Raspberry Pi thermal camera

It has been a cold winter for Tom Shaffner, and since he is working from home and leaving the heating on all day, he decided it was finally time to see where his house’s insulation could be improved.

camera attached to raspberry pi in a case
Tom’s setup inside a case with a cooling fan; the camera is taped on bottom right

An affordable solution

His first thought was to get a thermal IR (infrared) camera, but he found the price hasn’t yet come down as much as he’d hoped. They range from several thousand dollars down to a few hundred, with a $50 option just to rent one from a hardware store for 24 hours.

When he saw the $50 option, he realised he could just buy the $60 (£54) MLX90640 Thermal Camera from Pimoroni and attach it to a Raspberry Pi. Tom used a Raspberry Pi 4 for this project. Problem affordably solved.

A joint open source effort

Once Tom’s hardware arrived, he took advantage of the opportunity to combine elements of several other projects that had caught his eye into a single, consolidated Python library that can be downloaded via pip and run both locally and as a web server. Tom thanks Валерий КурышевJoshua Hrisko, and Adrian Rosebrock for their work, on which this solution was partly based.

heat map image showing laptop and computer screen in red with surroundings in bluw
The heat image on the right shows that Tom’s computer and laptop screens are the hottest parts of the room

Tom has also published everything on GitHub for further open source development by any enterprising individuals who are interested in taking this even further.

Quality images

The big question, though, was whether the image quality would be good enough to be of real use. A few years back, the best cheap thermal IR camera had only an 8×8 resolution – not great. The magic of the MLX90640 Thermal Camera is that for the same price the resolution jumps to 24×32, giving each frame 768 different temperature readings.

heat map image showing window in blue and lamp in red
Thermal image showing heat generated by a ceiling lamp but lost through windows

Add a bit of interpolation and image enlargement and the end result gets the job done nicely. Stream the video over your local wireless network, and you can hold the camera in one hand and your phone in the other to use as a screen.

Bonus security feature

Bonus: If you leave the web server running when you’re finished thermal imaging, you’ve got yourself an affordable infrared security camera.

video showing the thermal camera cycling through interpolation and color modes and varying view
Live camera cycling through interpolation and colour modes and varying view

Documentation on the setup, installation, and results are all available on Tom’s GitHub, along with more pictures of what you can expect.

And you can connect with Tom on LinkedIn if you’d like to learn more about this “technically savvy mathematical modeller”.

22 comments
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Cool!

(pun indented)

Reply to Richard collins

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All sold out at present.

Reply to Esbeeb

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And stock not expected until Autumn!

Reply to Craig

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Indeed cool!
@Richard collins: Your pun looks flush left to me!

Reply to Dennis

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Another option is from Adafruit
https://www.adafruit.com/product/3538
and they are in stock at least as of this comment

Reply to Mark

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That part only has an 8×8 grid of sensors. That’s far lower resolution.

Reply to Esbeeb

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made me go look at pimoroni website and the cameras all gone :-(

Reply to Richard Creedy

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Actually, it’s better to use this kind of thing, looking at the house from the outside, to see where all your heat is escaping. You would then see cracks around doors, thresholds, window and roof seals & flashing, wall cracks, etc. that you wouldn’t see on it from indoors.

Reply to Dave

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Unfortunately it’s been a while all those mlx90640 boards are sold out.

Reply to laurent

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Great project, It can solve many problem!! congrats

Reply to moises

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But of course, it’s out of stock. Bad timing I guess? Try publishing again in a while. Looks like FLIR is the only option and it’ll burn a hole in you wallet.

Reply to Mac

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Seek is there ass well.

Its not that fast. Especially with the original software to reduce the noise. But you can get them in a useable resolution of 320×200. There are some free libraries, But they are really bad.

FLIR cheats and combines on some products the low resoluion thermal image with a normal/(IR?). Would be a nice next step to tape the noir beside this camera.

Reply to crumble

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That’s a nice project and I have been looking for this mlx90640 for months now. Not willing to spend hundreds.. I will wait for stocks ?. Thanks for sharing your work

Reply to Pierrick

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Flir One Pro for reference has a thermal resolution of 160 x 120 pixels

Reply to Simon

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I have been watching the market for a thermal camera such as the one FLIR offers. The reviews regarding the overlay of a regular image onto the heat mapped image are not good at all. It would seem an easy thing to resize one to fit the other. As with all technology, it changes so fast. For the price they ask I expect it to be able to take a standard color image and ghost it over the heat map. The issues were that it was difficult to tell where they were looking with the thermal image. Once these sensors become available to people like us. They are gonna get a wake up call. Like Garmin and their GPS business. Who makes the sensor for FLIR? Anyone know?

Reply to Jeff

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Alhamdulillah……… ?……….. Mashallah……….??

Reply to Bushra

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I did a small project with the same camera. It is fun! See the example link below. Not as instructive as this article but a fun way to test your camera.
https://youtu.be/zHQmrH7CZwA

Reply to Bernardo

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As the image resolution is improved, we can also improve it further by replacing the Camera when it becomes cheap in future. But, the work is really nice. I mean, It will be great to see the thermal images of a gas stove or an OTG. However, the images will also be very interesting if I bring it near to Refrigerator. But, it may not show as great results when brought into a contact with a Liquid Nitrogen. Anyway, it’s really a good work.

Reply to Harish Mehta

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Successful experiments were done in 2017 with a Pi (3B) and a much higher resolution thermal camera (384×288). Details are here: https://www.flickr.com/groups/therm-app-users/discuss/72157678674384080/
You can also find hundreds of thermal images created with the same type of camera (but not necessarily on a Pi) here: https://www.flickr.com/groups/therm-app-users/pool/
Finally, if you’re wanting to talk about the technical side of thermal imaging with like-minded hobbyists, mosey on over to the excellent EEVblog forum Thermal Imaging: https://www.eevblog.com/forum/thermal-imaging/
There you will find a friendly, knowledgeable bunch of people with diverse experience of thermal imaging, Raspberry Pi and many more topics.

Reply to Giles Read

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Neat. Just tried on a headless Pi Zero with Raspberry Pi OS Lite connected over USB. I tried the ‘OpenCV Version – Web Server’. Seems to work, but in addition to what is suggested in the guide I needed libilmbase23, libopenexr-dev, libgtk-3-0 and to update NumPy (pip3 install -U numpy). Just to note, no errors in running after this but the resulting stream is mostly an odd checkerboard of moving colour with an occasional ‘correct’ frame appearing. (No doubt there are other things I need to add/change.)

Reply to David

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Oh how i like such wired camera solutions. Please more of them :-)

Best regards
Bernhard

Reply to Bernhard

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