Public Lab Research note

This is an attempt to replicate an activity.
This is an upgrade for thermal-flashlight. Try building it and report back how it goes.

Inexpensive Thermal Imaging of Decorative Lights in Household

by NoorJandali | December 02, 2014 18:33 02 Dec 18:33 | #11420 | #11420

Partners of Project: Carol Benner and Tracy Beuchele

Thermal imaging camera systems are expensive ways to detect the the amount of heat that is the environment. These cameras can be sold in the thousands of dollars. For this experiment, an Arduino board was used to build and setup a light thermometer, that shows different coloured lighting in the presence of different temperatures. After the software was installed and the board was built, it was housed.

For the housing, the main goal was to make sure that the sensor was still able to detect its surroundings while being maintaining its integrity in the housing. The board was placed in a cardboard box that was open from the top, this allowed easy access to the Arduino and it ables us to see what colour the bulb is. In order for the sensor to be close to the opening of the box, notecards were placed under the Arduino board to help lift it. Zip ties were used to keep board in place. The cardboard box was then wrapped in black electrical tape. The purpose of the black electrical tape was to provide insulation for the rest of the Arduino board besides the sensor, so that different temperatures that it is exposed to could be of more focus for the sensor than other interfering temperatures. Also, the black helps to highlight the light that is produced by the bulb.

The device used to take the thermal image was an iPhone application called Slow Shutter. This application allows for long exposure pictures to be taken.


What I want to do

There will be two thermal image taken when the decorative lights have been plugged in for ten minutes. One will be of the decorative lights and the other will be of the outlet. Thirty minutes later, another two thermal images will be taken of the outlet and the lights. All the thermal images will be taken using the housed thermal flashlight programmed on an Arduino board. The location of the experiment was Carol Benner’s apartment, where the decorative lights were located. The temperature range that was set was from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This range was used because this was a large enough range to detect the heat buildup from the lights.



My attempt and results

Here is the thermal image taken of the lights after ten minutes of being plugged into the outlet.


Here is the thermal image of the outlet taken after ten minutes of being plugged into the outlet.


Here is the thermal image of the lights taken after 30 minutes since being plugged in.


Here is a close up shot of the lights taken after being plugged in for 30 minutes.


Here is the thermal image of the outlet taken after being used for 30 minutes.


According to the images, at both times intervals the thermal flashlight produced a large quantity of green. When we took the thermal image after 30 minutes, we were surprised that there had been no temperature change, so we decided to take an up close image of the decorative lights. We held the light directly to the sensor, which caused the reddish image that can be seen in image 5. This established that for a temperature change to be seen, the light had to be directly against the sensor, proving that the lights don’t emit much heat on there own. This calls into question why the decorative lights are considered a fire hazard in the first place. The outlet also falsified our hypothesis. The images of the outlet taken at both the 10-minute and 30-minute intervals produced an equal amount of green, showing that the outlet also didn’t emit heat. Perhaps because outlets are a common household necessity, and are probably built with essential safety precautions so that they don’t do so.

Questions and next steps

With regards to further research, we thought it might be interesting to look more into why the decorative lights might be considered a hazard. Maybe trying a longer time interval or seeing if they heat up when something is touching them such as a flammable fabric like a curtain or a sheet. It might also be interesting to look at other things that are considered hazardous or are known to heat up, like candles or laptop computers.

Why I'm interested

As a group, my partners and I are interested to see why these lights are considered a safety hazard in an apartment on campus at Northeastern University. In addition, we wanted to see if there was a true difference in heat when the lights are in use for different amounts of time.

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