot spots that might indicate the panels aren’t processing and dispersing the sun’s heat as well as they should be.
5. Actually, lots of home-improvement stuff
You can essentially use your infrared ~toy~ device as a tool to pinpoint anywhere heat is escaping your house. This could mean insulation that isn’t doing its job, gas leaks, malfunctioning heating and air-conditioning units — grabbing your scope and giving your house a once-over really could not hurt. Chances are you already kind of want to do this because it sounds fun.
6. Go wildlife spotting at night
You can even pick up motion-activated cameras like this one to try to capture hard-to-spot critters. Or, use it to hunt if that’s your thing.
7. Check your circulation
In no way am I advocating that anything you pick up on eBay replace an actual doctor, but assuming that you’re doing this for funsies and not out of any actual medical necessity, you can use your infrared camera to check your circulation for conditions like deep vein thrombisis.
8. Become a human lie detector
This is just a theory of mine — I have not actually tried this — but given that there’s evidence that the human face sees a temperature increase around the nose and mouth when its owner tells a lie, it’s at least worth a shot. Grab a friend and take turns with some two-truths-and-a-lie type silliness and see what insight your infrared scope brings you.
9. Give your car night vision goggles
Okay, so this one isn’t a free-standing device you can buy separately, but the BMW 7 Series incorporates an infrared camera into the grille to enhance your view when driving at night, and that is pretty cool. Just as infrared technology can cut through smoke, it can help you drive through fog.