IR cameras soon a commodity, warns Yole

June 19, 2015 // By Julien Happich
Over the next several years, uncooled thermal camera shipments will accelerate rapidly, with volumes growing at 22% CAGR between 2015 and 2020, according to Yole Développement's latest report, Uncooled Infrared Imaging: technology & Market Trends.

Annual shipments are expected to reach more than 1.5M units in 2020, compared to more than 450 K units in 2014, says the market research firm. But in a scenario where consumer applications such as Infrared-vision capable smartphones would become the norm, these figures could literally explode to tens of millions, as the company highlights in an optimistic scenario.

In fact, consumer applications, including both personal vision systems (PVS) and smartphones are likely to provide the highest shipment growth in the coming years. This part of the market volumes was multiplied by three from 2014 to 2015, with smartphones in particular holding great promise.

"The smartphones market is already the main application in the consumer area in less than 6 month of sales", announces Yann de Charentenay, Senior Technology & Market Analyst at Yole. Yole has investigated the technological evolution of smartphone thermal cameras, related challenges, market trends and the market positioning of companies in this area.

The first solution, FLIR One, proposed by FLIR, were compatible only for iPhone 5 what limited considerably the market size. Thus, companies now introduce solutions based on plug-in accessories compatible with any iPhone and Android platforms.

In this new analysis, Yole's team highlights rapid price erosion – between 2014 and 2015 alone prices fell by 30%, down to $249. This is thanks to 12 micron sensors, with sensor miniaturization driving the major trend in the uncooled infrared camera industry.

Reducing the sensor die size decreases chip and optic costs. In 2016, key players including BAE, Raytheon, FLIR, DRS, and NEC will have 12 micron pixel architectures. The next step will be 6 microns. This is a major challenge as it is smaller than the wavelengths of longwave infrared light (8 to 12 microns).

Since Yole's last report a new challenger has arrived in the market: Seek Thermal. Its emergence in August 2014 pushed FLIR to react quickly to follow up its first generation FLIR One, released in June 2014. Its new, second generation, FLIR One will therefore be available in Q3 2015.

"At Yole, we expect consistent sales growth in the smartphone area over the next few years," asserts de Charentenay. "New technologies like augmented reality could potentially open a new world of opportunities". Indeed, Metaio, the augmented reality firm which uses a thermal camera, was acquired by Apple in June 2015.