Uncooled infrared cameras: smartphones are widening commercial markets


  • +20% per year shipments growth driven by commercial and consumer markets.
  • Technological innovation continues reducing manufacturing costs.
  • Growing volumes and price erosion have/will increase cost pressure on sensor and camera manufacturers. What's the best strategy for survival?

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LYON, France – June 18, 2015 – Over the next several years, uncooled thermal camera shipments will accelerate rapidly, with volumes growing at 22% CAGR between 2015 and 2020. Annual shipments will reach more than 1.5M units in 2020, compared to more than 450 K units in 2014, reveals Yole Développement (Yole) in its latest report, Uncooled Infrared Imaging: technology & Market Trends (June 2015 edition). Yole’s analysts explain that consumer applications, including both personal vision systems (PVS) and smartphones, will provide the highest shipment growth in 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 limitates 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.

“The smartphones market is already the main application in the consumer area in less than 6 month of sales”
(Y. de Charentenay, Yole)

“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.
In Yole’s new report, analysts also identify the latest products and related technology from the infrared imaging industry. For example, in March 2014, Opgal released its Therm-App solution based on microbolometer technology from Ulis. Yole’s analysis indicates that the price of Opgal’s solution decreased from US$1,600 to US$939 in 2015 meaning -40% price decrease. “Opgal targets more professional users,” de Charentenay says. “Its module competes with thermography cameras or personal vision (PVS) cameras. This market positioning will open these new markets to Opgal.”

Yole’s analysts also propose an additional scenario in this report, involving an aggressive ramp-up of smartphones based on huge price erosion. Cost reductions obtained from shrinking sensors to 6 microns, wafer level packaging (WLP) techniques, ASIC and 3D integration, would allow the integration of infrared cores inside phones by 2020. “Smartphones were a 1.1B unit market in 2014, and any new sensor adopted will surely lead to higher volume,” de Charentenay says. “However, this high volume will only be possible if a significant cost reduction is realized in the IR imaging industry, bringing camera modules down to around $10.”

A detailed description of Yole’s report including key features, and list of interviewed companies is available on i-micronews.com, in the imaging reports section.