A thermal camera is a tool I have been wanting to add to my workbench for quite a while, so when I learned about the tCam-Mini, a wireless thermal camera by Dan Julio, I placed an order. A thermal imager is a camera whose images represent temperatures, making it easy to see things like hot and cold spots, or read the temperature of any point within the camera’s view. The main (and most expensive) component of the tCam-Mini is the Lepton 3.5 sensor, which sits in a socket in the middle of the board. The sensor is sold separately, but the campaign made it available as an add-on.
Want to see how evenly a 3D printer’s heat bed is warming up, or check whether a hot plate is actually reflowing PCBs at the optimal temperature? How about just seeing how weird your pets would look if you had heat vision instead of normal eyes? A thermal imager like the tCam-mini is the tool for that, but it’s important to understand exactly how the tCam-mini works. While it may look like a webcam, it does not work like one.
What It Is
Looks like a webcam, doesn’t work like one.tCam-Mini is a command-based, wireless ESP32-driven board using the Lepton 3.5 sensor for thermal imaging. In the images here, the USB cable is being used to deliver power, but all thermal image data is being exchanged with a desktop application over WiFi. tCam-mini uses a JSON-based packet interface, and the easiest way to get up and running is to use the desktop application to view images and stream video.
The tCam-Mini is intended as a small, network-only device. The desktop application provided by Dan is the easiest way to stream data and access the full functionality of the sensor, but a web app and Python library are also in development.
What It Isn’t
The tCam-Mini is not a self-contained camera device, and it does not work like either a webcam or digital camera. There is no screen, no memory card on which to store photos and videos, nor are there any hardware controls on the camera itself. The closest thing it has to a display is a single red/green status LED, and the only button on the board performs a WiFi reset. The tCam-Mini is really intended to be a remote camera, accessed over WiFi by a host. (Also, the tCam-mini should not be confused with tCam, which is a larger and more full-featured, battery-powered version with touchscreen display that is still under development.)
While the tCam-Mini is a camera with a WiFi interface, it is not running a web server and it cannot…