John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Mu Thermal Imager, which detects drafty doors and windows, aims to be an affordable device for improving your home's energy efficiency.
At the point where the interests of skinflints and Predator cosplayers cross, there is the Mu Thermal Imager. This prototypical device transforms a smartphone into an infrared camera, which you can point around your home to see where precious heat is being lost.
Sophisticated IR imagers, like the kind MIT researchers are using to hunt drafty buildings in cities, typically cost thousands of dollars. The Chicago-based Mu team want to bring these devices into the wallet range of hardware-store customers – from about $200 to $300 – by using the computer and optical equipment already included in iPhones, Androids and tablets. They've launched an Indiegogo campaign to make this happen; although they are far away from reaching their goal of $200,000, they've posted intriguing footage of the IR phone-scanner in action that might make a home-improvement geek have ecstatic visions of weatherstripping.
Slip the Mu device over your smartphone like a sheath, and it starts detecting temperatures between -86 to 285 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooler sources are represented in darker colors, as shown in this footage of frigid air seeping through a basement door:
There's an option to zoom in to get specific temperature information for, say, a poorly insulated window or gaping door crack, and another feature that blends the IR colors with a typical camera image to allegedly provide better visual acuity. The Mu team is full of handy suggestions for what you might do with your pocketable imager, such as:
You'll be able to identify heating and cooling losses in your home and business, find lost pets in the dark, know just how cold your children's toes are when they ask you to turn up the heat, etc. At home you can educate your family on ways in which they can stop energy losses due to their bad habits (such as leaving on a bathroom vent for longer than necessary). It’s a great tool for the DIY homeowner as they look for overworked electrical circuits and check the water heater and ductwork for energy leaks.
In construction or renovation of buildings you'll be able to identify poorly insulated areas and badly wired electrical outlets before you put the drywall up. You'll find places where water has penetrated the structure where it should not have. Identifying mold and moisture is a much easier task with the Mµ Thermal Imager.
In the grand scheme, the Mu guys say they hope their invention will not just help plug the "bit of sieve" that is the typical decades-old American home, but also minimize the "billions of dollars" that homeowners worldwide lose each year due to poor energy efficiency. But enough about that, what else can we see in neat infrared? Why, there are the wheels of this train screeching along metal tracks:
And a little bunny (hunters: Is there a way to fix an iPhone to your rifle barrel?):
And to drive home the point that this thing could seek out an AWOL pet camping somewhere in your neighborhood's foliage, here's a glowing IR dog:
Images from "Mu Thermal Camera" on Indiegogo.