Invention Awards 2014: 360-Degree Infrared Vision

A thermal radar system with a panoramic view
Photograph by Ralph Smith

Michael Dortch was building video surveillance trailers for industrial parks in Colorado when his clients started asking for near-omniscient views of their properties. They wanted to see intruders in the dark from all angles, but such coverage required up to seven thermal infrared cameras and cost more than $100,000. So Dortch and a colleague spent four years developing a cheaper, more capable alternative. Their Thermal Radar system provides 360-degree infrared coverage that can spot people, fires, vehicles, and more.

The heart of the invention is a single, spinning thermal sensor. Onboard processors constantly stitch images together for a refreshing panoramic video feed, and intelligent software finds threats.

A finished unit will cost about $16,000—many times cheaper than any system that comes close—and should be ready for its debut later this year. The first and biggest market will be corporate security. But the forest service, the Utah Department of Transportation, and even the Pentagon, Dortch says, also have his invention on their radar.

How It Works:

Warm objects—people, car engines, tires, etc.—emit infrared light.

A spinning camera takes up to 16 thermal images per second, eliminating the need for multiple, expensive cameras.

Software stitches the images together and heat signatures are triangulated with GPS to show their location as a blip on a radar-like applet.


Lead inventors: Michael Dortch, Larry Price

Development cost to date: $3.7 Million

Company: Thermal Imaging Radar LLC

Market maturity: •••••

Click here to see a flat bike helmet, a robotic exoskeleton, and more from our 2014 Invention Awards.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Popular Science.