Editorial Feature

Regional Spotlight: Infrared Sensors in North America

Infrared sensors have a wide range of applications, with North America currently dominating the global merger for this technology.

The electromagnetic spectrum extends well beyond the visible light spectrum to high-energy short-wavelength radiation like X-rays and gamma rays to low-energy longwave radiation like radio waves. These different forms of light offer another way of seeing the universe both on large scales across vast cosmic distances and small scales like the everyday world that surrounds us.

Just outside the sensory purview of humanity is the infrared spectrum extending from wavelengths of around 700 nanometers (nm) to 1 millimeter (mm). Sensors that can detect infrared light have a variety of uses, from spectroscopy which can be used to assess the chemical makeup of molecules within an object which can be used to detect poisonous gases, to motion sensors that can detect movement in seemingly dark conditions.

This means infrared sensors (IR-sensors) can be used in gas warning devices, gas analyzers, medical gas measurement technology, flame detectors, intruder alarms, and for collecting contactless precision temperature measurements. There are two major types of IR-sensor, passive and active sensors. 

Active IR sensors have two major components, a light-emitting diode (LED) and a receiver. Infrared light from the LED reflects from objects that come close to the sensor and this light is then detected by the receiver. This makes active IR sensors ideal for proximity sensors, and object detection sensors in autonomous vehicles and robots.

Passive infrared detectors (PIR), on the other hand, are made up of a pyroelectric sensor composed of strips of pyroelectric material, an infrared filter blocking out all wavelengths of light except infrared, and a fresnel lens to focus light from multiple angles to a single point, all with a housing unit. 

These are used for motion-based detection and security systems with an object generating infrared light and sensors detecting differences in emitted levels as that object moves. This sends a signal to an onboard computer which triggers an alarm. 

Infrared sensors are much more ubiquitous than this, finding their way into phones, wearable electronics, weather satellites, and a wide range of other devices. 

According to a recent report from the IMARC Group¹, the global infrared imaging market size reached $ 6.5 Billion USD in 2022 and the market is projected to reach $ 9.7 Billion USD by 2028, which is a growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7%for the next five years.

Clearly, IR sensors are big business and some major players operate on the North American continent. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some recent happenings in the IR-sensor market across North America.

Image Credit: Have a nice day Photo/Shutterstock.com

The United States

Infrared Imaging Market estimated in 2021⁶ that North America had the largest share of the IR sensor market in 2020 as a result of high demand for these devices in security, with this technology accounting for major military expenditure.

In August 2022, the U.S. Army moved to upgrade its second-generation IR sensors, known as Horizontal Technology Integration (HTI). Supplying the third-generation sensors or forward-looking infrared (FLIR)² for sighting equipment will be Leonardo DRS (DRS).

The contract is worth $39.5 million and will see sensors dispersed across the U.S. Army fleet, to high-value equipment like the Abrams Main Battle Tank, and the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle.

As part of the deal, the company will begin initial low-rate production of the FLIR Dewar Cooler Bench (DCB) long-range sensor. These devices help to collect infrared radiation that is converted into video images forming the basis for next-generation FLIR sights.

This makes DRS a big player in the U.S. IR-sensor market, but they are primarily defense specialists. There are also major players in the United States that focus solely on IR Sensors, but that does not mean they offer a limited range of products.

Developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Airborne Visible-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer-Next Generation (AVIS-NG)⁵ and its predecessor AVIS is to use imaging spectroscopy to detect, identify, measure, and monitor constituents and processes of the Earth’s surface and its atmosphere. 

This includes the release of greenhouse gases from major sources such as methane-emitting landfills, which make up as much as 20% of human-caused methane emissions.

Canada

Tracking greenhouse gas emissions from space using infrared is also one of the major aims of the Canadian company GHGsat, which describes itself as a global leader in remote sensing⁷. 

In January, the BBC⁸ reported that the company, which already has six spacecraft in orbit tracking methane emissions, revealed it would place a new infrared carbon dioxide-detecting spacecraft into orbit. This will be the first commercial satellite in orbit dedicated to tracking this greenhouse gas.

Mexico

In February 2023, Luminar, a major U.S. manufacturer of Lidar, a system that uses near-infrared light to detect the shape of objects, announced expansion plans that included the construction of a new factory in Mexico⁹. 

One of the products that could be developed at the factory is the newly announced Iris Plus lidar, designed to enhance vehicle safety for autonomous vehicles. This could help self-driving vehicles better see and avoid smaller objects at high speeds. The Iris Plus lidar will be integrated with Mercedes vehicles after mass production begins in 2025. 

The dedicated, highly-automated, high-volume manufacturing facility in Mexico is expected to come on online in the second quarter of 2023. 

Continue reading: Infrared Sensors in Europe.

References and Further Reading

Infrared Imaging Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2023–2028. (2023) [Online] IMARC, Available at: https://www.imarcgroup.com/infrared-imaging-market#:~:text=Market%20Overview%202023%2D2028%3A,6.7%25%20during%202023%2D2028.

Leonardo DRS Receives Contract Award for U.S. Army 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) Sensors, (2022) [Online] Leonardo DRS, Available at: https://www.leonardodrs.com/news/press-releases/contract-award-for-us-army-3rd-generation-flir-sensors/

Stratio, Inc, Available at: https://stratiotechnology.com/news.html 

Infrared Solution for Photovoltaic Power Plant. [Online] Global Sensor Technology Co., Ltd (GST), Available at: https://www.gst-ir.net/news-events/infrared-knowledge/312.html 

AVIRIS-NG (Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer-Next Generation) / NGIS. [Online] ESA, Available at: https://www.eoportal.org/other-space-activities/aviris-ng

Market Synopsis, Infrared Imaging Market, [2021], [Online] Available at: https://www.emergenresearch.com/industry-report/infrared-imaging-market#:~:text=Uncooled%20infrared%20imaging%20segment%20accounted,compared%20to%20cooled%20infrared%20cameras.

GLOBAL EMISSIONS MONITORING, [Online] GHGSat, Available at: https://www.ghgsat.com/en/ 

J. Amos, (2023) [Online] BBC News, Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64473574]

A. J. Hawkins, (2023) Luminar unveils Iris Plus lidar sensor with 300-meter range, the Verge, [Online] Available at:https://www.theverge.com/2023/2/28/23617435/luminar-iris-plus-lidar-sensor-investor-day

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Robert Lea

Written by

Robert Lea

Robert is a Freelance Science Journalist with a STEM BSc. He specializes in Physics, Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and SciComm. Robert is an ABSW member, and aWCSJ 2019 and IOP Fellow.

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