An excellent use for a thermal camera is to find shorts or faults in a circuit. Point the camera at the PCB and look for what areas light up bright red. On the market today are both standalone and smartphone adapter options. The smartphone options tend to be reduced resolution, compared to the standalone types, but are suitable for PCB troubleshooting. They are still somewhat expensive and closed solutions. Fortunately, there is an open source alternative designed by TheMarpe, the Open Thermal Camera.
On the incredibly small 26 x 20 millimeter PCB is a simple design with an MLX90640 sensor. The camera outputs still images with a resolution of 32 x 32 pixels. At first, you might think that is not enough resolution to be useful. And in fairness, it is a bit less than the commercial smartphone adapters. However, to detect faults or characterize a PCB’s thermal performance, 32 pixels square certainly looks adequate.
Also, theOpen Thermal Camera does not watermark your images with a logo.
The commercial options are in the range of $200 to $300. Looking at the bill-of-materials (BOM) for Open Thermal Camera, its active components add up to only $54. Of that cost, almost 50 bucks are for the infrared thermal sensor (in small quantities.) There are both USB-C and MicroUSB connector versions of the PCB. Currently, only an Android application is available, but TheMarpe mentions in the comments there may be planning for supporting Raspberry Pi and other SBCs. The GitHub repository has the Android app, the KiCad schematics, PCB files, and code to create your own Open Thermal Camera.
After building it, you can use one to see just how out your latest project really is! Literally.
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Author: James Lewis