Who Invented Thermal Imaging, and When? 

 September 19, 2021

By  Miranda Jones

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Last updated on August 25, 2022

Thermal imaging devices are commonplace across the world. There are many great uses for the handy piece of technology, including finding people after emergencies, discovering insulation issues and catching criminals. Yet many people still don't know how the technology works or when it was invented.

Read on to learn more about this technology's past and present!

Discovery of Infrared Radiation

Infrared radiation is the heat that different objects emit,and thermal imaging devices couldn't exist without it. The human eye can't see it, but you can feel it on your skin. For example, if you stood next to a fire, which emits a lot of infrared radiation, you would feel hot.

Although there is some debate, most people believe that infrared radiation was discovered in 1800 by British astronomer William Herschel. Increasing research into the phenomenon has allowed the development of infrared cameras — and more.

What Are Thermal Imaging Cameras?

Infrared cameras are thermal imaging devices. They pick up infrared radiation waves and transform them into an image. By analyzing the heat of surroundings, they create a reasonably detailed image in most situations. For example, police use these devices to catch criminals attempting to flee. The human body is much hotter than its surroundings, so it shows up easily on infrared cameras.

Many professions use these cameras, including:

  • Firefighting: Firefighters can use them to see through smoke and find the center of a blaze.
  • Emergency Response: They can help to find trapped people after building collapse or earthquakes.
  • Home Inspection: Many home inspectors use them to identify areas of significant heat loss.
  • Medicine: Medical professionals or veterinary staff use devices to monitor fevers and heat-related illnesses.
  • Police Work: They can be used to catch hiding criminals or to discover areas where drugs are grown.

Although few people know when and why they were invented, it's clear that they're a vital piece of technology.

Who Invented Thermal Imaging, and When?

The first thermal imaging camera recorded was created by Hungarian physicist Kalman Tihanyi in 1929. He was a highly skilled scientist and inventor who created beneficial technology for both World Wars. Some of his key inventions include:

  • The first aircraft in the UK that could be flown without a pilot.
  • The first plasma display.
  • Significant work into the development of television.

The camera was designed and made in Britain. It aimed to identify aircraft at night, allowing them to be seen in hostile situations. This tech was crucial during the Second World War only a few years later.

Technology has developed significantly over the decades. Professionals can now use sophisticated infrared cameras to identify exact temperatures and create detailed images of large areas. However, Tihanyi's work has been indispensable.

kálmán tihanyi - inventor of thermal imaging technology

A Multi-Purpose Tool

As you can see, a wide range of professionals need thermal imaging devices. You do not need to be an expert to operate one — in fact; it can be a good idea to use one to assess your home. The tech will help you find areas lacking insulation. 

Scientists are continuing to develop more accurate and useful forms of thermal imaging. It's exciting to imagine where this cool technology will go next. 

About the author 

Miranda Jones

Miranda Jones is Smart Scouter's Product Research Manager. Miranda ensures that Smart Scouter stays at the forefront of thermal and night vision technology and knowledge so that our readers know they are getting the most up-to-date information. Miranda has been involved in the thermal industry in various capacities for 12 years. Miranda is a graduate of the University of Ohio and in her spare time enjoys camping and traveling across the US.

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