Seek Thermal: Assisting the Automotive Industry To See the Unseen

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Tim LeBeau, Chief Commercial Officer
In the same vein computers evolved from large and expensive equipment into sophisticated, low-cost handheld devices, the thermal imaging industry is entering the peak of its prowess. Thermal imaging sensors provide a unique perspective for a driver, enabling them to see hazards, pedestrians and animals on the road during any lighting conditions, including complete darkness. Currently, only a few thousand thermal imaging sensors have found applications in the automotive industry, primarily due to a steep $8,000 average cost per device. Therefore, many automakers were quick to dismiss the idea of embedding thermal imaging cameras into mass-produced vehicles. However, rapid advancements in thermal imaging technologies have led to sensors becoming accessible and affordable. Recent reports project the automotive industry will incorporate a significantly greater number of thermal imaging sensors in the next few years as the average price per unit is expected to dramatically decrease.

One of the flagbearers in the thermal imaging revolution is Seek Thermal, a technology company en route to making thermal imaging sensors available for less than $250 per unit for car manufacturers. “What makes thermal imaging so compelling is its ability to help drivers make split-second decisions at high speeds across a wide variety of lighting and weather conditions,” says Tim LeBeau, Chief Commercial Officer, Seek Thermal. “Thermal cameras know what is ahead because unlike conventional cameras or radar, they can identify the unique heat signatures of a human or animal by reading and evaluating the infrared energy they emit. The camera is looking for heat, and it can see it day or night. While a driver’s view may be obscured by darkness, glare, smoke, fog or oncoming high-beam headlights, thermal imaging sees right through those obstacles and any other visual clutter to report back and help prevent collisions.”

The California-based company has undertaken a mission “to make transportation safer for both passengers and pedestrians.” Radar, LiDAR and visible camera sensors play a significant role in identifying people but—at night—thermal imaging can function at a more optimal capacity and therefore offers an additional and unique value within the industry’s suite of sensing technologies.
“Thermal imaging is so powerful that both humans and animals glow like light bulbs. A LiDAR sensor can’t differentiate the temperature difference between a 5-year-old and a fire hydrant. Our thermal imaging sensors can be integrated with LiDAR, radar and other sensors, ensuring the computer or human receives quality data and is fully aware of the environment and can make better decisions,” explains LeBeau. With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandating automatic emergency braking standards are adopted across the U.S. auto market by 2022, Seek Thermal has the means to aid car manufacturers to build safer vehicles that complement LiDAR and radar technologies.

By investing in the required infrastructure to mass produce thermal imaging sensors, Seek Thermal has positioned itself to make giant strides in the coming years. Adds LeBeau, “When we started seven years ago, thermal imaging was more of a craft industry. We incorporated new technologies, robotics and automation into our manufacturing processes and are now primed to scale quickly. Within four years, we have already achieved more than 20 percent of the unit market share.”

While automotive safety and enhancement is a core tenet of the Seek Thermal mission, the company serves many other key stakeholders and vertical markets through a variety of products such as the Compact Series designed to turn smartphones into thermal imaging tools, and the Reveal Series catering to outdoor recreation such as boating and hunting. Seek Thermal also offers a range of OEM Thermal Camera Cores to deliver optimal performance in applications such as security surveillance and test and measurement. Though automotive is a key driver, Seek Thermal will continue to participate across verticals such as fire and safety and law enforcement, as well as expanding its predictive maintenance capabilities in Industrial IoT.

LeBeau concludes, “A few years ago, only five percent of firefighters had access to thermal imaging cameras. Recently, we developed a program for 100 percent of the Los Angeles Fire Department to be outfitted with thermal cameras. By 2022, we expect a wide range of implementation in the automotive industry due to lower costs and high value in creating a safer environment for drivers and pedestrians.”

Company
Seek Thermal

Headquarters
Santa Barbara, CA

Management
Tim LeBeau, Chief Commercial Officer

Description
An automotive technology solution provider that provides high-resolution thermal imaging sensors to car manufacturers. Though automotive is its key driver, Seek Thermal participates across verticals such as fire and safety and law enforcement, as well as expanding its predictive maintenance capabilities in Industrial IoT. Some of its products include the Compact Series designed to turn smartphones into thermal imaging tools, and the Reveal Series catering to outdoor recreation such as boating and hunting. Seek Thermal also offers a range of OEM Thermal Camera Cores to deliver optimal performance in applications such as security surveillance and test and measurement

Seek Thermal