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Meet the iPhone cases that can hunt ghosts and build furniture

Dave Johnson | Sept. 30, 2014
Think like the Most Interesting Man in the World: He doesn't always use an iPhone case, but when he does it can see heat or cut down a tree.


Phone cases are boring. Adventurous, life-marrow-sucking souls are known to embrace the danger of carrying their iPhones case-free, begging fate to shatter those screens when running from bulls or jumping out of moving cars. But even more hardcore than carrying a naked iPhone is wrapping it in a badass case like one of these. Your boring silicone sleeve can't see heat, or saw through wood, or build an IKEA bookcase. These cases can.

Flir One: Thermal vision

As the Predator and other aliens can attest, there's a hidden universe lurking just beyond the visible spectrum. The $349 Flir One is a case for the iPhone 5 that lets you view the world as varying shades of hot and cold rather than in a spectrum of ordinary colors.

The first question you might ask is: Why on earth would you need such a thing? Actually, infrared thermal imaging has a lot of applications, ranging from household repair and DIY projects to wildlife hunting to, well, ghost hunting. And since thermal imagers are generally quite expensive (starting around $1000), the Flir One turns your iPhone into a bargain priced IR imager.

The case is a bulky sled that doubles the thickness of your iPhone 5, and since it does not do double-duty as a charger, you probably won't want to leave it attached all the time. You can leave the companion sleeve on your iPhone, though. The back of the case has side-by-side infrared and visible light sensors. They work together to give you a remarkably sharp thermal image--the two images are blended so it's easier to see edges and details in the scene. That innovation makes it easy to understand what you're looking at, something that's not always true when looking at ordinary thermal images taken with a standalone IR sensor.

In operation, the Flir is both fun and functional, and works with a suite of five apps. There's a general purpose Flir One app for shooting stills or video, as well as an app for shooting infrared panoramas, thermal-infused time-lapse video, and macro close-ups (with a manual adjustment for correcting the parallax between the two sensors). There's also a somewhat more whimsical Paint app, which lets you selectively finger-paint a scene using color data from its real heat map. Flir also allows third parties to develop their own apps for the imager.

And don't let the Paint app fool you; The Flir One is a powerful tool that puts infrared imaging in your hands at a discount price. A spot meter identifies the precise temperature in the crosshairs (accurate to within about three degrees), and a number of color modes let you see a rainbow heat map, or highlight just the hottest or coldest parts of a scene. You can use it to find heat loss in your home, "see into" plumbing to find blockages, hunt for vampire electrical sources, and even play doctor by looking at temperature asymmetries in someone's body. I used the case to explore the hottest parts of my cat (it's the ears and nose), see which electronics around the house run hot even when in standby mode, and spotted where my dog had an "accident" on the carpet. Of course, that's just scratching the surface; a true DIY-er could find all sorts of uses for the Flir. You could even use it, presumably, to find the freshest bread at the grocery store.


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